Ahead of the 2016 season, the Revolution need support along the back line. One solution—by now familiar to Revolution supporters—would come from moving Andrew Farrell to his natural right back position.
After switching to center back to accommodate the departure of A.J Soares, Farrell only needed a handful of matches to get on the same page as partner Jose Goncalves. He ultimately put together a season worthy of team Defender of the Year honors. Now in need of defensive depth—and a bona fide starter at right back—Head Coach Jay Heaps has a decision to make. Should he slot Farrell out wide? Or stick to his guns and feature Farrell in the middle?
We break down the pros and cons of moving the speedy defender out wide.
Move Andrew Farrell to right back because...
1. He's Fast.
Though built like a tank, Farrell has the best set of wheels on the Revolution roster. His speed served the club well from 2013-2014, as he closed gaps as quick as anyone in the league and even flashed the ability to spur the attack on the dribble. As a center back last season, he had only a fraction of the opportunities to put this speed on display. His other traits—like grit and sheer athleticism—made themselves known, though his move to the middle handcuffed his freedom to run up and down the flank. A move to his natural right back spot would enable Farrell to show off his speed once again.
2. He's a natural dribbler.
Yes, Farrell is fast, but he also has a knack for building dangerous forays forward. Whether he's taking on a midfielder 1v1 or darting up the wing, he loves to have the ball at his feet. But last season, Farrell spent more time karate-kicking the ball into safety—a skill few MLS center backs posses, undeniably—than dribbling forward, again hampering one of his prominent traits. An open pasture on the right side of the field opens up many more opportunities to dribble forward and give energy to the attack.
3. The center back market is deep.
On our initial 2016 MLS prospect board, we listed several center back options for Heaps' squad: Jonathan Campbell, Brandon Vincent and Zach Carroll, among others. We've also spent time wondering if Omar Gonzalez, rumored to be staying in LA but still likely on the market, might be on GM Mike Burns' radar. And even beyond these options, the Revolution have room to add an international player or center back currently playing in MLS. The bottom line: if Farrell moves out wide, the Revolution have a deep pool of center back replacements to chose from. Of course, this move is dependent on front office acquiring a legitimate center back—one who can immediately enter the Starting XI and begin building chemistry with Goncalves.
Leave Andrew Farrell at center back because...
1. He's developed a rapport with Goncalves.
Short of a forgettable center back debut against the Sounders last season, Farrell hit the ground running in his new position. He started 32 matches as a center back—the majority of them beside Goncalves—and learned to take fewer risks beside the occasionally risk-prone Portuguese defender. If the Revolution push Farrell wide and bring in a new center back, the process will start over again. Will a rookie develop a similar rapport? Will a veteran mesh with Goncalves' playing style? The current pairing isn't broken; why fix it?
2. He's not a threat with his service.
Though Farrell likes to push forward and unleash the attack with a clever dribble or pass, he rarely poses a threat from the flank (from 2013-2014, he averaged just 0.25 crosses per match). His play in the middle of the field masked this deficiency. If slotted back out wide, Farrell will undoubtedly need to work on his service. In 2015, the Revolution looked most dangerous in the attack when Chris Tierney and London Woodberry both spun strong crosses into the box. Farrell is an elite talent—but simply cannot match the service of his competition.
3. The Revolution need center back depth.
In 2015, a lack of center back depth plagued the Revs for much of the season (as evidenced by the Jermaine Jones center-back experiment). And, to put more pressure on the situation, rumors of Goncalves' departure have swirled for two seasons. If JoGo departs—and Farrell moves out wide—will the Revolution have the depth to field a serviceable defensive unit? Pulling Farrell from the center back position would require Burns and the front office to acquire multiple center backs: one to replace Farrell, and at least one more for depth. Are they up to the task?