New England Soccer Today

Let Reis Lead

The Revs already have their veteran leader in the back: Matt Reis. (Photo by CHRIS ADUAMA/

Over the past few seasons there seemed to be a general consensus that the New England Revolution needed a veteran in the back line to help guide its relatively young defense. Admittedly, I was a part of that group.

After watching former head coach Steve Nicol try and fail with Cory Gibbs, Didier Domi and Ryan Cochrane, it’s time to jump ship. If new skipper Jay Heaps can’t find a veteran still in his prime to help improve the back line, he’s better off avoiding Nicol’s mistakes and looking elsewhere than grabbing another team’s castaway.

Slow, out of form, injury-prone and past his prime are just a few of the terms that could be used to describe any of the Revs recent veteran defenders. Rather than helping their young teammates, they’ve brought the team down.

Now as Kevin Alston and Darrius Barnes enter their fourth season and A.J. Soares heads for his second, finding a veteran to complement them should no longer be a necessity. If Heaps can find upgrades and depth bring them in – along with a left back or two – but the focus should now be on skills and experience shouldn’t trump youth and athleticism.

None of the current Revs defenders have developed a reputation as a vocal leader, but with veteran ‘keeper Matt Reis behind them they don’t need to be. Heaps, having played in front of Reis himself, should trust the experienced keeper to organize his back line.

To facilitate Reis’ leadership, Heaps must build a backline that can and will listen. Communication is vital in defending, so avoiding a player like Emmanuel Osei, who either couldn’t or wouldn’t heed Reis’ orders, will be key to the Revs success in 2012.

While some were quick to write off Barnes after the team’s disastrous season in 2011, it would be wise not to ignore the skill that the 24-year-old displayed in his first two seasons, earning him high praise. Barnes has shown he can communicate well with Reis on the field and a pairing with Soares, who is coming off an impressive rookie campaign, could actually still prove the solution at center back.

Alston still has work to do to improve his game and with Heaps, who had a very successful career in Major League Soccer (MLS) at right back himself, at the helm, 2012 could be a big year of improvement for him, particularly in his decision making. If Alston, Soares and Barnes, along with a new left back, can form a cohesive back line and consistently display the skill all three have shown in spurts, Heaps focus this offseason could be on bringing in depth rather than starters (well, along with that left back).

And whoever Heaps does bring in, experience should not be the deciding factor. Heaps can focus on making his back line more vocal, as he was during his playing days, but he should have no problem letting Reis be the leader in the back.

Athletic, tenacious, skilled and teamwork, rather than the superlatives used recently, should be the terms Heaps hopes to hear used to describe his new additions in defense.


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