When Chris Tierney sustained an injury at the tailend of the 2012 season, at a time when the Revs were already out of the playoff hunt, head coach Jay Heaps opted to experiment with his backline. That experiment resulted namely in a switch for Kevin Alston from his usual right back position to left back where Tierney started almost every game for New England (in 2012) leading up to his injury.
This experiment was met with unexpected praise when it was discovered that Alston was just as effective on the opposite side of the pitch and in fact was a better passer and crosser of the ball from that side, where he played for most of his college career at Indiana University. Alas, Alston finished the 2012 season on the left, and after playing there further in preseason camp, became the first choice to start there in 2013.
Kevin's recent and unfortunate diagnosis has disrupted this new status quo for Jay Heaps' side, leaving him with a variety of choices to fill this void, but seemingly only one clear one: the return of Chris Tierney to the backline.
Tierney's defensive role was once his to lose until Alston took over, and now it seems it is his to lose yet again. Saturday's match against the Seattle Sounders showed just that. Tierney started there and played the full 90 minutes for the first time this season. And while Tierney's critics may kick their feet at his return, there are many reasons to believe that the Revs will be just as defensively sound with him along the backline and perhaps more dynamic on the attack.
For one thing, Tierney's inclusion on Saturday did not disrupt nor tarnish the Revs' impressive defensive record in 2013. In fact, the Revs notched yet another clean sheet on the season with him in the starting XI. Sure, it was against Seattle who have their own scoring problems this year, but it was a clean sheet just the same.
Tierney also offers something different, and that is his service. Now, it has (arguably) become apparent that his crossing ability and dead-ball skills have lost a step or two in the last season or so, but the Massachusetts native still possesses this quality to his game more so than Alston. Tierney is also a natural wide player that can provide width the Revolution attack (something the Revs currently lack), compared to Alston who has a propensity to drift into the center of the pitch when advancing on the attack leaving the left side of the pitch exposed and susceptible to a counter-attack.
If Tierney can re-establish his talents as a free-taker and improve his ball-crossing into the box, then he may just be able to contribute to the remedy for New England's lack of goals.
What's more, 2012 suggests that Lee Nguyen is more dangerous and more involved in the attack in general with Tierney as his left-sided partner. So far in 2013, with Alston on the left, Nguyen has floated in and out of games and often disappeared entirely. His chemistry with Tierney, though, is undeniable and provides a more balanced attack from the left that the Revolution desperately need to rekindle.
While Jay Heaps has other options for his left back, at least until Kevin Alston is able to return to the fold, it seems that Tierney is option #1 yet again. Pushing for the job will be Darrius Barnes, who started most games at the position in 2011, and Tyler Polak who was drafted in last year's SuperDraft and is currently loaned out to the Rochester Rhinos. Other potential candidates could also be Bilal Duckett (also with Rochester) who has experience at that position, or even rookie Donnie Smith who is a dominant left-sided player with good speed and excellent crossing ability.
Simply put, this is Tierney's time to shine, and I expect him to do just that.
The Bent Musket would also like to extend our best wishes to Chris and his loved ones right now in the wake of Monday's tragedy.