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Who’s the New England Revolution’s best defender in 2018?

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Much like the previous two seasons, the New England Revolution back line in 2018 is woefully inconsistent and mediocre.

So, when the club asked media members last week to submit votes for the team’s defender of the year award, I had some pause. Of the five players on the ballot – Andrew Farrell, Jalil Anibaba, Claude Dielna, Antonio Delamea and Brandon Bye – not one of them seemed particularly deserving of an award that recognizes defensive prowess over an entire season.

Most of those players have shown flashes of brilliance, but have also committed errors that have cost the Revs crucial points throughout the campaign.

As a unit, they’ve been dreadful (keep in mind that Gabriel Somi and Michael Mancienne did not make the ballot because they’ve played in less than half the Revolution’s games through Sept. 30).

With three games left, the Revs’ back line has surrendered 49 goals, meaning it’s on pace to surrender as few as 54 goals, as it did in 2016, or as many or more as 61 goals, like in 2017 when the team had the Eastern Conference’s worst defensive record.

The Revolution have just five clean sheets this season and have surrendered at least two goals per game in nine of their last 13 contests.

New England has also blown leads against struggling opponents, such as the San Jose Earthquakes, Chicago Fire, Orlando City and Los Angeles Galaxy, which has had an enormous impact on the club all but falling out of contention for a playoff spot.

The Revs likely won’t make the postseason for the third straight year, though they are not yet mathematically eliminated — and the lackluster defensive record during that time has played a significant role.

That said, identifying the Revolution’s defender of the year is a worthy task – not to honor a player’s contributions, but to identify at least one player the Revs can build around for 2019.

And after all, I still had to determine my first and second choice candidates for this year’s award. Hoping to gain some insight, I let Revs Twitter have a say:

Disclaimer: I left Dielna off the ballot because Twitter polls only allow you to list four options, and he’s been out of favor since the beginning of July (but more on him later).

I was not shocked to see Farrell take this. He’s accomplished quite a lot this season: he’s seen consistent playing time at right back, scored his first two careers goals and worn the captain’s armband for the first time.

However, I was surprised to see Delamea slide in at third. I thought he’d be higher than Anibaba. Many people noted that Bye seems like he could be promising in the future, but realistically there was no way he’d win this poll.

Here’s how I see it:

5. Claude Dielna

Whether you agree with Revolution coach Brad Friedel or not about leaving Dielna off the match 18 for the last three months, you can’t deny that him being on the fringes for so long kills his chances of winning this award.

Dielna started the season as captain and has role slowly regressed since; the only defensive stat category on the team he leads is fouls; He was the highest-paid defender in the league last year and the highest-paid defender on the team for most of 2018, too, according to the MLS Players Union, but struggled to lead his teammates or perform.

4. Brandon Bye

Mar 10, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; Colorado Rapids midfielder Enzo Martinez (90) blocks a shot from New England Revolution midfielder Brandon Bye (15) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Bye entered the league as a right winger but was thrust into new surroundings and was forced to play left back once Friedel pushed Dielna and Somi off the match 18.

Though he showed a few flashes of brilliance – including an inspiring headed goal a few weeks ago to secure an impressive point in a 1-1 draw at Los Angeles FC – Bye played like the rookie he is, which is to say he committed some costly errors and spent much of the season adapting to Major League Soccer.

Nevertheless, he performed admirably as a makeshift left back and showed he’s pacey and capable of getting into the attack. That he now has some experience playing on the opposite flank is a bonus, especially since he should return to playing on the right side in the future – provided, of course, that the Revs address the gaping hole at left back in the off-season. 

3. Jalil Anibaba

Anibaba leads the Revs in blocks per game – which means that he probably leads the Revs in first-bumps per game, too.

In all seriousness, Anibaba came in as a depth piece but asserted himself as starter after Delamea’s rocky start to the season. He kept his place thanks to Dielna falling out of favor, too, in the summer months.

Anibaba has probably been the Revs’ most determined defender this season, though he’s actually in the bottom half of the roster for fouls per game, according to WhoScored.com; he also records more interceptions than every Revs defender except Delamea and has the third-highest passing accuracy on the back line. Still, like all of his teammates, Anibaba has committed errors that have gone on to cost the team points.

2. Antonio Delamea

Delamea has been a walking yellow card all season. He’s been booked nine times in 16 games, with one ejection. Even so, Delamea is typically focused in the technical sense, evident by the fact that he leads the Revs in clearances per game and interceptions per game and has an impressive 84.1 pass completion percentage.

However, Delamea is prone to the occasional but costly lapse. His play in New England’s first two matches against the Philadelphia Union this season left much to be desired; in one game he was red carded, in another he was called for a handball that led to Philadelphia’s go-ahead goal.

In retrospect, the two games – especially the 3-2 loss to Philly in August – played a part in getting the Revs into their current predicament.

Overall, Delamea seems like he’s invested in the club and is very technically sound, but he’s been prone to committing errors like his teammates, too. To be fair, he’s had a revolving door of center backs beside him the last two seasons. His partnership with Mancienne is worth exploring in the remainder of 2018 and in preseason next year.

1. Andrew Farrell

Farrell leads the Revolution in appearances this season with 31. He took the captain’s armband for a brief period in the summer and seemed to flourish in a leadership role.

New England Revolution defender Andrew Farrell (left) and Orlando City defender Mohamed El-Munir battle for the ball during the first half of a match at Orlando City Stadium. Mandatory (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

Friedel came into the season saying Farrell needed to be pushed, and the Louisville product rose to the occasion. He asserted himself at right back and appeared to improve on both sides of the ball. Though Farrell’s overall passing accuracy drop seven percent from last year, he’s also scored first two career goals, added a pair of assists, and doubled his number of accurate crosses per game from 2017.

Remaining defensive core

Mancienne, Somi and Chris Tierney can’t be defender of the year because they’re not on the ballot. All three are in drastically different positions when it comes whether they’ll be back in 2019 as well.

Tierney may retire in the off-season, as he’s now 34 and will face a tricky task rebounding from a torn ACL.

Mancienne will almost certainly be back in 2019 given his overall positive form since joining the Revs in August and the enormous financial commitment he’s received. Somi will probably not be back, simply because he’s drifted so far into the fringes, like Dielna.

Final verdict

Farrell certainly wasn’t perfect, but I selected him as my first choice for the Revolution’s defender of the year. He achieved a number of individual milestones and led the Revs in appearances while also spending some time as captain. Delamea was my second choice.

Make no mistake: New England’s back line needs improvement in the off-season. However, there is still a core from which to build, namely Farrell, Delamea, Mancienne, and Bye, despite the overall lackluster defensive record.

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