Well, that escalated quickly.
On the day that the New England Revolution reported for the first day of training camp, the team announced the signing of defender Sambinha on loan from partner club Sporting CP. Combined with drafting fullback Jordan McCrary in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft last week, two of the glaring weaknesses on the Revs backline have been filled.
Now the question is figuring out where everyone fits on the depth chart. Sambinha is young at 23 but has served as captain of the Sporting CP B squad. He'll possibly have a multi-lingual partner in Jose Goncalves if he's inserted straight into the starting lineup at centerback for the Revs. Goncalves is perhaps the perfect mentor to have for the young defender regardless of if he starts right away or even to mentor the young loanee on the practice field.
The biggest issue for this signing is two-fold, does Sambinha earn a starting spot at centerback and if so, does Andrew Farrell slide over to the right back spot he occupied for his first two seasons? Either way, the sorely needed depth at centerback and the Revs' defense seems to have been solved with the signings over the last week. So let's look at two likely scenarios for the Revs defense this year, and for the purposes of this exercise we're listing Darrius Barnes as a centerback even though he can play anywhere across the backline.
OPTION 1: FARRELL AT CENTERBACK
First Team: Chris Tierney, Jose Goncalves, Andrew Farrell, Jordan McCrary*
Second Team: Donnie Smith, Sambinha, Darrius Barnes*, London Woodberry*
*-competing for starting job in camp
Okay, this option essentially just needs to figure out who the best option at right back is to pair with the three starters from last year. It's perhaps the easier option to implement for the Revs because it doesn't involve any moving parts like putting Farrell on the right side. However, this option will lean heavily on either youngsters McCrary and Woodberry or veteran Barnes who's coming off an major injury from last season.
This is a safer option in another way because it builds on the successful transition Farrell had to centerback last season, but we won't know if it's the strongest pairing until we actually see Sambinha in camp and in preseason games. If Sambinha proves a worthy starting option, than the Revs can also opt to put their four best defenders on the field.
OPTION 2: FARRELL AT RIGHT BACK
First Team: Tierney, Goncalves, Sambinha, Farrell
Second Team: Smith, Barnes, Woodberry, McCrary
This option would keep the Revs three younger defenders in reserve roles getting minutes off the bench and spot starts. It also give head coach Jay Heaps some very versatile options off the bench with Barnes, McCrary and Woodberry all able to play multiple positions. Barnes in particular is an interesting case not only because of his ability to play anywhere on the backline, but he's also coming off an injury that forced him to miss the majority of 2016. His value to the Revs off the bench and as a spot starter is off the charts, but he is certainly in the mix to start at right back coming out of preseason.
There's a decent chance that this starting backline could be the strongest option for the Revs, though sliding around Farrell is not the best considering the growth he showed last year in the middle. Regardless of where he plays, Andrew Farrell is still going to be a starter, the only question is where.
A strong preseason camp from Sambinha or one of the right back options could settle the debate of where Farrell plays really quick. But the good news, regardless of the starting line up Week 1 at Houston, is that the Revolution have a full stable of defenders who provide depth and versatility across the backline and off the bench.
Which means at the very least, barring injuries, we shouldn't see Donnie Smith playing centerback in the US Open Cup in 2016.