When Chris Tierney suffered a hamstring injury against D.C. United, New England Revolution fans collectively held their breath. The local product has been the go-to left back for more than seven seasons, offering salient service and dependable defense. Who would be the man asked to replace the unwavering Tierney?
Enter Donnie Smith.
Despite entering his fourth year with the Revolution, Smith had only made two regular-season appearances ahead of Wednesday's match against the Portland Timbers. Both appearances came as a midfielder and neither amounted to more than 45 minutes. Regardless, Heaps looked to Smith to patrol the left side over Je-Vaughn Watson and Darrius Barnes.
Smith will readily admit that he was a bit nervous going into the game, even stating that he was "a little hectic" during the first 15 minutes. He would soon get settled, however, and put in a performance that earned praise from the Revs locker room.
"He's a good player," Andrew Farrell said. "His positioning has gotten a lot better throughout the year. I think he did well. He's a good guy to have."
Heaps also recognized the play of Smith, noting that the 25-year-old is a strong, physical player that is as "fast as there is in this league." For Heaps, Smith did what he was expected to do, which included threatening the opposing net with his crosses.
Although Smith's first-ever start at left back came on short notice, he had been preparing for this moment for a long time. He's been a patient understudy to Tierney, who's also a midfield convert, while also soaking in advice from Heaps, who was one of the league's best defenders during his prime.
All of the hard work, which included time with the Rochester Rhinos, paid off when Smith was handed his first start since 2014. Best of all, it came at home in front of Revolution fans.
"It was awesome," Smith said of the home crowd. "I hadn't played at home yet in my career. It was great to be out in front of the home fans."
Smith will have another chance to play in front of the Foxboro faithful as the Revs welcome Orlando City SC on Saturday. With Tierney likely to miss his second consecutive game, Smith is the frontrunner to start at left back. If his name does get called, Smith will certainly be ready.