Looking at the numbers will tell you the New England Revolution have tried earnestly this off-season to strengthen their back line.
The current New England roster contains nine players who are defenders by trade, marking the first time since 2014 that the club has had more than seven defenders under contract at one time.
Although the Revolution have had areas of need and places to improve throughout their ranks in recent years, no part of the roster has needed more care and attention than the back line.
In 2017, the Revolution conceded 53 goals, the the most in the Eastern Conference and the third-most in Major League Soccer. In 2016, the figure for goals allowed was 54, which, combined with the team’s weak attack, kept the Revs out of the playoffs.
New head coach Brad Friedel hasn’t taken his team’s recent history of lackluster defending lightly. As of February 13, Friedel and New England general manager Mike Burns have inked eight new players, four of them defenders. Whether they’ll stem the flow of opponents’ goals remains to be seen, but Friedel is on the right track from a numbers standpoint.
A larger team typically means greater competition for playing time; in turn, players have an increased incentive to stay on their game and maintain consistent, peak performance. Friedel’s predecessor, Jay Heaps, subscribed to a philosophy of competition in training and started his coaching tenure by having multiple players battle it out for spots, but fell off last season and in 2016 due to his and the front office’s failure to fill out the roster.
Friedel has picked up where Heaps left off in 2014, increasing the ranks throughout the pitch, most notably on the defensive flanks. He’s even targeted Andrew Farrell, the Revolution’s starting right back, by saying he’s needed more competition in his position.
However, New England’s defense is certainly not without concern. Two of the Revolution’s four defensive signings this off-season are rookies. Another is Gabriel Somi, a free transfer from Sweden who will likely need time to adjust to the style of play in MLS. And the primary central defenders, Claude Dielna and Antonio Mlinar Delamea, are native French and Slovenian speakers, respectively, but are using English as their common language.
The Revolution season starts March 3 in Philadelphia, which means there’s still three weeks of preseason for the club to better prep its revamped back line. Challenges will arise as the campaign unfolds and the back line may still require some tweaks or additions.
But for now, it appears Friedel is on the right track.