By Kevin Koczwara
The New England Revolution defense struggled last year, to say the least. The Revs allowed a league leading 50 goals. The defense couldn’t stop the goals from raining in because it never had a full compliment of defenders or goalkeepers. A major injury for the defense was the absence of Matt Reis for much of the season.
Reis was unable to start the season because of offseason surgeries to his shoulder and knee in 2010. The 35-year-old goalkeeper needed time to recover and rest. If things had gone to plan, Reis would have come back later than he had too and got all the rest he needed after rehabbing, but that wasn’t reality. This season, though, Reis is getting more rest and feeling fresher.
“I have gotten a lot of rest in, which has really been the most important thing for me lately,” said Reis during a conference call last Wednesday.
“It’s nice to go through a preseason and nice to be able to put all the work in and the time on the field. I feel good.”
Preston Burpo filled in valiantly for Reis at the beginning of the season. Burpo played well, but injuries to defenders and in the midfield left him out at sea much of the time. Then the worst happened, Burpo went down with a horrific leg injury while charging a ball outside the box against the New York Red Bulls on May 29, 2010. Reis jumped into action, but neither he or New England’s third string keeper, Bobby Shuttleworth, were able to help solidify the defensive unit.
Cory Gibbs and Emmanuel Osei were let go after the season and the Revolution have spent much of the offseason trying to build a core of defenders that will help see that 2011 is better than 2010. With the sixth pick in the MLS Super Draft the Revs selected center back A.J. Soares from the University of California and then added veteran center back Ryan Cochrane to the mix in the MLS Re-entry draft. The two center backs will look to work out a pairing system with the steadily improving Darrius Barnes and the young left and right backs Seth Sinovic and Kevin Alston. The Revs staff got hold of 22-year-old Argentine Franco Coria from Chacarita Juniors to add some extra youth and strength in the middle of the defense. While 35-year-old French defender Didier Domi was brought in from Europe to add some experience to the back to help the young defense looking to improve on last year.
“We’re moving in the right direction,”says Reis. “I think the organization has brought in some good quality players who are going to help. I don’t think it’s the end of it, but I do think we’re moving in the right direction.”
With a whole new set of defenders, Reis has to get the communication down between he and his defenders. Communication takes time, but it’s vitally important for a defense at any level. Things are looking up for the Revs and the hard work is paying off.
“It’s been really working out well. I think the fact that there are a lot of new guys means everybody is a bit more willing to talk because we have to make sure we’re all on the same page,” said Reis. “We have to work on things, and that’s why we’re out here playing these teams and playing against opponents other than ourselves. It’s been very good. I’m very optimistic about our ability to keep the other team out of the net this year.”
The Revs defense took a big step forward on Tuesday when it shutout FC Dallas in an exhibition game in Orlando. Dallas made it to last years MLS Cup Final, only to lose to the Colorado Rapids, 1-0, in extra time. The Hoops were a force to be reckoned with last season, and the Revs new defense did a good job stifling it.
“It was great to get a shutout. I thought we did a very good job of communicating in the back,” said Reis. “We’re interviewing new people for the job all the time, and we’re bring in some more players, too. It’s important as a group to get better every game, and I think we’ve already done that.”
For Reis and the Revolution, improvement in the defense has to be a top-priority. If the three shutouts this year in the preseason are a true sign of progress, than the shot stopper will have more to work with this year.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.