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Defense focus for Revolution

Pair of rookies will play a central role

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / March 20, 2011

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CARSON, Calif. — The Revolution started last season with two veterans in central defense. And after surrendering a sixth-minute goal in their season-opening 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy, the defense remained inconsistent throughout the year.

This year coach Steve Nicol has decided to revamp the back line. When the Revolution meet the Galaxy in their opener tonight, three of the four starting central defensive candidates will be newcomers.

The two starters also will likely be much younger than last season’s Cory Gibbs-Emmanuel Osei pairing. Nicol has not announced a lineup, but A.J. Soares, 22, the team’s first-round draft choice, appears set after starting nearly every preseason match.

If Franco Coria, 22, joins Soares, the Revolution would be going with two players making their MLS debuts. Coria and Soares seem to have the edge over Darrius Barnes and Ryan Cochrane because of their ability to distribute the ball. Both Barnes and Cochrane have proven themselves in league play, providing dimensions of aerial strength and toughness.

But Nicol has taken chances on young central defenders in the past, going with 21-year-old Michael Parkhurst in the 2005 opener when the Revolution lined up in a 3-5-2. Parkhurst emerged as a national team performer, then went to Denmark, and was succeeded by a 22-year-old Barnes in ’09.

“We want to pass the ball out of the back,’’ Nicol said. “That was one of the problems we had last season, we couldn’t do that. This season, I think we can do that, but at the same time you have to be able to defend.’’

The Galaxy should provide a difficult test with an attack led by David Beckham and Landon Donovan, plus newcomer Juan Pablo Angel.

“[Parkhurst’s] reading of the game was incredibly good, [but] going into the first game of the season, could we say that about Parky? We couldn’t, really,’’ Nicol said. “It’s the same situation about A.J.

“He’s had a great preseason, we’ll see what comes. It’s a different ballgame when you step into a proper game situation, with a big crowd, under pressure.

“We’ve been pleased with [Soares], absolutely. He’s got that kind of inner strength you need in somebody at the back. No matter what happens, they’re going to be at it, come rain, come shine, whatever it may be. You know you’re getting everything from them and at a great level.

“He doesn’t have experience, but the good thing is his character is solid as the day is long. No matter what happens, he’s giving everything he can, never putting his head down, all those things you need. Hopefully, for years to come, he’ll be one of guys leading the way.’’

The Revolution compiled a 360-minute shutout streak in the opening four exhibitions, then gave up an added-time goal in a win over Columbus and lost the final two matches by 3-1 scores.

“The games got a little more serious,’’ Soares said of defeats against the Crew and Houston. “We’re still in preseason, there’s a lot you’re working on.’’

This is a homecoming for Soares, who grew up in San Diego and was named Player of the Year in the Pacific-10 while performing for California. Soares family members and friends have purchased an entire section in the Home Depot Center for tonight’s game.

“I’ve been there a million times, watching games, playing on the training fields with different teams, [Olympic Development Program] teams,’’ Soares said. “It is a great facility and I’m excited to finally get to play in the stadium.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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