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Big test awaits for backline against NYRB

Revolution defense will be challenged with the absences of Henry Kessler and Jon Bell

MLS: CF Montreal at New England Revolution Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

For followers of the New England Revolution center back depth was likely a concern at the beginning of the 2021 season. Veteran defenders Antonio Delamea and Michael Mancienne left the squad and were replaced by AJ DeLaGarza, who profiled more as an outside back, and Jon Bell, who spent 2020 with Revolution II.

Many of the questions regarding the center backs have been answered halfway through the season, thanks to iron-man Andrew Farrell starting every game to date and Jon Bell emerging as a third option. But for the first time in 2021, the Revolution will rely on center back option #4 this weekend, posing another challenge to New England’s defense.

At his weekly media availability on Thursday, Bruce Arena ruled Bell out for this Saturday’s game against New York Red Bulls. With Henry Kessler on national duty at the Gold Cup, it’s almost certain DeLaGarza will pair with Farrell.

While a veteran pairing of DeLaGarza and Farrell doesn’t necessarily spell disaster, it might not be an ideal pairing for the Revolution to have two center backs under six feet - DeLaGarza is billed at 5’9” and Farrell is listed as 5’11” - in front of backup keeper Brad Knighton. DeLaGarza also has had limited time at center back, making his first appearance at that position for the Revolution last weekend as a 62nd minute substitute for the injured Bell and only logging three games at centerback for Inter Miami last season. But Arena’s options are limited, as DeLaGarza and Farrell are the only players available with minutes at centerback this season.

In addition to AJ DeLaGarza’s probable first start at centerback, doomsday preppers and pessimistic fans might also wonder: What’s Plan B in the event of injury or a red card?

The Revolution do have one other center back option on the roster in Collin Verfurth, who might find his way into the game day roster for the first time this season. Verfurth has made six appearances and five starts with Revolution II at USL League One after battling injury earlier in the season.

More than likely, Verfurth is a heavy favorite to be the third center back option and will get the call to the gameday roster this weekend, but if called upon, it will be a big test for an unproven player who hasn’t yet been in the first-team plans and wasn’t part of the gameday roster last weekend even in Kessler’s absence.

Beyond Verfurth, it’s anyone’s guess as to who is the emergency option at center back. Brandon Bye could shift from right back to the center, especially with outside back DeJuan Jones returning from injury after missing the previous two games. The Revolution could also try a player like Scott Caldwell, Tommy McNamara, or Matt Polster to the backline considering the depth in the central midfield.

The Revolution could also sign another Revolution II center back to the MLS roster, as the team has an open supplemental spot, though it’s unlikely the team will fill a roster spot for depth for a single game.

MLS rules do allow teams to sign players from its USL team to four-day contracts, but only in cases of “extreme hardship” when a team has fewer than 16 outfield players available. Francois Dulysse, who recently returned from the team after representing Haiti in the Gold Cup, and Pierre Cayet would be good candidates, but the Revolution are unlikely to qualify for an extreme hardship call-up.

Regardless of how the team lines up, the Revolution’s depth will be tested and fans will have to hold their breath if DeLaGarza and/or Farrell get in yellow card trouble. It’s not clear who the next man up would be for the Revolution. Let’s hope we don’t find out.