The New England Revolution will enter Toyota Park without their captain as Jose Goncalves is listed as "out" with a right quadriceps strain. The injury was sustained during last weekend's game against the Houston Dynamo. Goncalves exited in the 41st minute after Rico Clark delivered a crunching tackle that earned him a yellow card. Though the reigning MLS Defender of the Year is certainly an important part of the team, the Revs have suitable replacements.
"It's all about the system," AJ Soares commented. "It's not about any individual player. Jose is our captain. He's our top guy. He was MLS Defender of the Year last year. You can't replace him at all, but it shows that the system and the camaraderie is good [that the team can do well without him].
Darrius Barnes entered the game for Goncalves and forced a defensive shift as he lined up on the right side and Andrew Farrell moved centrally. The backline, which Farrell called "jimmy-rigged," stayed composed for sixty minutes to earn a shutout. In the end, the Dynamo only took nine shots with zero being on target.
Farrell's transition to the middle was a large reason for the strong defensive performance. After starting 32 games at right back during his rookie campaign, Farrell made his MLS debut at center back against the Philadelphia Union in the second game of the 2014 season. The versatility and athleticism of Farrell makes him one of the most valuable players on the team.
"It's one of the reasons why he was number one pick," head coach Jay Heaps said. "We knew he could play a lot of good positions and I think the other night showed how well he stepped in."
Another important part of the Revolution's success against Houston was Barnes. As a rookie, Barnes played every minute of every game at center back. Six years later, Barnes has largely become a bench player who is capable of filling in at any position along the backline. The preparation hasn't change, however, as Barnes is always ready to perform.
"It's pretty unreal," Soares praised. "A lot of times Darrius will sub on and he's the best defender on both teams. That's what I expect from him, really."
Heaps echoed the thoughts of Soares, saying that Barnes was in contention to start against the Dynamo in place of the injured Chris Tierney. The spot was ultimately given to Kevin Alston, but Barnes could be in line to make his second start of the season since Farrell is expected to partner with Soares in the middle.
Of course, Heaps does have other options that could be used to fill the defensive void. Stephen McCarthy made 17 starts last year and would be a like-for-like swap for Goncalves. If Tierney is fully healthy, he could move Alston to right back. Preseason ironman O'Brian Woodbine is a possibility anywhere along the backline as well.
Soares, who has played every minute of the season so far, is unfazed by any potential the changes that could happen ahead of the Revolution's game against the Chicago Fire.
"It's all about the system," Soares reiterated. "I just do my role as a center back, which is one of the four on the backline and I just do that role. I can't try to do more or less. I expect the guys going on to do their roles."
Although the focus will be on the four men in front of goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, it's important to recognize that defending is a team wide responsibility.
"It's all about team defending," Soares lauded. "The reason why we didn't give up a shot on goal is because guys up the field defended well. We just kind of cleaned everything up.