Defense, Not Goalkeeping, New England's Demise in Houston

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Fans in New England were probably wondering why Bobby Shuttleworth got the start in the Revolution's season opener in Houston even before he gave up three goals in the opening thirty minutes. But not even a great goalkeeper can stop every shot or prevent every defensive breakdown.

There is a lot of blame to pass around during the New England Revolution's 4-0 loss on Saturday to the Houston Dynamo in their 2014 MLS regular season opener. The defense was horrendous, the offense squandered what few chances they created and ideally everyone will forget about this game as soon as possible.

But one debate that wouldn't die yesterday was the performance of goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth. Yes, he was on the wrong end of a blowout and technically allowed four goals, but in reality, there's not much he could have done about three of them.

Yes, the goalkeeper is supposed to bail out his defense when a shot does come on target, but often times that's not realistic. Shuttleworth didn't miss the ball entirely at the top of his own area, allowing Will Bruin to score two minutes into the match, Jose Goncalves did. Shuttleworth didn't make a bad pass and turn the ball over in his defensive third, Scott Caldwell and Patrick Mullins did. Shuttleworth didn't let Oscar Boniek Garcia waltz uncontested into his penalty area, Chris Tierney more or less did that. And Shuttleworth's face didn't get in the way of Ricardo Clark's shot, Omar Cumming's face did that.

Yes, it's frustrating to see any team give up three goals in the space of about thirty minutes, let alone in a ninety minute game. And we all know that Shuttleworth can be a good keeper, and arguably played his way into the tail end of All-Star Game consideration last year in the first half. But no keeper, not even Tim Howard or Nick Rimando can save everything a porous defense lets through on net.


For the record, you can include me in the group of people that expected to see Brad Knighton in goal for the Revs in Houston on Saturday. I think Knighton won the job in preseason camp based on his performances, and the defense in particular played better with Knighton in goal. That could be a coincidence since the Revs often played a lot of difference combinations on defense due to injuries but I'm also okay with either Bobby or Brad starting in goal.

Now, that doesn't mean that Shutlleworth doesn't have his limitations. We know he's a good shot stopper, but often complain about his positioning and his ability to come off his line. He just doesn't appear comfortable in the air collecting crosses most of the time and that was evident again against the Dynamo. And it's not just his positioning individually, it's his positioning of his defense as well.

It shouldn't take Shuttleworth or head coach Jay Heaps three goals to figure out they're doing something wrong defensively. Adjustments must be made sooner and Bobby needs to be able to command his backline to prevent breakdowns. And sadly, I don't think he reads the game as well as he needs to but nothing was going to save yesterday's game after that dismal start by the Revs defense.

Now, would I have liked Bobby to save Bruin's second goal after the turnover by Caldwell/Mullins, yes, I would. He's not in the best position and, yes, I know Bruin is completely unmarked on the back post, but I don't think that's his best effort just sticking out the left leg there. I would have rather see him attack where the ball is going to be and make himself bigger, force Bruin to get the ball over him (think what Tally Hall did vs. Jerry Bengtson) rather than just redirect the ball into the corner. Yes, it's a nit pick, but great keepers pull off the impossible to keep their teams in the game.

Yes, Bobby had several amazing saves on breakaways and uncontested shots in the second half, and that shows his capabilities as a keeper in MLS. He even got nominated for MLS' Save of the Week for his save on Andrew Driver, and his breakaway stuff on Bruin was probably in the conversation as well. But at that point, the game is probably not in doubt, with Houston well on their way to their first win of the year.. A great keeper finds a way to keep his team in the game even when they're playing at their worst. Shuttleworth on Saturday was good at times, but he was not great all the time. And no, I don't think it's unfair to ask my six-year veteran keeper to be at his best all the time and I don't and can't expect him to save every shot. Even if he saved Bruin's second goal, would I have expected the Revs to win? Absolutely not, but the game shouldn't have been over inside of thirty minutes either.

Regardless, even a great performance in goal by Shuttleworth or Knighton was not going to save that game for the Revs. The defense was bad, the offense was wasteful and one position on the field isn't going to change everything that was wrong on the field for New England last weekend. But a great game from your keeper can rescue at least a draw, or even a win as Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando proved against the Los Angeles Galaxy.

And we saw New England at least put together moments where they looked dangerous on the attack. The finishing was dreadful but the creativity and ability were clearly there. Could one save in the thirteenth minute to keep the game at 1-0 made that much of a difference?

We'll never know. But I do know this, if the Revolution defense plays that poorly, not even Matt Reis can dig the Revs out of a hole that big.

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