FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England rookie midfielder Stephen McCarthy can't help but ponder the daunting task awaiting him in his native Texas on Sunday.
In his first five matches as a starter for the Revolution, the 22-year-old played alongside veterans Shalrie Joseph and Pat Phelan in central midfield. With Joseph and Phelan suspended for the weekend trip to Houston after picking up red cards in Saturday's 2-0 defeat to Real Salt Lake, McCarthy must assume a greater role in his side's success or failure in the middle of the park against the Dynamo.
“I've been thinking about it a little bit,” McCarthy told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. “I'm just trying to get focused for this weekend and get really ready mentally because it's going to be tough.”
The absence of two key regulars will require McCarthy to be more aware of his every move. Joseph and Phelan usually keep the former North Carolina and Santa Clara star in the right spot and marshal the proceedings through the center of the park.
Without both of those players involved on Sunday, McCarthy – who has completed just two full matches this season – must take charge of his teammates and watch out for his own positioning. It all makes for the most significant test of McCarthy’s fledgling MLS career.
“It's not going to be easy because what they bring for me is communication,” McCarthy said. “For me, that's one of the things I need to work on. I'm trying to work on it all week in practice to be as loud as I can and figure out how we'll deal without them.”
Revolution coach Steve Nicol expects McCarthy to rise to the challenge presented to him this weekend given his recent performances alongside Joseph and Phelan.
“I'm sure he'll step up and do even more than he's been doing,” Nicol said. “We've been pretty pleased with him. He's a rookie and he's had five games. With those five games, he's done well with what he's been asked to do.”
Nicol remains uncertain about who will join McCarthy in central midfield on Sunday. Ousmane Dabo returned to full training on Tuesday, but his status for Sunday's match appears murky at the moment. Nicol called the French midfielder “low on fitness” after missing the first five matches of the season with a right quadriceps strain, but he may yet still feature if he proves his sharpness in training this week.
Versatile midfielder Chris Tierney also presents another possible option after featuring in the engine room on a couple of occasions last season.
“Obviously without Shalrie and Pat – and certainly one of those [dismissals] was more than questionable – it makes it difficult for us,” Nicol said. “We'll spend the week coming up with something and then we'll go to Houston and get the job done.”