New England Soccer Today

Keeping a Balance

Newcomers Fernando Cardenas (pictured) and Saër Sène will boost the competition for spots in the starting XI. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

When Jay Heaps took over as head coach of the New England Revolution in November, the rookie tactician had a host of issues in front of him that needed to be addressed for the team to be competitive in 2012.

One issue that was painfully obvious – yet rarely discussed – in Steve Nicol’s 2011 Revs was the lack of a balanced roster. By the end of the season Nicol had about a dozen players capable of playing the four positions up top or on the wings while at the same time only having five natural defenders.

Such an unbalanced roster leads to a host of problems. Most glaringly obvious are the issues caused to the first team when injuries strike. The past couple of seasons if an injury struck a right or left back, the entire lineup had to shift to compensate. This meant in times of crisis the Revs didn’t just have to adjust to one new player, but to several players in different positions.

But perhaps an even more troubling result is the effect on practices, reserve games, and thus player development. Having an overabundance of attackers and a shortage of defenders on the roster means players are forced to play out of position.

It was not uncommon for Ryan Kinne, a midfielder/forward, to play as a full back for the reserves during his rookie season or Alan Koger, a striker, to play as a center back during his rookie year. Young players like Zak Boggs would similarly find themselves playing out of position.

Of course an unbalanced roster necessitates that players not just play out of position in reserve games or in first team emergency duty, but in intra-squad scrimmages in practice as well. Training a player out of position is fine if the coach’s end goal us to retrain him to play a new position, but otherwise it’s counterproductive, forcing a player to learn new skills he doesn’t need while failing to advance his ability to play the position he’s are best at.

While the issue may have gone largely ignored in the media, one person who did not fail to notice is Heaps. The new head coach recognized the problem and is consciously and constantly seeking ways to correct it.

“I wish could say we were done addressing that issue, but that is something that we discuss daily,” said Heaps. “Not only do you need to have players, but you have to have the right players to get the balance.”

Heaps has been hard at working addressing the lack of defensive depth especially, bringing in Colombian John Lozano and rookie Tyler Polak, as well as several trialists who could still join the team. Heaps has also been testing Stephen McCarthy at center back.

“I think with the addition of John Lozano, who is strong, it’s solidified a pretty good player back there,” said Heaps after Wednesday’s 2-1 preseason scrimmage victory over Boston College. “A.J. [Soares] has done well, Darrius [Barnes], Stephen McCarthy’s getting in there. We’re looking at Gabe Mercier who is in this week. We looked at Junior N’Tame. We’ve taken a lot of long hard looks and we haven’t made all final decisions on some of the guys.”

The Revs also currently have left back Blake Wagner in on trial, another potential addition who could help provide some much needed depth at fullback.

Part of the process in fixing the roster composition issues is shedding players who are surplus to the requirements. Heaps did that with some of the rookies who were not brought back, as well as with the veteran players the team didn’t re-sign and left available in the Re-Entry Draft.

The team also lost some players in Milton Caraglio, Rajko Lekic and Monsef Zerka they may have preferred to still have and failed to sign players like Danleigh Borman, who would’ve added needed depth, but Heaps is working to replace those absences as well.

In Caraglio, Lekic, Alan Koger and Kheli Dube, the Revs dropped four forwards in the offseason, one of the areas the team had excesses of in numbers, though not in talent. Now Heaps is trying to find quality, but not excessive quantity to play up top. Colombian attacker Fernando Cárdenas and French striker Saër Sène are two of Heaps’ additions to fill that void.

Numbers alone are important in roster composition, but making sure they are the “right players” can be even more important. Quality depth can help provide competition rather than complacency. One player who believes Heaps is making the right moves to assure the team has competitive depth, is captain Shalrie Joseph.

“That [starting] eleven is going to be really hard to pick because we’re going to have players who know how to play the game,” said Joseph. “It’s going to be competitive. People are going to be working hard to get into that starting eleven. That’s what you need from the team week in and week out.

“It’s going to be a long season, so you never know what is going to happen,” he added. “Having a lot of options is definitely going to help us and make us a better team.”

With the start of the season just three weeks away, Heaps still has his plenty of work ahead of him to complete a balanced roster with competition across the field, but the coach knows it. If his veteran captain Joseph’s words on any indication, he’s on the right track.

One Comment

  1. Mat

    February 18, 2012 at 11:31 am

    After reading this article..I surprisingly feel a little better about this team.

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