The New England Revolution snapped their five game losing streak on Saturday night when they defeated New York City FC, 1-0, but that accomplishment couldn't have happened if it weren't for stout defensive play.
After allowing seven goals in their last two games, the Revs earned a shutout for the first time since their June 13 victory over the Chicago Fire. Add in the fact that Bobby Shuttleworth missed the contest due to a concussion and Jose Goncalves was forced to sit out through a red card, and the Revs efforts become all that more impressive.
"I'm really happy with the attitude going in," said head coach Jay Heaps. "We knew we were going to be without Jose, we took a tough loss with Bobby midweek, so I that the attitude and mindset of all of the guys going in was really good. We worked really hard this week on our shape and on our back four - the overall commitment between the lines. Making sure that Teal [Bunbury], Diego [Fagundez], and when Juan [Agudelo] and Kelyn [Rowe] went in they were connected to our midfield."
The Revs' team effort on defense was apparent across the board, but was particularly evident in how New York's most dangerous player was negated throughout the evening. David Villa, who has 10 goals on the year, popped up in dangerous places, but seldom appeared a genuine threat to punish any Revolution errors.
A big reason for that was the contributions of Jeremy Hall, who earned a spot start when London Woodberry slid centrally and Kevin Alston was forced to miss out through persistent hamstring woes. Villa popped up near Hall's right back position with regularity and the 26-year-old relied on support and a poignant approach to limit the Designated Player's impact.
"I think it just was very good team defending," Hall said. "We had to be aware of wherever he was and you can't really just man-mark him because he's so quick and explosive and only needs a half yard to get a shot off. Basically I just tried to slow him down and I had a lot of help from whoever was in front of me, whether it was Teal, Kelyn came in, or Diego switching over."
Outside of earning the shutout and Hall's grasp on Villa, the most crucial defensive element was perhaps Brad Knighton's steady presence between the posts. The veteran goalkeeper made three saves and punched away four crosses into the box, but also continually made it feel like the final line of defense was in good hands.
Whether it was coming out to claim a cross, rushing off his line to clear a dangerous through ball, or slowing the game down as stoppage time wore on, Knighton had unwavering control over his box.
"I think a big part of my game is being able to control the box and I feel crosses and distribution are my key attributes," Knighton said. "Whenever I can come claim stuff off my line I'm looking to do that. I play a little bit of a higher line than Bobby, but that's just my comfort zone and where I like to be."
Keeping their defensive momentum going will be a tall task for New England, and the next chance to do that occurs on July 25 away to Chicago.