Kevin Alston's Return: What Does It Mean for Chris Tierney and the 4-1-4-1?

George Frey

Kevin Alston is back, and is traveling with the team to Colorado and Ohio. Despite the obviously great news, his return certainly brings up a few questions about the left-back position and his main competition for it.

Per a team press release today, Kevin Alston has been removed from the New England Revolution's Disabled List and is included in the club's 18-man travel roster to Colorado and Columbus this week.

Alston has been undergoing treatment for chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), a rare but treatable form of leukemia, since April when he learned of his diagnosis.

"We're very pleased for Kevin that his treatment has progressed and he's returned to the field," Revolution general manager Michael Burns said. "From the outset, Kevin was committed to getting back and has maintained an incredibly positive attitude."

Alston, 25, started the Revs' first four games this season at left back before learning of his diagnosis. In his career, he has started all 116 games in which he's played since New England drafted him 10th overall in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft out of Indiana University. He ranks 11th on the Revs' career charts in games played, and eighth in games started. Alston also started the 2010 MLS All-Star Game.

He returned to training in early July and has since been steadily increasing his participation.

This is, of course, terrific news for Alston and also for the Revs, who have been lacking depth along the backline recently, forcing them to dig deep at times and occasionally deploy players like Ryan Guy and Donnie Smith out of position to fill the gaps at fullback.

Alston's return also brings up a number of questions, most notably where exactly he stands in terms of game fitness. Having not seen action since April, it is unlikely that Alston has a full 90 minutes in him at this point. But considering that he is a part of the 18-man travel roster and the fact that the Revs have a 2-game week this week, there's a good chance that he'll see at least some time, if not a full game against the Columbus Crew on Saturday.

Another important and intriguing question that this brings to light is whether or not Alston will claim his starting spot at left-back from Chris Tierney once he is back to full fitness. Tierney has capably and admirably filled in for Alston as the incumbent starter at left-back, with Darrius Barnes filling in on occasion, but the position seemed to be Alston's from the get-go earlier this season. Alston's pace has been an element sorely missing for the Revolution, however Tierney has racked up 3 assists in his 12 starts and has been a viable attacking presence on the left-wing when the Revs have been pressing.

Moreover, Jay Heaps' switch to the now signature 4-1-4-1 formation came after Alston's diagnosis and hiatus from game play. Does Alston, who has always had a propensity to drift into the middle of the pitch, fit into this new system where the fullbacks are deployed as wide cover on the attack while the wingers pinch in?

Many questions indeed, but it appears as though we won't have to wait long to see Alston back in action. The Revs kick-off against their final Western Conference opponent of the season, the Colorado Rapids, on Wednesday night.

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