Following up on the offensive, attacking, and defensive midfield depth for the New England Revolution, it is time to turn our eyes to the defenders. Some questions remain of their depth, but if they can find the form from the playoffs, the Revolution has a good chance of pushing for a title.
2020 was full of surprises defensively for the Revolution. The emergence of rookie Henry Kessler helped to solidify a backline that had been leaky in the previous seasons. The Revs have three-quarters of the starting backline from the playoffs (not counting Buchanan here) returning. The team looks to grow and develop into a more solid unit across the back.
While they are not returning three of the defenders from their 2020 Roster, Alexander Büttner, was the only one with regular playing time. The arrival of Christian Mafla and AJ DeLaGarza combined the signing of Jon Bell more than covers for the lost pieces.
After being drafted 38th by the Seattle Sounders in the 2020 Superdraft, Bell decided against signing with them and joined Revolution II. In the 2020 season with the Revolution II, Jon Bell started in 15 of the 16 matches. Pairing with Colin Verfurth, Bell had a solid debut professional season. The offseason was crazy as once the Revolution acquired his MLS rights from Seattle, #announceJonBell was trending within the Revolution twitter community.
As with the other young players on the roster, Bell will hopefully have an excellent developmental season in 2021. Learning from MLS veterans AJ DeLaGarza and Andrew Farrell only help him to grow and learn how to adapt to the high level of competition. He has the potential to add solid depth to the Revolution defense. He can become an MLS starter, and this is a step in the right direction for Bell.
I am on record as saying that I did not expect Bell to get many first-team chances and was proven wrong. Bell looked comfortable on the ball and stable in his positioning in the two pre-season games that were streamed. In the first game not streamed against LAFC, reports were that he continued his strong pre-season. It is noticeable that Verfurth was sent back for the Revolution II opener, and Bell was not. While I still think most of his time will be with Revolution II, you may see him getting minutes and some starts with the congested schedule.
Brandon Bye had a strong 2020 season for the New England Revolution. Continuing from his fine form from the 2019 season, Bye was the starting RB in eighteen of the twenty-two Revolution matches in 2020. While he did lose the job briefly to DeJuan Jones in the middle of the season, he re-established himself as first-choice right-back down the stretch. Sadly injury or Covid protocols kept him out of the starting line-up in the playoffs; he did make a cameo appearance against Orlando.
2021 needs to be a growth year for Bye. While he is an excellent on-ball defender, his crossing needs to improve. After contributing two goals and two assists in 2019, he had 0 goals and 0 assists in 2020. Bye needs to find his crossing boots and get more on the offensive side of the game. With a target man Adam Buksa, Gustavo Bou, and the rest of the attack looking for goals, he should have plenty of opportunities.
I expect Bye to go into the season as the starting right back, though he may have some games from the bench due to the schedule. With Tajon Buchanan being deployed in an offensive role, he should not be looking over his shoulder too much at his starting job, but he should know both Jones and Buchanan can fill in at right-back. I am expecting to see five to seven assists from him this season.
2020 was a disappointing season for DeLaGarza. After joining Inter Miami FC in their inaugural season, he only made five regular-season appearances. Inter went 3-0-2 in his five games, including 1 of their three clean sheets. In his limited game time, DeLaGarza did impress with an 84.8 percent passing accuracy.
2021 will be another depth year for DeLaGarza. The 12-year MLS veteran is well known by Bruce Arena, having worked with him previously, and won three titles during their time together in LA. His experience as both a right-back and center-back will also give the Revolution depth across the backline. His experience with Bruce Arena will also help him adapt to the system quicker.
I expect DeLaGarza to get some game time in the 2021 season. While he is a depth signing, with the schedule being hectic, his experience will aid in cover and get some starts. I am hoping to see some assists from him and helping to maintain or achieve clean sheets.
2020 was another solid, reliable year from Andrew Farrell for the Revolution. Since coming into the team in 2013, Farrell has been a constant presence in the backline for the team. Known for his acrobatic clearances, as he continues to settle with Kessler in the back of the team, those will not be needed. Starting in nineteen of his twenty appearances in 2020, Farrell improved his overall passing completion percentage from 76.6 percent to 83.1 percent, a significant gain that will hopefully trend up again in the 2021 season.
2021 should be nothing new from Farrell. Looking at his third season back at his original center-back position, Farrell will continue to be a rock in the middle for the Revolution. Another season working with Kessler should pay dividends for the Revolution. I am always one to rely on, Farrell can fill in at right-back, but I do not see that being needed this season.
