New England Soccer Today

The D Will Be Key

Revolution right back Kevin Alston keeps a close eye on Galaxy midfielder Miguel Lopez (Photo: Chris Aduama/

Heads down. Hands on hips. That was the unofficial pose of the Revolution defense in 2011.

After giving away goals at a philanthropic rate (58, the second-most in MLS last season) it’s not a stretch to say that the biggest task head coach Jay Heaps faces this offseason is improving his team’s porous D.

OK, so the difficulty level on bolstering the backline might be set at Legendary right now. But Heaps, a former defender himself, has already collaborated with General Manager Michael Burns to shake up the roster during the offseason.

So far, the Revolution declined its options on center backs Franco Coria and Ryan Cochrane. Both were expected to bolster the backline in 2011 – Coria with the classic combination of tenacity and toughness, Cochrane with his size and veteran savvy. But Cochrane was hampered by poor positioning while Coria’s effort down the stretch was the exact opposite of what they teach in AYSO.

Despite remaining quiet on the player market thus far, the club was particularly active on the Re-Entry Draft. In Stage 1, the Revolution used the second overall slot to tab Toronto left back Danleigh Borman. Should the 25-year-old left-sided midfielder-turned-wingback come to terms, the addition of a natural left-sided player would allow Darrius Barnes to switch back to his customary center back spot, an area he thrived in during his first two MLS seasons.

In addition to Borman, another potential boost to the defense may be Clyde Simms, the former D.C. United center half whom the Revs selected in Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft. If Simms (whom New England selected along with former Sounders striker Nate Jaqua) decides to join the Revolution, the Heaps will have an experienced ballwinner behind Joseph on the depth chart and, at bare minimum, offers competition to Stephen McCarthy in the midfield.

Then, there is the report that the club is interested in autumn trialist Junior N’tame, a Cameroonian center back formerly of Ligue 2 side Stade Brestois. During his week-long spell in Foxborough, the 26-year-old looked confident inside the area, comfortable in tight spaces and regularly linked with his midfielders in training.

Aside from the additions (potential ones, at least) and subtractions to date, it’s easy to forget that there’s still considerable talent in the rear. In addition to Barnes, rookie A.J. Soares made a name for himself during the first half of the season. But as a lingering ankle injury began to catch up with him, the former Golden Bear struggled – especially without veteran Matt Reis behind him. A fully-healed Soares should give the Revs defense in area much better in 2012.

Another defender who’s shown quality is right back Kevin Alston. Despite an up and down season that saw the speedy wingback struggle against slow attackers, the former Hoosier has the pace and attacking urgency to be an elite wingback. It’s just a matter of Alston tightening up in transition and making better decisions on the ball.

With only three pure defenders on the roster (Alston, Barnes and Soares), it wouldn’t be surprising to see Burns and Heaps renovate the rear via next month’s SuperDraft. It may be tempting to grab a goalscorer (i.e. Billy Schuler or Enzo Martinez) in the first round, but the Revs might be better served on the whole by selecting a defender such as Matt Hedges (UNC) and Mykell Bates (Santa Clara) with the 3rd and 22nd picks.

Of course, a lot can happen between now and First Kick, especially once the New Year arrives. Shortly after the 2011 preseason kicked off, the Revs added French internationals Coria, Didier Domi and Ousmane Dabo to shore up their defense. Even though Coria struggled, and Dabo (retired) and Domi (released) were gone before the All-Star Game, the signings underscore the fact that the Revs often plunge into the market during February and March.

Even if Burns and Heaps manage to add depth and quality to their defense, the head coach will have to ensure that the unit that became famous for conceding late-game goals is mentally stronger than it was in 2011. It’s one thing to have a host of talented defenders. It’s another thing entirely to instill or sharpen the mental edge of those defenders in order for them to collectively see a game through.

There is no training manual or guide on how to improve one of the league’s worst defenses. Or Easy Button, for that matter. No question, Burns and Heaps have a lot of work to do this winter to ensure that the Revolution defenders aren’t hanging their heads and resting their hands on their hips as often in 2012.

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