The Revolution seemed set in central defense last season, Andrew Farrell and Henry Kessler starting in front of goalkeeper Matt Turner as the team set a league record for points (73 total, 2.15 per game). But sporting director/coach Bruce Arena apparently wanted an upgrade, so he brought in free agent Omar Gonzalez, who played for Arena on three MLS Cup winners with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
“There will be competition in every position, and I think he always likes to have that,” Kessler said after the team opened preseason practice in the Gillette Stadium bubble Wednesday.
Along with experience and leadership, the 6-foot-5-inch Gonzalez adds an aerial dimension and scoring threat to the back line. Arena tells central defenders he expects them to contribute at least five goals per season, and they have fallen short of that in his two-plus years with the Revolution. Kessler has converted twice, Jon Bell once, and Farrell not at all.
Gonzalez’s best scoring season was in 2014, when he had four goals as the Galaxy won the MLS Cup; he has 26 goals in 420 career matches with the Galaxy and Toronto FC in MLS, and Atlas and Puebla in Mexico.
“Omar is obviously an experienced defender, good communicator, and good organizer,” Arena said. “Obviously, very good near both penalty areas, which is important as well.”
Arena built the Galaxy defense around Gonzalez and current Revolution reserve A.J. DeLaGarza, selecting both in the 2009 draft. After taking over the Revolution, Arena drafted Kessler following an extended scouting trip/vacation to his offseason home in Charlottesville, Va., where Kessler matched up with current West Bromwich Albion striker Daryl Dike during University of Virginia practices.
Last year, Arena believed the Revolution needed three potential starting center backs because of a compact schedule, and this season, more games are scheduled, starting with the CONCACAF Champions League next month. Farrell, the Revolution’s all-time appearance leader (272 games), started 33 of 34 regular-season matches last season, 25 alongside Kessler, and Bell made nine starts.
“Bruce has not said anything to me about the situation, but I’ll say we have four guys for two center back spots; there is also J.B. [Bell],” Kessler said. “But I’m sure there will be a healthy competition within the team.”
Kessler, 23, is also in the running for the US national team roster. Kessler went the distance as the US defeated Bosnia, 1-0, last month but coach Gregg Berhalter did not call him into the current camp.
“As far as the national team goes, I spoke with Gregg recently and I’m on the cusp of that, the World Cup qualifying group,” Kessler said. “Not quite there yet, but hopefully I can break into that group that gets into a World Cup Qualifying roster, but I’m just not quite there yet.
“Some things that I want to continue to work on would be breaking lines, continue to work on the ball, passing forward. And then defensively, it’s winning balls moving forward, maybe trying a little bit more aggressively, and continuing to make progress in those fields.”
The Revolution are missing four players to national team duty: Turner, DeJuan Jones, and Sebastian Lletget (US), and Arnor Traustason (Iceland).
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Kessler said. “I certainly think we have a really good squad.
“I don’t really have a complete idea of what our team looks like, because we have some guys gone with the national team. So, when those guys get back, I think we’ll have a better idea, but certainly have a good team on paper and hope to do as well as we did last year in the regular season and even better in the playoffs.”