When you study the New England Revolution's performances, it is Lee Nguyen and Jermaine Jones that undoubtedly catch the eye. The duo blends together a colorful mix of attacking firepower, skill, and a defensive prowess unparalleled across the collective midfields of MLS. When planning against the Revolution, stopping Nguyen from finding pockets of space, and limiting the time Jones has on the ball is paramount. Since teams are going to step up their defensive efforts against the duo and launch attacks against the relatively inconsistent backline of the Revs, the focus shifts to the players in the caliber behind the main two - led most significantly by Jose Goncalves.
Last year Goncalves - the Revolution center back - stepped into the locker room of a struggling team and instantly became a leader, and was deservedly rewarded with the captain's armband. In the same season he was also awarded defender of the year, beating out the best defenders in MLS. But this season he has struggled to be the consistent force that won him that accolade. Taking him on in 1v1 situations last year was like competing against Joey Chesnut in a hot dog eating contest, or battling Mace Windu with light sabers - Jose always won. Last year, he showed everyone an impressive tactical aptitude that allowed him to read the game and cut out runs and knifing passes. He also didn't give away possession and seemed to possess herculean strength when shepherding the ball out of play. Simply put, when the fulcrum of the Revs defense played bad, the team played bad.
However, this season the captain started the campaign off on the wrong foot with a contract dispute and an injury, which kept him sidelined for a handful of games. When he did return to the field, his play never quite reached the level Revs fans had grown so accustomed to seeing. Attackers with pace have gotten in behind him more times than not, he has given away too many passes, scored uncharacteristic own goals, and has been outmuscled by larger forwards, something we never saw the year prior. Of course not all the blame can be heaped on the captains shoulders, as the issues stunting the Revs consistency went far beyond that of one player alone, but it is clear that his form has dipped. Nevertheless, the qualities that made Goncalves and the Revolution back line as a whole a "steel curtain" have not completely slipped away. Indeed, in recent games Goncalves has looked more like the 2013 version - stronger and more confident - and the team has been winning partly due to his play and influence along the backline. Furthermore, the playoffs are a perfect opportunity for Goncalves to showcase his talents and remind MLS why he is still one of the best defenders in the league.
There are going to games in the postseason where Nguyen and Jones aren't going to flourish the way they have been, and the defense is going to be called upon to shut down the high flying attack of its opponents. Defending well against the lower tier teams isn't going to make this Revolution team great, and in the playoffs they won't be facing a team that doesn't have a top quality player. The first task the Revs will face is shutting down the always-skillful Federico Higuan - something the Revs have yet to do this year. If they get past the first round it only gets tougher as they could meet any handful of top quality attacking players like, Fabian Espindola, Bradley Wright Phillips, and Dom Dwyer to name but a few.
If in fact you side with the school of though that believes, "defense wins championships," then this argument stressing the importance of the teams best defender cannot be overstated enough. The New England Revolution is more than just #MVLee and Jermaine Jones, and Goncalves is the main man holding the key to success.