Saturday night in Foxboro the Revolution once again squandered an early lead and succumbed to defeat to Seattle 2-1. Sadly, it's a script all too familiar to the members of the 2011 squad, and it certainly sticks out as the team's biggest shortcoming. After surrendering two more goals on Saturday, the "goals against" tally for New England eclipsed the 50 goal milestone, as the Revs have now conceded 51 times this season, putting them behind only Toronto FC for worst in the league. The problems at the back are numerous, and if the club is to build on what has been a sub-par year in 2011, a few key conundrums will need addressing and I'll outline them after the jump!
FIND A PERMANENT LEFT BACK: Figured I'd get the obvious one out of the way first. I'm not going to harp on how the Front Office should have kept Didier Domi because that is ridiculous, but I will point out, however, that Seth Sinovic is having a really nice season at left-back...for Sporing Kansas City. Most of you may remember Seth from his sporadic appearances in a Revs kit in his rookie season before he was sent away. Now the Revs are stuck platooning Chris Tierney (a left-mid) and Darrius Barnes (central defender) at the position depending on the availability of other players. The club needs to go out and find a young, speedy left back that can handle the pace on the wing that's so often seen in this league. It's imperative the team finds an "every day" left back that they can plug into the lineup game in and game out.
FIND THE RIGHT PARTNER FOR A.J. SOARES: I've got no problem admitting that I think A.J. Soares is the future captain of this team. Good attitude, leadership, and quality play in one of the most important roles on the pitch. For his rookie season, Soares has performed admirably, maturing quicker than most might have thought, but his development has been stunted by the lack of a quality (and more consistent) partner in central defense. Ryan Cochrane's picture might be next to the word "journeyman" in the soccer dictionary, Franco Coria has had a little trouble staying healthy, and Darrius Barnes (who was drafted as a center back) spends more time on the field at left back than he does at central defense. If the heart and backbone of this club is to continue to grow and strengthen, Soares needs someone next to him that he can count on and build great chemistry and rapport with, because it's perfectly evident he's not getting that at the moment. It could be Barnes, who's shown he can play the position, but until they can play together on a weekly basis, it's going to be tough for the right relationship to blossom.
IS KEVIN ALSTON THE ANSWER AT RIGHT BACK?: Time for the controversial portion of our show. I am merely asking the question. I, for one, like Alston at right back, and quite frankly, everyone seems to forget the kid is still only 23, even thought it feels like he's been around forever. I don't want to jinx it, but this may be the most healthy campaign Alston has ever had, and when he stays on the field, his form does tend to trend upward as time progresses. However, it's the often-times fruitless advances upfield, and without a doubt the poor distribution that have Revs' fans questioning whether or not Alston is the answer for the future. If it's Alston a right back going forward, the former Indiana Hoosier needs to learn better discipline, and certainly work on distributing the ball more efficiently after working hard to regain possession.
BETTER COMMUNICATION AND CHEMISTRY: Easier said than done, obviously, but it's going to be very important for the club going forward. It all hinges on having the right pieces in their proper places for as many matches as possible. Communication is something that should be constantly worked on at training, and there have been numerous times this season where goals that were conceded looked to be from a lack of proper communication. With Matt Reis in goal, the communication is good, but needs to be better, and it will only improve with a set back four that get the opportunity to play with one another on a frequent basis. Chemistry will only come with time and familiarity. We all seem to forget how young this back four really is, and on top of being young, they've really not had that much time together. It seems like every time New England takes the field Coria or Alston are hurt, Barnes or Tierney are playing out of position at left back, or someone is missing due to a suspension. In the offseason, the team needs to address the hole at left back, decide who their back four are going to be, and do nothing but build upon and nurture the partnership.
It's a long road back to glory for New England. However, soccer minds know that a successful club is built from back to front. With Matt Reis still in goal for the near future, the New England Revolution must continue to develop and supplement their youthful defensive corps. Avoiding the injury/suspension bug, and finding the proper players for the right positions will go a long way in returning this back line to it's proper form, a daunting and at times arduous task, but one that Steve Nicol and Co. can certainly handle going forward.