Michael Parkhurst

Defensive strength the key for Revs

New England Revolution 2005 quick hits
Buy your New England Revolution jersey >

With a wealth of talent in the attacking and middle thirds of the field, Revolution head coach Steve Nicol has to a challenge to field his best XI from the start.

Perhaps the primary focus for Nicol is the backline. Can the Scotsman afford to field three at the back in order to field his preferred front seven?

The former Liverpool defender, who featured in a traditional 4-4-2 with the English powerhouse, sees the move to three at the back as a possibility without sacrificing defensive solidity.

"Either way, with three or four at the back, we're solid," said Nicol. "That being said, we're always looking to upgrade at every position on the field."

Nicol has a couple of personnel issues in the back to settle prior to the season opener with the San Jose Earthquakes. The Revolution head coach has not turned up an acceptable center back on his preseason search, leaving most of the core of last season's defense augmented by a standout rookie.

Rusty Pierce was allowed to depart in the expansion draft to Real Salt Lake. A constant in the Revolution lineup when healthy, the solid man-marker leaves a noticeable hole in central defense.

Joey Franchino was left exposed in the expansion draft, fostering questions as to his long-term future with the side. Nicol dissipated those questions by confirming that Franchino would return as captain for the 2005 season. Marshall Leonard and Avery John provide alternative options on the left side.

The emergence of Michael Parkhurst has filled the gap left by Pierce's departure. A lithe yet strong center back out of Wake Forest, Parkhurst is a natural successor to Pierce in the middle. Jay Heaps will remain as the right back.

"It's all about cohesion and learning the style of those who play around you," said Parkhurst. "It takes some getting used to, finding the style of play and the strengths and weaknesses of those around you."

One unknown factor within Nicol's defensive plans is the return of Carlos Llamosa. The former U.S. international missed all of last season with a knee injury, and he has yet to return to peak form.

"Carlos is getting himself back to who he was," said Nicol. "We have Avery and Michael to play in the center of the park. We are not going to rush him back."

Whether he prefers to go with three or four at the back, Nicol realizes that his defense is subject to variations in form.

"I think the starting lineup is always dictated by the players we have available and how they're playing," said Nicol.

Kyle McCarthy is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

Stay connected: Get access to breaking news, videos, and analysis from North America's best soccer reporters via "This Week in MLS" newsletter or using our FREE mobile app.