New England Soccer Today

Where’d the Defense Go?

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

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.


  1. Tom

    March 11, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    Watched it yesterday on MLSLive for the first time. Revs didn’t look as bad to me as I expected, offense or defense. The defense seemed to solidify after the 23rd minute (4th goal was a fluke) though they looked very tired at the end. The offense generated a steady stream of chances (none of them finished) and threatened frequently. Passing was mostly on target and they succeeded in moving the ball through Houston’s midfield most of the time. Not great movement, but not that far off either.

    On the other hand Houston didn’t look as great as I expected either after the 23rd minute. Mostly competent but I’m not sure the Revs movement would have worked as well against a team that pressed them harder. Same with Houston’s offense. Of course Houston didn’t have to press with a 3 goal lead.

    On a positive note it was basically a clean game without a lot of the MLS-typical dangerous fouls and I had no complaints about the refs.

  2. rick Sewall

    March 12, 2014 at 10:50 am

    When playing an away game against a pretty good opponent, one with players like Davis, Garcia, Bruin ,and Barnes , the Revs might consider playing more defensively at the outset. They could do this by using a 4-2-3-1 formation ( a formation getting more and more popular) , thereby adding a second defensive midfielder. The Rev back 4 and Scott Caldwell needed all the help they could have gotten, especially in the first half hour of the game. Changing to a more offensive mindset and formation later in the game, say after the first half hour or so, could always have been an option.

    Tom makes many very valid points.

    After watching Mexican league games I am always impressed by the high quality of the officiating. The Mexican refs are almost always energetic, decisive, and knowledgable. Rarely do you see player dissent. Is Hernandez Mexican? Anyway , he did well.

  3. rick Sewall

    March 13, 2014 at 9:37 am

    Another pont. Tom mentions that the Houston 4th goal was a fluke. I agree, but that is exactly why effective shooting from outside the penalty area is so important. Goals resulting from flukes count and are not rare. A good shooter from outside the area hopes, for the most part, to score one of two ways- either directly, or as a result of a deflection which cause the keeper to go the wrong way. This is called shooting for luck.

    When shooting from 25 or more yards away, using a straight power kick (no curve balls), the objective is only to hit the target and to keep the ball as low as possible. Goals are usually scored directly this way when the shooter slightly mishits the ball, causing the ball to swerve left or right toward the posts. Aiming for the corners usually results in missing the goalmouth completely, taking away almost any chance for a lucky goal.

    The lucky goal is always in the mindset of a good shooter. Luck happens when a shooter has the knowledge of and ability to execute the proper technique. The Revs have real problems in this regard. Bunbury’s wild miss in the second half of the Houston game is an example. The team’s overall ability to hit the target in this game was also very poor.

    Branch Rickey (Jackie Robinson’s mentor) once said that luck is the residue of design . I agree.

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