New England Soccer Today

Center Backs Key In Shutout

Stephen McCarthy played a key role in Wednesday’s shutout. (Photo: Kari Heistad/

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Revolution’s defense has been leaky, which is putting it lightly. But, on Wednesday, for the second game in a row the Revolution’s defense kept a clean sheet. On Saturday, the Revolution settled for a scoreless draw with the Philadelphia Union. This time, though, New England was able to take the full three points with a 2-0 win over the Columbus Crew, a team that had just beaten the Revolution, 4-3 on August 25.

The Crew came into the midweek game in blistering form, riding a four game winning streak (unbeaten in six) in which the Crew scored 10 goals. It was, however, also Columbus’s seventh game in 21 days, which is a stretch of games that will haunt and tire out even the deepest of squads. Against New England, the Crew looked tired going forward, as if some of the pizazz and approach had been taken out of the team. Part of the lack of killer instinct had to do with the number of games Columbus played, but another factor was New England’s defense, which closed down space in the midfield and didn’t allow any passes in behind.

“Columbus is a rhythm team and we never really let them get into rhythm,” said Revolution coach Jay Heaps after the game. “And that was important that [Jairo] Arrieta and [Federico] Higuain couldn’t get the ball. And that was our focus – when they did get the ball, we wanted a guy on them quickly. You could see when Higuain would get the ball we were on him, and he started to drift wider and we knew to take him there. So we did a good job across the back line.”

The defense has been of concern for Heaps for most of the season. New England has allowed teams easy goals in games and been punished for short lapses along the back line. That’s changed in New England’s last two games. Against the Philadelphia Union, New England held on to a 0-0 draw and didn’t allow the Union to create many chances on goal. It was similar against Columbus, except this time it was smoother from front to back. The Revolution worked as a team and held its line together, something the team has struggled to do at times this season.

Part of the change in recent games has been the leadership and play of converted midfielder Stephen McCarthy. In his second year as a professional, McCarthy  has shown he has what it takes to play as a center back in Major League Soccer. He has the ball skill to play the ball out of the back and he has the height and athletic ability to own the air in the Revolution penalty area.

Since being paired with Darrius Barnes (A.J. Soares has been injured with whiplash), McCarthy looks more at ease. He’s taking command of the defense instead of playing off of Soares. Most notably is the positioning of the two center backs in recent games. Neither is rushing out and chasing the play and leaving his teammate out to dry as the last defender. The pair instead is moving as a unit and absorbing pressure and winning their challenges.

“I think [McCarthy and Barnes] read the game well together,” said Heaps.

Barnes has been used primarily as a utility defender in the last two seasons for the Revolution. The former rookie standout from Duke has found playing time hard to come by. Last season he even found himself playing left back for long stretches in the season. This season he was the third and fourth choice at center back, behind McCarthy, Soares and John Lozano when he was with the team, but in the last two games he’s been given the chance to show Heaps he is a defender who can be relied on.

“I’m just trying to go out there and do my job,” said Barnes after the game. “That’s why Jay [Heaps] put me in there to try and go out there and prevent goals and fortunately these past two games we’ve been able to do that. With the help of all the guys around me and Matt (Reis), we’ve been able to come up with a couple of shutouts.”

Quote of the night: “I think we complement each other really well. In the middle, me and (Stephen McCarthy) complement each other really well. I think we’re both good in the air and Macca is really good at playing the ball in the back. What I lack, he covers for me and what he lacks, I cover for him. So I think that’s the key, to just support each other and having each other’s back and of course on the left side me and Kevin (Alston) are really comfortable with each other. The first couple of years we played on the right side, so we have a familiarity with each other. So I think just knowing each other’s tendencies and being familiar with one another helps that cohesion in the back.” — Darrius Barnes on his partnership with Stephen McCarthy.

Stat of the night: Attempts on goal: 20 for New England as opposed to seven for Columbus.

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