It’s safe to say that the majority of the offseason “hot stove” talk surrounding the Revolution has focused on the club’s search for help in the attacking third of the field. Rather than beat around the bush, let’s just get to the point - the Revs scored a club-record-low 33 goals last season, and they’ll have to improve upon that this year if they hope to make another postseason run. Add in the departure of creative playmaker Steve Ralston and the delicate nature of Taylor Twellman’s return from injury, and the need for players to both provide and score goals is not a secret to the Revolution’s technical staff.
On the bright side, rookie forward Zack Schilawski has looked the part of a top-10 overall pick this preseason, while Kheli Dube continues to find the back of the net on a consistent basis in training. Meanwhile, newly-signed Senegalese midfielder Niouky Desire could be a threat on the offensive end, although we (meaning those of us not on the technical staff) won’t know until he joins the team and we can get a firsthand look at him (as a sidenote, he’s expected to join the Revs in North Carolina later this week).
With that said, Head Coach Steve Nicol and Vice President of Player Personnel Michael Burns know that more enforcements are necessary. Hence the reason Chilean trialist Reinaldo Navia was brought in a few weeks ago, and why at least three more attack-minded trialists (Marko Perovic, Gareth Williams and Andres Raad) will be joining the team for an extended look in N.C.
But oddly enough, I don’t want to talk about the Revolution’s attack today. That area has received its fair share of attention and will surely continue to do so on the upcoming preseason trip.
Today, I want to talk about the defensive side of the ball.
The good news is, no one’s talking about the backline, which in relative soccer terms typically means that they’re doing alright. At this point, it doesn’t seem as if anyone is concerned about the Revs leaking goals. In fact, lost in the shuffle of last year’s hectic playoff push was the stellar performance of the defense, which allowed just 37 goals in 30 games for a goals against average of 1.23. The 37 goals conceded marked the second-fewest goals the club has ever allowed in a single season. Not too shabby.
Of course, the 2010 Revolution did lose the services of veteran leader Jay Heaps, who retired in the offseason. But the club added another veteran in Cory Gibbs – acquired via trade with Colorado – so don’t expect a noticeable dropoff in that department.
Let’s go through and take a look at the Revs on the defensive side of the ball, player by player …
Matt Reis – You can’t talk about a team’s defense without first mentioning the goalkeeping. While it’s true that Reis will miss the beginning of the season while recovering from shoulder and knee operations, he’s still set to be the club’s number one for the majority of the season. Although it went largely unrecognized, Reis had a career year in 2009, leading the league in saves (114) while maintaining a career-best 0.96 goals against average. Assuming he’s in top form when he returns from injury around May/June – admittedly a question which must be asked following offseason surgery - the Revs will have one of the best goalkeepers in the league as their backstop.
Preston Burpo – Acquired in the same offseason trade which brought Gibbs to New England, Burpo is expected to be the Revolution’s starting goalkeeper on opening day in place of the injured Reis. Historically one of the league’s most reliable backups, Burpo should instill confidence in his backline while he’s between the pipes. A longtime veteran of the league, he has a career 1.43 goals against average in 46 appearances. More importantly, his calm demeanor in the back should be just what the Revs need to steer the ship in Reis’ absence.
Kevin Alston – Two consecutive call-ups to the U.S. National Team in January and February should tell you all you need to know about Alston, who had a breakout rookie year as the Revolution’s right back in 2009. Sure, he largely missed out on the national team camps because of a recurring hamstring injury – one which appears to be under control at the present time – but the fact that Bob Bradley saw fit to bring him in at all is a testament to his development. With a year under his belt, he should be even more confident in 2010.
Gabriel Badilla – A bit of an unknown to Revolution fans despite the fact that he’s been with the club since August of 2008, Badilla has battled injuries throughout his tenure in New England. A back injury kept him off the field for the enire first half of 2009 and he struggled to regain his form and fitness as he tried to catch up late in the season. With the offseason to recharge the batteries and the entire preseason to get into the flow, perhaps he could show the form which earned him a spot on Costa Rica’s 2006 FIFA World Cup squad.
Darrius Barnes – Like Alston, Barnes was a revelation for the Revolution in 2009, as the unheralded third-round draft pick became just the second player in MLS history to play every minute of every game his rookie year. Combining size and athleticism with a composed presence, Barnes should be another player who only gets better with a year of professional experience behind him.
Cory Gibbs – Brought in to fill a need on the defensive side of the ball and in the leadership department, Gibbs could very well be the “replacement” for the departed Heaps in more ways than one. Whether Gibbs will be deployed as a center back or on the left side – he’s stated that he’s comfortable with both – his presence will be a welcome addition on what is still a young backline.
Emmanuel Osei – While the Ghanaian defender was prone to a few communications miscues last season, he was a fixture on the backline from the time he stepped into the lineup in May. Despite an occasionally adventurous style, he proved time and again his ability and the Revs could very well reunite last year’s center-back pairing of Barnes and Osei.
Chris Tierney – The versatile left-sided player came up through the ranks as a midfielder, but has spent the majority of his time on the backline during his two years in New England. Whether he’ll be the number one option on the left or a depth player remains to be seen, but his steady play in the back will be critical for the Revs either way. In fact, the club has done a bit of experimenting with Tierney at right back this preseason.
Seth Sinovic – The unknown of the bunch, Sinovic is currently unsigned but has impressed during his time in preseason training camp. Like Alston on the opposite side of the field, Sinovic enjoys getting into the attack and the question will always be about balancing offensive capabilities with defensive responsibilities, but he’s done quite well in that regard so far. We’ll have to see if he’s sufficiently impressed the technical staff to earn a spot on the roster.
Add in the defensive capabilities of midfielders Shalrie Joseph and Pat Phelan, and the Revolution will be a tough team to break down this season.
Well, now that I’ve sufficiently rambled for way too long, what are your thoughts, feelings, concerns about the Revolution’s backline in 2010?