Where’d the Defense Go?

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/CapturedImages.biz

There’s no two ways about it – the Revolution’s defense was awful on Saturday.

The New England back line was supposed to be a strength this season. The team had to replace Matt Reis in net, but the Revs returned the same back four, including reigning defensive player of the year Jose Goncalves. New England had a franchise-record 14 clean sheets last year.

Saturday was awful, and it was not because of Bobby Shuttleworth. It was because of sloppiness, poor marking, and blown assignments by the four men in front of him.

Shuttleworth was fine; there wasn’t much he could have done about any of the goals. He did badly misplay a cross at the end of the first half, but he made several fine stops, denying Will Bruin a hat trick when he was through on goal, and brilliantly fending off an Andrew Driver curler (a play that was nominated for save of the week).

There was talk before the season that the Revs might have to play a deeper line this season because Shuttleworth (and Brad Knighton) aren’t as strong coming off of the line as Reis. The defense played fairly deep, but that was not the problem either.

No, the problem was Jose Goncalves uncharacteristically whiffing on a clearance at the top of the box, allowing Bruin to waltz into the area for his first. It was Kevin Alston poorly giving up a throw-in inside the Revs’ half, immediately followed by a lazy Scott Caldwell pass that led to Bruin’s second. Not 10 minutes later, both center backs followed Bruin’s run into the box and Chris Tierney failed to pinch in, leading to an easy layoff to Boniek Garcia for a third.

The defense got better as the game went on, and to be fair, the front six were doing little to ease the barrage on Shuttleworth’s net. But three goals in 23 minutes is not going to cut it.

Goncalves is supposed to be the rock in back, but he was the most vulnerable of the bunch. It may just have been rust,  or that he wasn’t 100 percent healthy, given that he was listed as “questionable” on the injury report with a quad injury. But it’s hard not to notice that his worst performance in a Revolution uniform came in the midst of an ongoing contract dispute.

It’s easy for those of us sitting on the couch to sound the alarm after one poor half. Jay Heaps won’t overreact, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t some changes in the back five for the Philadelphia match. Knighton may get a look,  and if the injury Alston suffered on Saturday keeping him out, O’Brian Woodbine could get a chance in the back four. Of course, the defense would be significantly bolstered if Andrew Farrell is ready to resume hits duties at right back.

Again, it’s way too early to read too much into the team’s play.  No team is perfect over the course of a 34-game schedule. But that was about as poor a start to the season as the Revs’ defense could have had.

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About Jeffrey Boxer