Jon Bell relishes competition.
That is why he feels at home lately in New England Revolution’s training sessions. The Eastern Conference-leading Revs boast a defense brimming with competition as the 23-year-old Bell and 22-year-old Henry Kessler compete for time next to Andrew Farrell at centerback.
“I’m a competitive person, so for me it helps when I have that in me,” Bell said. “I can’t just sit back and relax even though I started one game. I could have a bad practice and the next thing you know I’m rocking the bench next week.”
Few would have thought Bell would be in the mix. Selected 38th overall in the 2020 MLS Draft by the San Jose Earthquakes, Bell was traded from San Jose to New England after the 2020 preseason and he spent last season with Revolution II in USL League One.
A quick transition from left back to centerback has gone smoothly. Bell helped the Revs to three wins and one draw, including two shutouts, in his four appearances.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” Bell said. “Happy about how everything is going for me. Being Revs II last year, and the call-up to play for the first team. It always helps, too, especially when you’re winning. That makes it a lot better and grows your confidence a lot more.”
Bell proved plenty of people wrong on his way to the Revs’ first team. His career started in the academy with DC United, then continued with four years of college soccer at UMBC.
Bell was unable to secure a place with the Earthquakes, but New England saw something and made the trade to secure his services. Less than a year and 15 Revs II appearances later, Bell’s play caught the eye of Bruce Arena and the Revs’ coaching staff.
“He’s one of those guys on Mount Rushmore in terms of U.S. soccer coaches in general,” Bell said about Arena. “He’s been around the block for a while now. Being able to be under him, it’s a big testament for me to say that I was able to be on his roster.”
Farrell, the Revolution’s veteran leader on the back line, noticed Bell’s contributions with Revs II early on. Farrell said Bell’s athleticism and willingness to learn stuck out immediately.
Part of the adjustment from left back to centerback, however, is communication.
“He needs to keep on being more vocal,” Farrell said. “It’s his first year and he can be shy, not really comfortable yelling at a guy like Carles (Gil) or something. I know as well that sometimes you don’t want to get on these guys that are older, but he needs to communicate to them. Off the field, obviously everything is fine. But on the field we know we’ve got to get after it.”
Bell could be the first success story from the Revolution’s nascent USL League One team. Bell felt the experience with Revs II readied him for the first team.
“For some players like myself, we need something in between to make that jump,” Bell said. “Even if it’s a year, even if it’s two years, it can help enormously. It is a pro league, even though it’s not MLS. It is a high-level league with a lot of guys who are skillful and talented and fast. It’s a good adjustment, especially when you go from college. Because college style of play is completely different from USL and MLS. So for me, I’m thankful for it because I think it prepared me in a great way.”
As Bell continues growing into the Revolution lineup, his background as an out-of-nowhere prospect will be the foundation for his improvement.
“I think he’s talked about that,” Farrell said. “That he’s going to prove it to everyone who said, ‘Maybe this isn’t the opportunity for you.’ And now he’s one of the key players on our team.”