Defense will be a major area of concern for the Revolution in the 2010/2011 offseason after an embarrassing season that saw the concession of a club-record 50 goals. Part of that can be easily attributed to injuries and inconsistent lineups in the back, but that is glossing over the painful fact that the Revs have, since Gibbs was released to the re-entry draft, just four true defenders on the roster.
That said, there will likely be a lot of wheeling, dealing and acquisitions during this offseason and international transfer window to fill in a bit of depth at the position. The Revs need at least one veteran presence in the center of defense, and depth at both fullbacks. They cannot rely on a bunch of versatile players (Tierney, Phelan) to fill the gaps for another season.
Kevin Alston: Alston endured a bit of a sophomore slump in 2010, playing below the potential he displayed in 2009 and succumbing to niggling hamstring injuries that kept him out of action periodically. Despite that, Alston’s speed still makes him a legitimate threat and he was named to the MLS All-Star squad.
Kevin is one of the building blocks that Nicol and the Revolution organization want to create a team around. He won’t be going anywhere, and frankly he shouldn’t be. At times last season he displayed an offensive verve that he had been lacking in 2009 and once he puts it all together Alston could be one of the best right-backs MLS has ever seen.
Cory Gibbs: Gibbs was declared eligible for the re-entry draft but still has the option of withdrawing from consideration, so we will review him here. Cory was a major part of the defense this season, captaining the side in Shalrie Joseph’s absence and helping to fill the leadership void left by Jay Heaps’ retirement.
He has the versatility to play both in the center of defense and to the left, but he really isn’t up to the quality that his paycheck indicates anymore. It’s unfortunate for him, really, as injuries robbed him of the illustrious overseas and USA career that he truly deserved, but at this point he’s no more than a solid MLS defender.
Given that there are two expansion sides in the re-entry draft looking to build squads from the ground up, it makes sense for Gibbs to enter the draft and, after slipping through the cracks of stage one, he should find a home somewhere else in the league. If he is willing to return to the Revs for less money they should be happy to have him – but don’t hold your breath.
Seth Sinovic: Opinions on Sinovic appear to be split. In mine (and that of several other bloggers and journalists closely following the team), Sinovic acquitted himself very well when utilized. This includes arguably his best match, when he totally neutralized Dwayne DeRosario at Foxboro during the Revolution’s 4-1 win in April.
In the eyes of others, he showed some promise but was error-prone and suffered lapses of judgment. Regardless, as it stands now Sinovic is the left-back of the future and the Revs could honestly do worse. He has a pretty cultured left foot and his positioning sense in most matches was sound; his only failings appear to be size and pace, but plenty of footballers have overcome that to become incredibly successful in the past, so there is nothing to indicate that Sinovic won’t be a quality player for seasons to come.
The Revs have no reason to move him, so I wouldn’t expect it. Even if good value was offered for him, the lack of depth in the back line would be a major deterrent.
Darrius Barnes: Barnes led the team in minutes in 2009, and his cool, calculated positioning and tackling were an expert compliment to the rather daring and adventurous Emmanuel Osei in that season. In 2010, he struggled through several injuries and showed several flaws in his game, getting caught out of position on more than one costly occasion.
In many ways it would appear the Duke grad went through a slump similar to that of Kevin Alston. Barnes still appears to have the talent to hack it in MLS, but probably needs a veteran mentor to refine the rougher aspects of his play. If the Revs acquire a solid central player in defense, Barnes will likely be the one to partner him.
At this point Barnes appears to have the same status as Alston; an essential part of the foundation for the future. He’s going nowhere.
Emmanuel Osei: Emmanuel Osei is an enigma. Out of the five remaining defensive options on the New England roster, he is the only one I would readily drop, even without a favorable replacement lined up. Yet, on his day, he’s one of the most athletic, tenacious and effective defenders who has ever roamed the pitch in Foxboro.
In 2009, his partnership with Darrius Barnes contributed to one of the stingiest defenses in MLS. His do-or-die attitude and adventurous style was complimented well by the calm, no-nonsense defending Barnes provided and the two seemed to work very well off each other.
In 2010, Osei’s delusions of being a tricky, technical player overtook his good sense and he became directly responsible for a number of goals scored against New England. No matter what Steve Nicol seems to do, the Ghanaian can’t seem to stop himself from attempting to dribble out of trouble, fly forward and abandon his position to make a rash challenge, or try to put a shot on goal from 45 yards out that hasn’t a prayer of finding the net. Whether partnering Barnes, Gibbs or even Phelan, Osei was a liability throughout the season, especially in the second half.
The lack of depth at the position makes it somewhat unlikely that Osei would be dealt, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Revs jumped at the opportunity to recoup some value for the defender. It became obvious toward the end of the season that Nicol was fed up with Osei’s antics, and his relegation to the bench during the final few games may have spelled the end for him. Don’t rule out a possible trade.