Experience Needed

Bobby Shuttleworth is a talented, 23-year-old keeper who, if given the opportunity, will probably take the reigns from Matt Reis someday.

In his nine career appearances, he’s given glimpses that he can be a pretty darn good goalkeeper. He’s come up with some impressive saves (see: 71st minute of the Chivas game). He’s remained level-headed under heavy pressure. His confidence hasn’t wavered, even with suspect defending in front of him.

But, as a result of that defending (or lack thereof), there have been too many times when the third-year pro is put on an island. Times in which his defenders have turned a deaf ear. Times in which his teammates do not appear to trust him. Times in which he’s left in the trenches taking grenades.

When you pair these troubles along with Matt Reis’ recent injury battles, Steve Nicol and Michael Burns have to ask themselves: is it time for the Revs to find a seasoned keeper to replace Shuttleworth as their number two?

Now, this suggestion is in no way an indictment of Shuttleworth’s abilities. We know what he can do. His six-save spectacular against Houston last season comes to mind. So does his first MLS clean sheet less than a week later against Kansas City. Both are prime candidates for a Bobby Shuttleworth highlight DVD.

But, even in light of the promise he’s exhibited thus far, it’s worrisome to watch the scenes in front of him unfold, especially this season. While the defending has improved since last season, he’s still finding himself flustered. The communication that seemed to improve toward the latter part of 2010 has seemingly evaporated in 2011.

It’s been clear on many occasions that he and his defenders are simply not on the same page. It’s also been evident that the up-and-coming keeper doesn’t, unsurprisingly, carry the same authority that Reis has. Not that a lot of keepers do, mind you.

With Reis between the sticks, the defenders listen. The midfielders listen. Heck, it seems like everyone pays attention when the good-humored goalie’s shouting instructions.

To a lesser extent, the same was true when Preston Burpo was the man in net last season. The experienced keeper performed admirably until his gruesome leg injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season and forced Shuttleworth into action, perhaps prematurely.

Again, this isn’t to say that Shuttleworth’s not a good, dependable keeper. By no means. He can do the job in a pinch.

But look around the league. The steadier keepers in MLS tend to be the seasoned pros who’ve paid their dues. And Shutteworth needs alot more games under his belt to become a solid second choice, or 1A keeper, which he’s quickly becoming in light of Reis’ injury woes.

If Shuttleworth were simply a rarely-tested, reserve keeper that was playing behind a perpetually healthy first choice keeper, then this wouldn’t be an issue. He would be allowed to develop in the reserve league, with a couple of mid-week first team appearances thrown in for further experience before his workload increases.

But, the fact of the matter is that Reis hasn’t been healthy. He’s missed portions of the the past four seasons. And it’s not just one particular injury. It’s his shoulder, his knee, his adductor, and it’s his shoulder again, and then it’s his knee again. It’s evident that he’s starting to break down. That’s what happens to athletes in their 30′s: their bodies don’t recover as well they used to.

There’s no doubt that Shuttleworth can be the team’s future first choice keeper. He has the talent and ability to do so, but he’s simply not ready to take the mantle for an extended amount of time because he lacks the experience needed to commandeer the defense the way Reis and Burpo have in the past.

And someday he will. He’ll get better. Someday, he will command the attention of his teammates in the same manner as Reis. But, in the interim, the Revs need to consider the present before they rest their hopes on “someday.”

Seasoned keepers like Zack Thornton, Andy Gruenebaum, and Greg Sutton have proven themselves capable of sliding into a starting spot in the past and could probably be acquired for draft picks. Then again, Burpo, who is currently out of contract, could actually be acquired for nothing more than a veteran’s salary.

Bobby Shuttleworth is a good, young goalkeeper. But, if Reis’ injuries continue to persist this season, the Revs will need a more experienced one in order to make it to the postseason.

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About Brian O'Connell

Brian O'Connell serves as editor and staff writer at New England Soccer Today. He's also the Revolution beat writer for ESPNBoston.com, and is Officer at Large for the North American Soccer Reporters. He regularly contributes to The Associated Press, and has been featured on MLSSoccer.com & RevsNet.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianOConnell21 or contact him via e-mail at BOConnell21@aol.com