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.


  1. Chris B

    December 26, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    I was going to disagree with you on the basis of look what happened last year. Like you said, our veteran defenders like Cochrane and Domi failed and Reis had to assume backline leadership which resulted in a terribly disorganized defense and may have diverted his attention from his goal. However, as I was reading the article, I changed my mind. You are right. Hopefully, Soares develops into the vocal, talented, leader of the backline and for now, Reis can assume that role and the Revs should definitely focus on talent over experience when looking for defenders since they added (and hopefully will continue to add) veteran leaders through the re-entry process.

    • Sean Donahue

      December 26, 2011 at 8:46 pm

      I think the biggest problem in each of the last two seasons – besides the obvious weak links – was the lack of consistency. Durability should be a big consideration when putting together a back line because I strongly believe communication (I think the ability to speak English is actually fairly important for everyone on the back line) and yes, “chemistry”, is more important between defenders than anywhere else on the field.

      How much better off would the Revs have been last year if they had stuck with the young, promising and cheap Seth Sinovic over the aging, expensive and injury prone Domi? Barnes and Soares were the best CBs last year individually, but never had much of a chance to play and get comfortable together. I think the two have the potential to complement each other well if given the chance.

      I believe, especially now after everyone’s got another year of MLS experience under their belt, a consistent defense of Alston, Soares, Barnes and a Sinovic-like left back (which isn’t easy to find) would already be a heck of a lot better than what we saw last year.

  2. NFLPatriot

    December 27, 2011 at 6:11 am

    Reis hasn’t played a full season since 2007. What happens when Shuttleworth is forced to play? Do they need to replace him with a veteran backup GK?

    • Sean Donahue

      December 27, 2011 at 9:59 am

      While I’m not sold yet on Shuttleworth as a long term solution, I’ve seen him be quite vocal and quite effective at organizing his defense in reserve games. To me, he seemed more timid and much less vocal in first teams games and to a lesser extent reserve team games when he had veterans, especially Cochrane, playing in front of him.

      If Heaps can’t get him to show the same confidence and command he is capable of in reserve games with the first team than maybe he should look elsewhere.

      Worth noting, the combined MLS experience of the Galaxy’s right back and center backs heading into last season where they had the league’s best defense was 7 years – that’s the same as what the Revs currently rostered center backs and right back have going into 2012. I’m not arguing the quality’s the same, but young and athletic seemed to work just fine for them. (Yes, they do have a journeyman left back, but I don’t think he’s the difference maker or vocal leader there).

Leave a Reply