There’s still plenty of time before the first kick of 2020, but I have to say that I’m worried about the current state of the New England Revolution’s back line.
This isn’t new. In fact, the team’s defense has been an area of concern since A.J. Soares’ departure and Jose Goncalves’ decline. With this in mind, I’m hopeful about what Bruce Arena will do during his first off-season as the team’s head coach.
So far it’s been underwhelming.
Arena got things going by signing left back Alexander Buttner on a free transfer on Nov. 1. Buttner has nice pedigree, as he grew up in the Ajax youth system before playing senior minutes throughout Europe. He even played 13 games under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
The concerning part is that Buttner has been without a club since the summer. Arena was able to get a look at him during a trial, so you hope that the 30-year-old has the goods to lock down the left back spot, which has been in flux for a couple of years now. It’s also worth noting that Buttner is a TAM player, which means he’ll make over the league maximum.
I’m not totally against the Buttner signing, but believe there are some red flags, especially after seeing Claude Dielna and Michael Mancienne arrive from Europe on big money deals.
Speaking of Mancienne, the Englishman has agreed to a pay cut to return to the Revolution. Mancienne originally arrived in the summer of 2018 on a contract that paid him $1.28 million. He recently signed a one-year agreement (with a team option) that will pay him $400,000, according to ProSoccerUSA. This number doesn’t include any performance-based bonuses.
Mancienne hasn’t been good since arriving in New England as he’s been prone to make game-changing mistakes. While the optimist can point out that he was injured for a long stretch of 2019, the pessimist can counter by noting that insiders said that Mancienne was known for mental gaffes.
Mancienne’s new contract doesn’t require the club to use any GAM or TAM, but it’s also not cheap. Given his play in Revs colors, I would’ve liked to see the team explore other options. Re-signing him doesn’t instill confidence because it was the easiest path forward.
Of course, the Revs needed help at center back after losing Jalil Anibaba to Nashville SC in the Expansion Draft. Although he wasn’t a regular starter, the 31-year-old played well during his two seasons in New England.
I’m not sure I would’ve protected Anibaba over anyone else, but I would’ve re-signed him to a new contract to make him less appealing to Nashville and Miami (maybe the Revs tried to do this—we don’t know). According to the MLS Players Union, Anibaba made $101,250 last year. Offering him $200,000, which is half of what Mancienne makes, could’ve kept him in Revolution colors.
The Revs did re-sign DeJuan Jones and Brandon Bye, who are speedsters who became outside backs when they went pro. These moves were done to open up space on the reserve roster. Both players have promise, so I’m happy to see them get some sort of pay raise.
So where does this leave us?
Given the current personnel, the Revs’ back line will likely feature Buttner on the left, Antonio Delamea and Andrew Farrell in the middle, and Brandon Bye on the right. Arena could also go with a back four of Buttner, Delamea, Mancienne, and Farrell. If he’s going for something more experimental, maybe we see a a five-man unit of Buttner, Delamea, Manncienne, Farrell, and Bye.
None of these options are particularly satisfying, which is why I’m hoping to see more additions. The right back spot is the biggest area of need, especially if Carles Gil continues to line up as a right midfielder. The creative attacker likes to cut in from that spot, which means that the right back has to be the one providing width. Bye has the wheels to get forward, but his crosses are too inaccurate. He also struggles to get back.
I’d also like to see another option at center back. Delamea and Farrell worked well together while playing under Arena but they might be too similar. Furthermore, Delamea, who I like quite a bit, is known for getting cards.
The off-season is still young and I’m sure more changes are coming. I did, however, think we’d see more turnover at this point, especially since this has been an area of concern for many years. Even picking up someone like A.J. DeLaGarza, who Arena knows well from their LA Galaxy days, would’ve been a solid move.
I trust that Arena has a plan that will unfold in the coming months. Until then, I remain concerned about the Revs’ back line.