New England Soccer Today

Rookie Smith Strong in Debut

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Sunday’s match at Portland may have felt surreal to Revolution rookie center back Josh Smith, but the MLS debutant hardly looked out of his element.

The 2017 fourth-round pick got the surprise start in place of high-profile signing Benjamin Angoua against the Timbers’ talented attack, going toe-to-toe with lethal striker Fanendo Adi for 90-plus minutes before an injury cut Smith’s night short.

To say it was a tough assignment – especially at one of the most hostile venues in MLS – would be an understatement far bigger than Smith’s 6-4, 200 lbs. frame.

“Everyone knows here at Providence Park what an atmosphere it is, and it was great,” Smith told the media after the match. “Hats off to the coaching staff, they did a great job to prepare us.”

Interestingly, it was during the preparations leading up to Sunday’s match that Revolution coach Jay Heaps first contemplated putting his rookie defender on the pitch in Portland.

Heaps told the media after Sunday’s match that he witnessed Smith and veteran defender Je-Vaughn Watson battle hard during a 1-v-1 drill in training, and came away impressed with the rookie’s fight.

“Usually Je-Vaughn wins those types of things,” Heaps said. “But this past Monday, [Josh] and Je-Vaughn knocked around pretty good. I knew from that point on that I was really going to see if he could be in this environment (in Portland).”

But one scene out on the training pitch wasn’t the only reason why Heaps went with Smith instead of Angoua, or the versatile Watson, for that matter.

“All week we thought about the matchup, and we thought it was going to be a really good matchup with him and Adi – a physical presence versus a physical presence,” Heaps said. “Josh handled himself extremely well tonight.”

How well? Adi was held to one shot on frame while the Timbers offense, which had its chances, was held to season-low single goal on Sunday. Rare was the instance in which the rookie looked out of his depth. The only setback Smith seemed to suffer was the thumb injury picked up in second-half stoppage time.

No matter how you slice it, Sunday’s match would have been a tall order for any MLS defender. That Smith was able to answer the bell against the best offense in the league no doubt won him even more respect from coaches and teammates alike.

With Sunday’s whirlwind debut still fresh in his mind, Smith was quick to credit his locker mates for helping him put together a performance that, by most accounts, betrayed his inexperience.

“Hats off to my teammates, they did a good job to help me come in and play,” Smith said. “It was a good point today.”

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