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Young backs Revolution’s backbone

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / June 18, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH — Coach Steve Nicol was hoping a blend of experience and youth would be effective for the Revolution defense last season. But the combination did not produce the consistency Nicol had been anticipating. So, out went central defenders Cory Gibbs and Emmanuel Osei, replaced by Ryan Cochrane, Franco Coria, and A.J. Soares.

So far, the youthful approach has provided the Revolution with defensive security and some improved distribution.

The starting back four for tonight’s game against the Chicago Fire will include 22-year-olds Coria and Soares, with Kevin Alston, 23, and Darrius Barnes, 24, outside.

“We are trying to build from the back,’’ Barnes said yesterday. “We have a solid core, a solid foundation in the back. If we can stay strong and tighten it up, not give up goals, we always give ourselves a chance. It’s just a matter of getting better moving forward.’’

As patchy as their performances were last season, Revolution defenders contributed to a 390-minute shutout streak in July, which helped launch the team into the SuperLiga final. Alston and Barnes played major roles, Barnes in central defense.

“Last year it was a little different, tons of injuries, guys going in and out,’’ Barnes said. “This year, we’ve had a couple [of injuries] but for the most part it’s been pretty solid. We weren’t as solid last year as we have been this year, but that’s down to a number of things, not just the back four.’’

Alston and Barnes have displayed excellent marking ability in limiting opposing wing play.

“I feel comfortable anywhere on the back line,’’ Barnes said. “I played right back my first three years in college. As a defender, you have to win your [one-on-one] battles, and that’s something I grew up trying to do, win my battles and try and help my teammates whenever they need it.

“I have a knack for defending, I feel like I’m a defend-first defender. There’s guys who like to get into the attack more, I’m trying to work on my game to get into the attack. But I feel like if I win my battles, it kind of picks our team up a little bit. And getting stuck in on tackles always knocks down the other team’s spirit a little bit.’’

Alston has recovered from a hamstring injury that limited him in the second half of last season after he played for the MLS All-Star team.

“Last year was tough, day in and day out, battling the injury,’’ he said. “I was just trying to keep it right. I never knew if I was going to get injured. I hurt it I don’t know how many times. It’s really hard, especially in such a long season, where you hurt it one game and you’re rushing back to come back the next game, especially with a hamstring.

“I think all that time I spent in the offseason preparing for the season helped me out and that’s why I’ve been healthy since.’’

The Revolution have not totally abandoned veteran leadership defensively. Cochrane, 27, the veteran of the center backs, will miss tonight’s match with a hamstring injury, after seven successive starts.

“They’ve come in and done a good job, three good center backs fighting for two spots,’’ Nicol said. “There’s more competition.

“Certainly from last year we’ve tightened up considerably. We would still like to have less goals against than we have. Hopefully, we’ll continue to keep it tight and not let goals in.’’

Benny Feilhaber, out since May 29 with an ankle sprain, practiced yesterday and will be on the bench today. “It’s too early to tell,’’ Feilhaber said after yesterday’s practice. “I’ll see how I react and have treatment. I definitely wouldn’t start. I might wait another week, I’m not 100 percent sure. I just don’t want to go back in and possibly reinjure myself. I don’t want to do anything. I’m on a good way to be healthy and don’t want to disrupt this.’’ . . . The Fire have a defensive setup similar to the one used by the Revolution last year. In a 1-0 win over Columbus last Sunday, Chicago went with 22-year-olds Jalil Anibaba at right back and Yamith Cuesta at central back, in front of goalkeeper Sean Johnson, 22. Gibbs, 31, paired with Cuesta, and Gonzalo Segares, 28, started at left back. The Fire ended the game with Orr Barouch, 19, and Cristian Nazarit, 20, at striker.

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

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