I honestly expect more of the same from Farrell in 2021. He has always been a solid defensive player for the Revolution, and his game has constantly improved. While scoring more goals would be nice, it is not something I expect from him. His work ethic and tenacity have been a boon to this team since 2013 and will continue in the 2021 season.
2020 was a weird season for DeJuan Jones. After starting the year as the starting left-back (due to injury), he lost his spot when Alexander Büttner returned healthy in the MLS is Back tournament. Then after filling in again as the starting left-back, he was moved to right-back due to Büttner returning as well as Bye’s play dipping slightly. He then ended the season back as the starting left-back in the playoffs due to injuries and Covid tests.
2021 will be another pressure-filled season for Jones. Since coming into the league, he has exceeded expectations as a left-back and developed into a reliable starter. Yet after each season, the Revolution have gone out and signed a new left-back. Due to this, I think Jones keeps evolving and becoming an even better player. His speed is crazy and helps him recover from over-committing. If he develops even more defensively, then Revolution has tremendous potential at both right and left-back.
I expected Jones to get his starts but as more of a platoon situation with the packed schedule. With Mafla slightly injured, Jones will start the season as the number one left-back option. It is then up to him to keep the role, something I believe he can do. I also expect Jones to get one or two goals this year and more four to five assists, as from the pre-season videos, his crossing has improved.
2020 was a breakout season for Henry Kessler. The 4th overall pick in the 2020 MLS Superdraft, Kessler was forced into the starting lineup due to injuries. Once there, Kessler never looked out of place. His composure and calm in defense, as well as ability to read the situation. His performances earned him a call-up to his first US U-23 camp. It also earned him a place on the US U-23 squad that attempted to qualify for the Olympics.
2021 will be a measuring year for Kessler. While he had a successful freshman campaign, can he meet and then exceed those standards he has met. Defensively he was one of the best in MLS in 2020, can he challenge for defender of the year this season? He did get his first professional goal. He needs to continue to improve on his offensive side this year to become a complete defender.
I expect big things from Kessler this year. After proving me and others wrong with his freshman year (I thought he would spend his time with Revs II), I expect him to have another exceptional season. He seems to be developing into more of a leader out of the back, especially after seeing him with the U-23 team. He marshaled the backline and helped to lead the team. Offensively, I am hoping for him to get two to three goals. I think the disappointment of the U-23 tournament will push him to reach new heights this coming season.
2020 was a disappointing season for Mafla. Due to a broken collar bone, he only made thirteen appearances; all starts for Atlético Nacional. In his appearance for Nacional, Mafla did not register a goal or assist. In his thirteen starts, the team was 6-6-1 but only had three clean sheets.
The 2021 season for Christian Mafla is one to prove he is back to being the player who appeared 23 times for Atlético Nacional in 2019. A key piece in the defense, Mafla also provided one assist in that season. Rebounding from his broken collar bone will be an adjustment, and until he takes that first tackle, it will be a concern, at least to me. From the highlights seen online, he is another quick left-back which can help cause overlapping run issues for the defense.
Coming into the pre-season, I expected to see Jones and Mafla pushing each other for the starting left-back spot. Due to a lingering minor injury, Mafla did not get as much game time. While I see the two of them platooning the position, Mafla will most likely begin the season on the bench. He can become the starter and get his opportunities and will need to make the most of them. Hoping he will get one or two goals and four to five assists.
2020 was an exciting year for the young central defender. After having a breakout season with Loudoun United in the USL Championship in 2019, he became a crucial piece in the center of defense for Revolution II. Starting in all fifteen of his appearances, Verfurth was a rock in defense. He also was allowed to train with the Revolution during MLS is Back down in the bubble.
2021 will be an essential season for Collin Verfurth and his future with the Revolution first team. After coming in and training with them in the bubble for MLS is Back last year, he was the expected 4th center back going into pre-season. Now that that is not the case, he will need to focus and show his worth playing for Revolution II. At 24 years of age, he still has developing to do. Hopefully, he can rebound and become a key piece of the backline.
Due to his pre-season performances, I do not think you will see Verfurth with the first team this season. I expected to see him be the 4th center for depth, splitting time between the first-team and Revolution II. Regrettably, I was wrong, and he will most likely be a Revolution II player this year.