One thing can certainly be said after last night's 0-0 draw with the Portland Timbers, and that's that Jay Heaps has started to really figure out how to assemble a gameplan, but also how to get his team to stick to it. In fact, Heaps said himself post-game, "We wanted to take away the middle a little bit more than last week; we didn't want to get stretched. As the games go, I think we are going to get a little bit more comfortable."
I think that last bit is important to note. Jay seems to recognize that the team is getting more comfortable sticking to gameplans. I think that says even more when you consider that he was working without his first-choice backline.
Many will argue that New England "parked the bus" last night against the Timbers, but I wholly disagree. The Revs hit the ground running and countered the Portland attack with an attack of their own. Granted, the visitors typically generated their attack on the counter, but, again, that was the gameplan. A point at Jeld-Wen Field is nothing to sneeze at, even if we should have stole 3.
The draw, which may have nodes of a win to some (myself included), was largely thanks to the stunning and exemplary performance of Bobby Shuttleworth. Shuttleworth, who spent the past five seasons with the Revolution behind long-time starter Matt Reis, has been an absolute revelation lately. With Matt Reis sustaining a nagging injury as well as dealing with the traumatic aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, Shuttleworth was presented with a clear opportunity to take the starting goalkeeper spot as his own, and he has done just that. Not unlike the way that the Columbus Crew's Andy Gruenebaum emerged last season in the wake of Will Hesmer's injury, Shuttleworth may find himself in a very similar situation.
Bobby's game against Portland last night was one that we will likely talk about for some time. He has now essentially set the bar for himself. Anything less than what we saw at Jeld-Wen Field will be met with disappointment and criticism. But we shouldn't expect to be disappointed, rather we should expect more of the same. This could very well be the season that creates a stud out of Bobby Shuttleworth.
Last night's captain, Jose Goncalves, also deserves plaudits, as he's proved to truly be the glue of this stout Revolution defensive backline. Goncalves has all the traits that Jay Heaps and his staff were hoping to find in a center back this off-season, and certainly they will be delighted to see him proving to be all that and more in a New England jersey.
Although we may want to sing the praises of our defense, as we so often have so far this season, we also should touch upon the offense as well. In many ways, the Revs showed once again that they can still generate attack (thanks in large part to Jay Heaps' reworked formation, a 4-1-4-1). The ailment now seems to be finishing. Despite a handful of clear opportunities to take a lead, the Revs failed to capitalize and could not get the ball in the back of the net. Jerry Bengtson, Kelyn Rowe, and Saer Sene are all guilty of this.
The clinical finish is the missing piece, it seems. And what is becoming more and more apparent is that Bengtson is not the piece that fits in this puzzle. Bengtson's night was once again flat and disheartening. But he did get new life when Heaps injected Saer Sene into the mix in the 67th minute. Simply put, Bengtson can't do it on his own. But Heaps' new 4-1-4-1 formation does not allow for a striking partner for the Honduran. So what is the answer? Bench Bengtson? Use him purely as a second-half sub? Move him into a different position? A solution might not be apparent just yet, as Travis discussed yesterday, but it's quite clear that something needs to change... and soon.
So, with this result, the Revs secure their 9th point of the season and look onwards to a 2-game home stretch against Real Salt Lake next Wednesday followed by a rematch with the New York Red Bulls next Saturday. Getting a point on the road is one thing, but ensuring three points at home is something different, and New England needs to do just that if they plan to keep pace with the other heavy-hitters in the Eastern Conference like Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo. Keeping this momentum will be absolutely paramount, and could be the difference between climbing the mountain or sliding back down it.