Lee Nguyen and Jerry Bengtson grabbed the headlines for their offensive displays in the New England Revolution’s 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls, but it was the defense that was the key to victory on Sunday.
With captain Shalrie Joseph and veteran ‘keeper Matt Reis on the bench, the Revs started the match without two of their biggest leaders in the back. Add to that a line-up change with Kevin Alston’s return from injury, a goalkeeper, Bobby Shuttleworth, making his first start of the season behind a defense that had made costly errors the past two games, and an opponent featuring the league’s second leading scorer, Kenny Cooper, and it looked like a recipe for disaster.
Shuttleworth and the Revs backline stepped up to produce one of the team’s best defensive performances of the season. New York didn’t even get off a shot in the first half and Shuttleworth only needed to make three saves on tame shots in the second half to preserve the shutout.
“(Goals allowed the last few games) were mistakes,” said head coach Jay Heaps after the match. “It’s good. I think A.J. (Soares) and Stephen (McCarthy), particularly A.J., manned up tonight and did an excellent job on every time he came across. I thought Kevin Alston had a really good game making plays and coming across. And Chris Tierney, he had a tough assignment on Dane Richards, and I thought Chris Tierney, for 90 minutes, absolutely shut down their play.”
A combination of strong performances led to a near error-free night from the defense, with only a Kenny Cooper shot that rattled the post in the 56th minute after a minor defensive misstep really threatening the shutout.
“I can’t say enough about the guys and what they did tonight,” said Shuttleworth after the win. “We kept a tight line; they really didn’t have that many chances. The one that Cooper hits the post doesn’t matter. Other than that, I can’t think of a chance they had really. We kept everything in front of us and stayed sharp.”
It started with Shuttleworth in the back. The rarely used backup commanded his box well, coming out and collecting crosses, and communicated with his backline, while making the saves he needed for his first career shutout.
“I’m working every week to try and play so any opportunity I can get I’m going to try and take it,” Shuttleworth said.
The 25-year-old didn’t miss a beat stepping in for Reis. In fact, Shuttleworth avoided the errors in communication and coming off his line that Reis had the past two games.
“We all know the past couple games we’ve given up some poor goals and we wanted to have a little more,” said Heaps. “Bobby has a commanding presence in the air and that’s what he showed.”
In front of Shuttleworth, Soares returned to the form that makes him one of the league’s top center backs, cutting out the errors of the past two games and silencing Cooper and Richards. Meanwhile, his partner in the center, McCarthy, put together yet another strong outing, continuing an impressive run of form.
“If you look at A.J. (Soares) and Stephen McCarthy, I thought they were awesome,” said left back Chris Tierney. “(Kenny) Cooper’s a handful and they did a really good job dealing with it, so we’re really pleased with those two guys. Kevin (Alston) was strong and Bobby (Shuttleworth) did very well, everything he was asked of.”
At right back, Alston looked dangerous going forward, but more importantly put in the effort to close out on the wings, not allowing the easy crosses that have killed the Revs the past two weeks in his absence. Tierney, after an early scare, managed to keep the pacey Richards quiet and still got forward to set-up Nguyen’s goal.
“You’ve just got to respect (Dane Richards’) speed and try to keep him in front,” said Tierney. “We were talking about it before. I figured if I jammed him early, don’t let him get a head of steam going then he couldn’t hurt me.
“So I tried to be up tight on him, be close to him and make them try to play elsewhere, which I thought I did a decent job,” he continued. “He’s so fast, he’s going to get his chances in behind, but I thought overall A.J. (Soares) covered well for me when he did sneak in. I think all of us did pretty well back there.”
And the help was the key. Soares and McCarthy were there when the fullbacks needed it – and they weren’t alone. Clyde Simms, whose defensive responsibilities become greater with Joseph out, was all over the field defensively, covering when the fullbacks went forward and providing assistance when they were under pressure.
Where injuries and line-up changes seemingly should’ve hurt the team defense, they didn’t. Instead, everyone on the backline did their job, stepped up their performance, limited mistakes, and was there to help their teammates. It was an impressive showing across the defense that led to the Revs picking up an important three points – and, if they can do it consistently, should go a long way towards leading them back to the playoffs.