New England Soccer Today

A Stabilizing Presence

Photo credit: Jeff Bernstein

Photo credit: Jeff Bernstein

After battling a nagging calf injury for the last five weeks, center back Jose Goncalves made his return to the starting XI for the Revolution in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Toronto FC. Goncalves, who had played just 16 minutes over that span, last saw his name in the lineup on Apr. 11 vs. Columbus.

The full-time return of the central defender came at a perfect time for New England, who’ll play the second and third games within an eight day span on Wednesday at Sporting Kansas City and Saturday vs. DC United, respectively. A healthy Goncalves allows coach Jay Heaps to mix and match his midfielders during that stretch, allowing Jermaine Jones to push forward and round out a lineup that has depth and talent at every position.

The key, however, is the returning Goncalves. In the last five games in which the Portuguese International has appeared, the Revolution have only allowed three total goals and have collected two clean sheets. His leadership, combined with his toughness, hasn’t gone unnoticed by teammates, either. This includes fellow center back Andrew Farrell.

“Yeah, it was good,” Farrell said when asked about Goncalves’ returning to the starting lineup. “He’s a good player, you know. He’s very vocal and that facilitates him coming, playing back in there. And I think like I said we did well.”

But the return of the 2013 Defender of the Year also has wide-ranging effects on the rest of the squad. For starters, Jones, who filled at center back during Goncalves’ absence, is also allowed to return to his more natural position in the midfield – a spot he is clearly more comfortable in. In the four games in which Jones started at center back, the Revolution allowed four goals, including two late goals against Orlando City SC.

With Jones back in the midfield, he can start making the impact that many expected. He’s yet to record a goal or an assist in six games during 2015 after scoring two goals and adding four assists in just 10 regular season games in 2014. Jones’ field vision and service ability fit perfectly with the new-look Revs attack of Charlie Davies, Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury and Lee Nguyen. This quicker attack will allow Jones to send more balls forward, creating more chances.

With Jones having the freedom to go forward in the midfield, Lee Nguyen also benefits greatly. Nguyen, who has just one goal and two assists in 10 games, received a considerable amount of space following the arrival of Jermaine Jones in 2014. With Jones moving back into the middle of the park, more space should open itself up for Nguyen, who collected a team-high five shots on Saturday.

The return of Goncalves also strengthens the Revolution bench. With his return and Jones moving forward, veteran midfielder Andy Dorman moves back to the Revolution bench, where he has been a proven asset in defensive situations late in games.

With two games for the Revs in the coming five days, the Revolution will certainly need his strength and leadership in the rear, even if the captain’s armband is no longer solely his. His presence, which has served to stabilize the defense since his arrival in 2013, will play a vital role in the Revs tough upcoming schedule and their quest to stay atop MLS’s Eastern Conference.

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