In 2013 an up and coming New England Revolution front office made a bold decision when they traded up for the number one spot in that year's SuperDraft. With the pick, Jay Heaps, Brian Billelo, and Mike Burns picked an athletic defender out of Louisville: Andrew Farrell. While history is still actively being etched on the turf of Gillette Stadium, Farrell has quickly established himself as one of the best young defenders in Major League Soccer.
Primarily deployed at right back, the athletic Farrell ranks near the top of many defensive categories, but his impact transcends any statistical value. The 22-year-old's aggressive, stout, and astute style resembles that of a player well beyond his years. With two strong seasons and valuable MLS experience behind him, the Kentucky native is surely looking to make the 2015 season his best one yet.
2014: Often tasked with market the opponents' best attacking player (i.e. Thierry Henry, Landon Donovan, etc.), Farrell used his impressive speed and defensive instincts to his advantage during the Revs' deep playoff run. While he is built more like an NFL linebacker than an MLS defender, Farrell possesses infectious tenacity and commitment. With all of these characteristics, it is easy to see why Farrell was Heaps' first choice right-back for the majority of the 2014 season.
While Farrell has all the intangibles, many may not realize that Farrell is statistically one of the best defenders in all of MLS. His 84 interceptions and 194 clearances were good for eleventh in the league and his 20 blocked shots were thirteenth best. In terms of ground and aerial duels, Farrell's numbers were also up there with the best.
His 71 tackles were the second most in the entire league, the 26 one-on-one battles he won were the sixth best in MLS, and 36 aerial challenges he won place him in a slightly less impressive, but still respectable, thirty-seventh place. To put it simply, Farrell is one of the best all-around defenders in the league based on the stats. His athletic ability and ever-developing tactical nous strongly influence this, but Farrell is firmly in the upper echelons of MLS defenders.
Another area in which Farrell excelled in 2014 was his ability to cover an immense amount of ground. Routinely observed bombing up and down the right flank, Farrell was all over the place offensively and defensively. The below heat map is from the August 3rd 3-0 victory over Toronto FC at BMO Field.
To put it lightly, the Revs' number 2 was all over the place against the Reds. Farrell was tasked on the day with containing Jonathan Osorio and getting at Mark Bloom. He did both convincingly, as he tracked Osorio centrally and out wide, supported Teal Bunbury to great effect, and commanded the right side of the pitch.
Now, this is one isolated match from Farrell's 2014 season, but it acts as a microcosm for all he was able to do. Using his athletic ability to his advantage, Farrell was largely able to shut down opposing wingers, all while still advancing upfield. Speaking of Farrell's activity in the attacking third, the now third-year player was quite active in the attack, as well.
Leaning upon the soccer experiences of a childhood spent in Peru, Farrell has a lot of technical ability for a big man. He isn't afraid to get forward and take on an onlooking defender or stride past them with speed. Below is a video from the Revs' 2-1 away playoff victory over the New York Red Bulls. Farrell can be seen excitingly getting at Ambroise Oyongo, showing off some quick feet, and using his one-on-one attacking abilities to win a corner late in the match.
In the same vein, Farrell's attacking flair also caused him to create 18 chances for the Revs in 2014. While not renowned for this ability, it's a club in Farrell's bag that can be used to great effect.
Taking account of all of these elements of Farrell's game, it is easy to see why many fans and media members are starting to clamor for the Revs' defender to earn a shot with the US National Team. He still is some ways off from a call-up, but the youngster already has an Eastern Conference Championship and MLS Cup appearance to his name. Not too shabby for a player two years removed from college soccer.
2015: Looking toward the impending MLS season, it is evident that Farrell has a strong foundation on which to build. His unique combination of size, athletic and technical ability, and tactical awareness primes him to contribute to the Revs in a major way in 2015. He still has areas of his game to work on, but there is every reason to believe that Farrell will continue to grow as a player.
Farrell, who is outgoing and always seen with a smile, could find himself playing a different role this season. Normally a right-back, Farrell has been pegged by many to step in as A.J. Soares' replacement and Jose Goncalves' new partner. On some prior occasions, Farrell has manned that spot so there shouldn't be too long of an adjustment period if he lines up there.
No matter where Farrell ends up slotting into Heaps' starting lineup, expect big things from him in 2015.
All stats used in this article are from Squawka.com.