TORRANCE, Calif.— Two games, seven days apart, with two legends in Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan as the assignments in what just might be the final matches of each of their storied careers. For some, such a task might seem overwhelming, but for New England Revolution defender Andrew Farrell, the opportunity is a blessing that he has felt more than ready to take on.
When Donovan takes the field for his final match on Sunday in the MLS Cup final, it will be Farrell with the task of trying to contain a player in search of his record sixth MLS Cup title. A player who, though he is about to retire, has shown very recently he is still capable of terrorizing defenses.
The challenge isn’t likely to overwhelm Farrell, just days removed from holding his own in the Eastern Conference final against Henry.
“It’s pretty special to share the field with players like that, who have done so much for the league and the sport,” Farrell told Goal USA. “ You always want to go against the best, and challenge yourself against the best. Obviously they’re not in their 20s and in their prime, but they’re still pretty darn good and it’s still a tough task because even at their ages you aren’t going to completely shut those guys down.”
Farrell knows first hand what players like that can do. His welcome-to-the-pros moment came during his rookie year when Henry abused him repeatedly in a 4-1 loss that served as a necessary wake-up call.
“I think that was bottom because I learned the lesson that you can’t lose focus because guys like Henry will make you pay if you lose focus,” Farrell said. “That’s an important lesson, knowing that you have to be focused for 90 minutes, especially when you’re talking about games like playoff games and finals because if you slip up then guys like Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan will make you pay.”
The No. 1 overall selection in the 2013 MLS Draft, Farrell has followed up an impressive rookie campaign with an even better second season, showing a combination of versatility and maturity that has helped the 22-year-old University of Louisville product develop into one of the best young defenders in MLS.
“You could see it from day one,” Revs goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth said. “The guys really like him and he does have that veteran presence. He's a young kid and you feel like he's played a lot of years in the league already.”
“He came in pretty ready. He’s as good a rookie last year as I’ve seen, and as good a complete player,” said Revs head coach Jay Heaps. “Andrew Farrell’s been excellent since day one. I really enjoy how much he competes. That’s what gets lost in it. He’s a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of guy. He loves training, he loves practices, he loves games and you love seeing that from a player.”
Farrell’s love for the game was forged on the grass and dirt fields of Lima, Peru, where he lived with his adoptive parents from the age of 5 to 15 while they were doing missionary work. Farrell spent a large part of that decade playing in Parque Mariscal Ramon Castilla in Lince, a central Lima neighborhood, where Farrell recalls playing soccer every day until his parents called him to come home.
You can still see glimpses of that fun-loving kid. In the recent match against the New York Red Bulls, Farrell raced in at the Red Bulls defense with the ball, only to find himself being marked by none other than Henry. He squared up on Henry, and started to pull some shifty moves before catching himself and Henry kicked the ball away for a corner.
“I think it’s important to still enjoy the game,” Farrell said. “When you get to the next level it’s more of a business, but you can still enjoy it. I was just having fun out there (against Henry), but then I didn’t know what to do in that situation because I didn’t want to disrespect him and I didn’t want to lose the ball either.”
Farrell held his own against Henry in what wound up being Henry’s final match in MLS, and possibly the last match of his career. On Sunday, Farrell will face another tough challenge in Donovan, whom he has already faced a few times in his career. He acknowledges that stopping Donovan won’t be easy, but does have a game plan to try and deal with the American legend.
“I find it easier to defend (Donovan) when you get up on him, as opposed to having him run at you, kind of like Henry,” Farrell told Goal USA. “He’s not as big as Henry, and if Henry gets by you he’s gone. Getting up on him and being more physical with Donovan is going to be crucial for me so I don’t let him get a head of steam going.
“The Galaxy like to interchange, so I’m sure I won’t just see Landon,” Farrell said. “You get those different match-ups, like (Gyasi) Zardes coming at you and getting balls in behind, or Keane checking in and running in behind. It’s not easy to key in on one guy because they just keep on changing over and over again.”
Whether he faces a steady diet of Landon Donovan runs, or has to contend with the likes of Keane and Zardes, Farrell will go into each challenge with the confidence that comes with experience and the kind success he has already enjoyed, as well as the faith his teammates have in his ability to meet tough challenges head-on.
“Farrell’s a confident kid,” Revs midfielder Lee Nguyen said. “I don’t think there’s any match-up he’s going to back away from. I think he’s looking forward to this game, and looking forward to this challenge. Come Sunday we’ll see who gets the better of it.”