The tough-tackling Soares was a rare bright spot in last season's defense
Time for the 2011 season grades to (finally) continue! Corey, Matty, and I have looked at the four major areas of the team - goalkeeping, defense, midfield, forwards - and assigned our grades on a 4.0 scale.
Unfortunately for the New England Revolution, we don't curve based on the rest of the league.
Without further ado, here are our grades for the Revolution defense, a unit that set new marks for futility and, at times, appeared to be totally non-existent. We discuss their performance and grade them after the jump.
Corey: This was an area which seemed to be, I'd say, average to above-average at the beginning of the season. But I think that was mainly due to it being overshadowed by our complete ineffectiveness at attacking and the naïve optimism that we had for our now departed Frenchmen. As the season progressed and the team addressed our dire attacking needs, the defensive side of play grew worse and worse. With the exception of the phenomenal and inspiring play of A.J. Soares, our defense fell into a downward spiral. With Ryan Cochrane making clumsy and costly mistakes, Kevin Alston's sloppy passing and inadequate awareness, and Coria's inconsistency, the back line soon fell to shambles and never really managed to shake off the rut it fell into.
Perhaps the worst of it all was the number of games that the Revs could have (and should have) won after giving up a lead to settle for a draw or end up losing all together. Our defense coughed up 3 points far too many times this season, and often in the last 10 minutes of the game. It was the Revs inability to finish out a game with a lead that really tainted this season and was ultimately (and I suppose arguably) the most evident failure of the club's 2011 campaign.
Defense overall grade: 2.3/C+ (if not for Soares, this would probably be a D)
Matty: Talk about a mixed bag! First, the positives: Kevin Alston set an all time club record for minutes played in a season. I'll let that sink in. Yes, THAT Kevin Alston. Say what you want about his lack of quality passing and positioning, but this club is simply better when he's on the field, and he did that more this year than any player in team history. First round pick A.J. Soares is this club's next captain. Smart, not overly physical, but certainly a step in the right direction building from the back.
The negatives: Ryan Cochrane is not a professional center back. New England STILL doesn't have a left-back (well, they did, but he's currently in Kansas City), and the lack of depth at each position is pretty glaring as well. When Soares went down I thought Darrius Barnes did a nice job filling in, and Franco Coria certainly shows promise, but this team needs to find a way to build a little more depth on both wings. New England still has trouble dealing with speedy attackers, as they were caught out several times all season, and in several cases this year when they would surrender a lead late, it was after being broken down and beaten with speed.
If New England is to progress further up the table, they need a full time left back to build better chemistry, preferably one similar to Alston, with good speed and ability to retreat and catch up.
Steve: I can't say enough terrible things about the way this defense performed this year, so I'll just point out the obvious: 58 goals allowed. With Matt Reis between the sticks. That's inexcusable, unacceptable, and embarrassing for a professional soccer team in this league.
Some of the blame has to be pinned on the front office. Franco Coria looked like a decent pickup early, but faded into mediocrity and then downright awfulness as the season went on, while Ryan Cochrane should have been an MLS-savvy veteran addition and instead turned into a guaranteed goal-per-game liability. Also, inexplicably, the staff thought letting go of Seth Sinovic would be a great idea, leaving the aging and fragile Didier Domi as the squad's only natural left back. Sinovic became an integral part of the Sporting KC team that made the Eastern Conference Finals, while Didier Domi was cut in July and is currently without a club.
A.J. Soares at least is a positive note in this dismal group. The former Cal man was a legitimate Rookie of the Year contender before his season was ended by injury, despite playing hurt through most of the year. He had a presence in the back beyond his tender years and made fewer mistakes than one would expect out of a first-year professional. If he can fight the sophomore slump, we should be able to expect big things out of him in the future.
Kevin Alston had a pretty good year, but he continues to rely too heavily on his speed to make up for poor positioning defensively, while lacking in end product offensively. Still, he played a lot of minutes and made some decent plays. Darrius Barnes performed admirably in the unfamiliar position of left back after Domi was cut, and also looked decent in the middle. I believe he needs stability to truly shine next season. Still, if those three defenders are the only bright spots on this roster, the Revs are in trouble in 2012 unless some serious work is done.
Overall Grade: C/C+