FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As a rookie in 2009 defender Darrius Barnes displayed a precociousness, playing every minute of every regular-season game and the playoffs. But last year, like a bridesmaid, he was forced to watch the postseason on television as the team missed the knockout round for the first time since 2002.
Barnes, who played collegiately at Duke, said he wasn’t pleased by the opportunity to lick his wounds when eight other clubs were still playing in the "tournament."
"Yeah, watching that stuff definitely makes you hungry," he said. "Because rookie year I got spoiled making it to the playoffs and knowing the tradition of the Revolution of getting to the playoffs and getting to the finals. You don’t want to let that down. So I think that we are definitely hungry to get back to that standing ground."
The shock of the Revolution’s season last year, earning a mere 32 points in 30 games and giving up a league-high 50 goals, paled in comparison to a team that qualified for the postseason eight straight times, including appearing in four MLS Cup championship games.
The dismal memory of last year is something this team is hoping to ameliorate as the team enters the second week of preseason training. To that end, the 6-foot-1-inch central defender could be a key component. The fact the Revolution cut the cord with defenders Cory Gibbs and Emmanuel Osei while ostensibly building around Barnes makes an intriguing statement for the player.
"I like to think that (coach) Stevie (Nicol) had the confidence in me that I can get the job done," said Barnes, a Charlotte, N.C. native. "I have confidence in myself and hopefully I’ll be able to prove this year that I’m the right guy who can anchor the defense and hold the back line accountable for whatever needs to be accountable for in the game. I feel like we’ve got some good guys who have come in and more who are coming in with (rookie) A.J. Soares and Ryan (Cochrane). I think they are great additions to the back line. I feel the back line is going to be solid and we are going to be the core of this team this year."
Nicol said he hasn’t promised anything to Barnes, but it’s likely he will be counting on him to fulfill a big role in the team.
"I just think the fact that he’s getting more experience he’ll take more on his shoulders," the 10th-year-coach said. "It’s the same as every year. You got to start well. If you start well you get a game. It’s pretty much the same for everybody on the field. Everybody starts from the same spot. There’s no favors given this time of the year. You got to work for what you get."
Barnes believes he could find himself paired with Cochrane, 27, and entering his fifth season with already more than 120 games played in the league. Soares, a rookie from U Cal Berkley, or a player to be named later could also be in the mix. Whatever the pairings, it’s likely Barnes will be in the thick of it.
"It’s a step further in my career and a step further than I’ve been with these guys," he said. "I feel like each year you want to get better and continue to build on the year you had last year. I think this year should be a good year for me and for the team. We have high expectations, especially coming off a down season last year. Myself, I just want to come in and keep building and grow into a leadership role, make sure we are solid in the back and build a team chemistry and be a leader on the field."
As a consequence, Barnes said he’ll have to be as precise and clean in the area of ball distribution as possible, knowing that errant passes from the defense tend to come back to haunt you.
"That’s something that I’ve definitely been working on," he said. "My game is kind of distributing the ball out of the back. I like to think that the strong suit to my game is being athletic and be able to win balls out in the air and be able to run and track people down. I’ve worked in the distribution aspect of my game so I feel like I can piece everything together in year three as I move forward."
While the team is still looking to make new additions, Barnes said the preseason is the time to get the process off to a good start.
"This is the time of the year that we kind of get that chemistry and we are trying to figure everybody out and reading each other’s style of play," he said. "We are trying to kind of mesh that together and mix that with your own style and hopefully during the course of the year you reach a perfection and it results in (wins) for us."
As for last year’s 9-16-5 season, Barnes said he has put it in the past and is ready to move on.
"It’s already in the backburner," he said. "We couldn’t really do any worse than we did last year and everybody knows we had a down season. But I’m sure everybody’s excited that we get to the preseason and train and look forward to the next one. So last year is already out of our minds. It’s not even in the backburner. We are just looking forward to this season."