By Kevin Koczwara
BALTIMORE, Md. — The New England Revolution disappointed in the 2010. The club failed to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in eight years and the Revs never really got going in league play. New England did reach the SuperLiga finals, but lost, 2-1, to Monarcas Morelia.
The Revolution had the fourth worst record in Major League Soccer last year, granting them the sixth pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft — expansion sides the Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers took the first two picks in the draft. New England was looking to fix it’s bottom ranked defense that allowed 50 goals last year, or the third worst offense in the league that mustered up a club low 32 goals scored.
A.J. Soares slipped perfectly into New England’s plan to reshape and revamp its defense this year after last year’s dismal season. Revs selected Soares with the sixth pick. The 22-year-old central defender fits nicely into a young defense that also boasts two-budding, solid defenders in Kevin Alston at the right back and Darrius Barnes as the rock in the center of the defense.
Revolution manager Steve Nicol was pleased when Soares fell to New England at the sixth pick. Nicol likes what he saw from the attacking midfielder turned center back.
“I think he’s a football player. He wants to pass the ball, and he can pass the ball. He’s very mature for his years, which is something you really want from a center back, particularly,” says Nicol. “You want them to be controlling things and talking to the people in front of you, and he’ll certainly do that.”
Mike Burns, Vice President, Player Personnel for the Revs, echoed Nicol’s thoughts and also feels Soares will fit into the Revs defense because of his ability on the ball and his ability to read the game.
“He’s a cerebral type player. We felt he reads the game really well and we’ve heard a lot of good things about him on the field and off the field — from a leadership standpoint, from a human-being standpoint,” said Burns.
Looking to add a little more bulk to a midfield that fell victim to injuries and suspensions, New England looked at 6ft. 4in. midfielder Stephen McCarthy from the University of North Carolina to help support Shalrie Joseph, Pat Phelan and Justin Griffiths in the center of the midfield. McCarthy, 22, looks like a perfect fit for the Revolution, as he was chosen in the second round. He is physical, imposing and technically skilled on the ball. He gives the Revs another center midfielder, like Joseph, who can win balls in the air and pass the ball out of the back.
“He’s definitely an imposing, physical player,and hopefully he’ll have an additional presence in our midfield,” says Burns. “He’s a big, strong, physical player, but we feel he is also fairly technical as well. We feel as though he can develop into an imposing central midfield player for us.”
Nicol echoed Burns’s thoughts on McCarthy, “He’s a giant. But other than that, again, he likes to try and play. He’s a big, physical, strong presence, but he wants to pass the ball as well. If he can combine both of those things, he’ll do well.”
No one knows how McCarthy, Soares or any of the Revolution’s three third-round picks — forwards, Steven Perry (Notre Dame), Ryan Kinne (Monmouth), and Alan Koger — will turn out in the long run. Drafts are unpredictable events and the nature of maturing young talent that grew up playing in different settings isn’t the most feasible, but Burns feels like the Revolution got a good lot of players to work with in the offseason.
This is just another step in the process. We’re still looking to acquire a couple of international players as well,” said Burns. “I think it’s normal when everyone leaves the draft they always feel pretty good with who they’ve drafted, but really, the true test will be once we get to preseason and get everyone acclimated, and get them in the locker room and we start training. We feel, on paper, pretty decent about what transpired today for us.”
Importance of MLS Reserve League Returning in 2011
The MLS announced in November that it would re-introduce the Reserve League and expand rosters from 26 to 30 players. The 10-game regular season for the Reserve league will also include playoffs will be open for six players under 24-years-old on the 30-man roster MLS roster and open to development academy players
The Reserve League hopefully will help give more playing time to younger players on MLS teams and give more first team action to youth players looking to break into their respected clubs. For MLS talent, this is huge. It gives youth players more chances to play against top competition and expand their skills.
The league disappeared after four seasons in 2008 because of a lack of funding, but Adidas has contributed $200 million in sponsorship deals to help the league stay afloat and develop future American talent. The expansion needed to happen again. The MLS needs another way for young players to get the time on the field necessary to learn and grow.
The expansion of the MLS roster gives teams more of a chance to sign and look for more one-dimensional, skilled players. Teams like the Revolution have had a knack at signing players who can play more than one position instead of players who excel at one role on a team because of the small roster space and tough league. Injuries take a big toll on players, and the MLS has done well by managers to give them more options and a chance to develop the best teams possible. It was about time this happened, again.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.