I know, I know, it's been awhile! Needless to say, between becoming a newly-minted father, signing with a new agent and band, and the crazy first holiday season as a parent, I've been absent from the community. However, as the calendar has turned, it's also time to turn up the heat as we head towards the new season.
The combine is THIS weekend. The MLS SuperDraft is a week from tomorrow. New England returns to camp the following week. It's time to look back, as well as turn our heads to the future.
Right from the jump, the first thing that jumps out at you in 2012 is the fact that the Revolution gave up 14 fewer goals than they did in 2011, and they did it with mostly the same characters, save for newly-anointed center back Stephen McCarthy.
To me, there were several factors that played into their success, the most prominent of which being the chemistry, familiarity, and consistency you saw on the back line for long stretches of time. I've always felt that having the same four guys back in defense, especially in the center, is a huge asset, and a coveted commodity in professional soccer, and you saw that for long periods of time in 2012.
While there were certainly growing pains for McCarthy early on as he became more familiar with his new position and role in the squad, the other veterans on the back line, namely A.J. Soares and Kevin Alston, were able to stabilize the back four and provide solid leadership through the early stages.
The old bugaboo certainly reared its head several times last year, as the Revolution continue to struggle a bit on defending set pieces (I've always maintained that with Soares' slight height disadvantage, defending crosses and corners would be a little more difficult). While there are no magical cures for such an ailment, it should be said that the addition of Darrius Barnes late in the year certainly seemed to help, and I'd be shocked going forward if we didn't see more of him in 2013.
On the outside, Revs fans were treated to a display of skill and versatility down the stretch as they learned that Kevin Alston can play BOTH outside back positions, and play them well enough to warrant a discussion as to whether or not he should continue to play on the left side going into 2013.
This leads me to my first unpopular (and perhaps controversial) question of the year. With the addition of José Gonçalves, the Revolution now have four center backs on the roster. With the second outside back position still up for grabs as a major question mark, would anyone be interested in seeing an occasional move to outside back for A.J. Soares?
Soares, in my opinion, is the best pure defender on the team and one could deduce that the move would be the easiest for him. The only reason I'd make this suggestion is that we know what we get from the likes of Chris Tierney, Ryan Guy, and guys like former Rev Flo Lechner. If this club is to take the next step forward in the journey to solidifying it's back four, perhaps they need to try something they've never done?
As far as the 2013 MLS SuperDraft is concerned, I would be slightly surprised to see Brian Bilello and Company go the defensive route again after drafting Soares and Tyler Polak in recent drafts. There are other holes in the squad, particularly in the forward depth department, and I would think the Revs would look elsewhere for help at the back should they so choose.
However, as a little food for thought, here are the top 3 defender prospects according to several draft blogs:
Andrew Ferrell - Louisville. In most soccer circles, Ferrell is the consensus #1 pick in this year's draft. The best defender in the country, Ferrell will be an MLS defensive stalwart for years to come. Throw in his Generation Adidas status, and his selection is a no-brainer.
Walker Zimmerman - Furman. Several sites have described Zimmerman as a future franchise defender, and this Generation Adidas defender certainly looks the part at 6'3", 185lbs, and could bring even more quality depth to the Revs back line.
Eric Schoenle - West Virginia. If the Revs don't believe in Tyler Polak just yet, you could see them taking a flyer on Schoenle. A solid left back prospect but with a twist: he lead his Mountaineer team in scoring in 2012. A draft prospect that could fill a hole AND add to the scoring sheet? I'm interested.
So, as we look ahead to the 2013 MLS Season, you've got to feel somewhat encouraged by their significant improvement in 2012. With the front office getting proactive and adding a European-seasoned veteran in José Gonçalves for squad depth and experience, you can see that strengthening and stabilizing the defense is a priority for the club.
While it remains to be seen just exactly what the back line is going to look like come First Kick, you can be a little relaxed in knowing that it looks like the pieces to the puzzle are starting to fall into place.