The Revolution's defensive depth will certainly come in handy when they take on the Portland Timbers on Thursday night at Jeld-Wen Field. On Wednesday, the club recalled Bilal Duckett from his loan spell with the Rochester Rhinos of the USL Pro to potentially start in defense against Portland and also announced that the league had suspended and fined left back Chris Tierney for a tackle on Sebastien LeToux in Saturday night's 2-0 win over Philadelphia.
New England will also be without defenders AJ Soares (hamstring), Andrew Farrell (knee), and Kevin Alston (disabled list). So Duckett and Darrius Barnes will likely earn their first starts of 2013, while Jose Goncalves and Stephen McCarthy will make their second consecutive start together in central defense.
“This is why you have depth,” said head coach Jay Heaps. “If there’s an injury here or there, you’ve got to make sure that the guys are ready to go.”
Portland has arguably been the most interesting team through the first two months of the season. New Head Coach Caleb Porter has turned the Timbers into a team that plays attractive, fast, attacking soccer. And though the Revolution's defense has so far been one of the best in the league, Portland's offense will present a tough challenge to New England's thin backline.
Jamaican international and Boston native Ryan Johnson has been the Timbers' main offensive threat, with four goals so far this season. But the speedy attacker is even more dangerous because of his Timbers teammates, who have been relentless in creating scoring chances for him to put in the back of the net. Chief among these goal creators is Diego Chara, probably the Timbers' next best offensive catalyst behind Johnson, whose three assists are tied for the league lead.
"Each guy that's stepped in has done the job," says Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth of the Revolution's defense so far this season. "I can't say enough about the backline. All those guys have been really tremendous. We need to keep building on that, keep our shape, keep our lines, and keep it nice and tight back there."
Goncalves has been instrumental in central defense, pairing well with both Soares and McCarthy. His wisdom from having played in various European leagues appears to have transferred to MLS without delay, though he could be in for his biggest challenge yet in organizing and communicating with Barnes and Duckett.
Barnes is a natural center back, but will probably play left back since Goncalves has already played with McCarthy three times in central defense. Meanwhile, Duckett could be making his first-ever appearance with the Revolution, probably at right back. The Revolution backline is capable of helping capture a positive result, though both the defensive newcomers and mainstays will need to sync together immediately and avoid lapses.
Offensively, the Revolution are progressing, having ended a 539-minute scoreless streak on Saturday against Philadelphia. Scoring goals will help take even more pressure of the defense, especially if the Revolution can put the ball in the net more than once. And while Portland are on a six-game unbeaten hot streak, they also have the third worst defensive record, having allowed 11 goals so far this season.
“That was exactly what we were looking to do; be dangerous on the attack, get chances and finish those chances,” said Ryan Guy, of the win against Philadelphia. “I think we probably could’ve finished a few more than we did, but the goals that we did score were quality goals. They were from the run of play, from some good passages of play and it felt like we kind of broke the seal, which we’ve been looking to do for awhile now.”
“[Portland is] a great test...I think we’re all confident that this is something that can stick and we can get a little bit of steam under our belts, get going and continue to score some goals and get points.”
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