FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The last time I saw Bobby Shuttleworth play against the New York Red Bulls in person was a night I will never forget. It was May 29, 2010 and Shuttleworth started the game on the bench, backing up Preston Burpo (Matt Reis spent much of the 2010 season injured). Then Burpo and Red Bulls’ midfielder Dane Richards collided going to a 50-50 ball outside of the box and Burpo’s leg dangled in the air, bent in half in a way no leg ever should. Players for both teams were visibly upset, as were some of us in the press box. Shuttleworth had to come on and play the rest of the 90 minutes, making his professional debut in Major League Soccer. Burpo would never play again.
Tonight, Shuttleworth got the call again. This time he started as Reis watched from the bench. It was Shuttleworth’s first minutes this season for the New England Revolution in a Major League Soccer game — he played in the team’s U.S. Open Cup loss to Harrisburg. Shuttleworth made it through the 90 minutes with little to do as the Revolution’s defense played well and kept New York from creating many menacing chances. New England won the game, 2-0, and Shuttleworth got his fourth career MLS win. It was a far cry different from years past for the backup goalkeeper, but a well deserved one for a ‘keeper who has improved over his four years with the Revolution.
“I thought Bobby (Shuttleworth) did an excellent job tonight. He communicated, he did well on crosses. Quite frankly, Bobby’s been playing really well in training and in the reserve games. I take a hard focus on reserve games and Bobby’s had a really good run in those,” said Revolution coach Jay Heaps after the game about his decision to start Shuttleworth instead of Reis.
“And so it was a combination of things with Matt. First of all, we wanted to get him a rest. This is the longest he’s gone without a break. But also Bobby’s been playing well enough to get out there and we also wanted to shore up some air balls. We all know the few games we’ve given up some poor goals and we wanted to have a little more. Bobby has a commanding presence in the air and that’s what he showed.”
Shuttleworth looked comfortable in his first start, punching away crosses and corners when he had to, distributing well out of the back and communicating with his defenders. Then again, his defense did a great job in front of him. The only chance New York had came from a bit of individual brilliance from Kenny Cooper in the 56th minute. Cooper gathered the ball outside of the box took a touch and lined up a beautiful outside of the foot curling shot that froze Shuttleworth, but the shot bounced off of the inside of the post and rolled across the front of goal, never crossing the line. Cooper’s attempt would have tied the game, but Shuttleworth and the Revs lived out the chance and got a little luck, something Shuttleworth didn’t have a lot of last year.
Shuttleworth didn’t record a win in all of the 2011 season for the New England Revolution. In seven games Shuttleworth allowed 15 goals, made 17 saves, and ended up with a 0-4-3 record. This year is different for Shuttleworth, though, and it feels pretty good.
“You know last season was pretty tough for me personally. I didn’t get a win all year,” Shuttleworth told reporters after the game. “First game this season to get a win and a shutout feels good and I’m sure feels great for the guys. “
A lot of credit has to go to the changes in defense from last year. Stephen McCarthy and A.J. Soares have formed a good partnership in the center of the Revolution defense. Chris Tierney has settled into the left back position — finally playing regularly in one position — and Kevin Alston has improved mightily after a disappointing 2011 season. With the addition of Clyde Simms in the holding midfield role, this version of the Revolution is tighter than the past few seasons.
“I can’t say enough about the guys, what we did tonight. We kept a tight line. [New York] didn’t really have that many chances, other than the one where Cooper hits the post I can’t think of any other chances,” said Shuttleworth. “We kept everything in front of us and stayed sharp.”
Shuttleworth stayed sharp, waiting for his chance to come, by working in the offseason as a goalkeeper coach for a U-18 team, by coaching at Bentley College during the college season and by working hard in practice and reserve team games. The work paid off. Shuttleworth and the Red Bulls have a long history and it’s not always been good. He lost his first professional game to the Red Bulls, 3-0, in a Open Cup game in 2010, and then the Burpo incident happened a year later. This time things were different. This time Shuttleworth and the Revolution put in a sharp and confident performance.