MONTREAL – In the wake of a second shutout in two games, New England Revolution coach Jay Heaps lauded his team for its defensive efforts and praised the contributions of two players in particular.
Revolution central defenders Darrius Barnes and A.J. Soares (above) formed the bedrock of a stout defensive performance that repelled Chicago last weekend before securing a second straight 1-0 victory against Montreal on Saturday afternoon, according to Heaps.
“A.J. and Darrius were excellent,” Heaps told MLSsoccer.com after the game. “A.J., in the last two games, has really stepped up in winning battles and being hard. I think in the second half, anyone that went near him, he either won the ball or they knew he was there. That's the defensive presence we need to have.
"Darrius was amazing on all things defensive: set pieces, corner kicks, clearing the ball away. Both of them had a really good night and a really solid evening.”
Barnes and Soares operated in conjunction with holding midfielder Clyde Simms to form a defensive triangle in the 4-1-4-1 formation employed in both matches. The tasks at hand were different, but the overall mission more or less remained the same.
“Going into the game [at Stade Saputo], we wanted to be compact,” Barnes said. “We wanted to make sure we were all on the same page from the first whistle. It was important that if we could start off well and limit their chances early, it builds our confidence for the game.”
Barnes and Soares entered this game with plenty of belief after quelling Fire forwards Sherjill MacDonald and Chris Rolfe last weekend. That conviction only went so far in practical terms considering the different type of threat posed by Impact strikers Marco Di Vaio and Andrew Wenger.
Instead of coping with a crafty operator between the lines in Rolfe and target forward in MacDonald, Barnes (right) and Soares confronted two more conventional strikers in Quebec.
Di Vaio, as Heaps noted after the match, is one of the best players in the league at riding the offside line. He drifts into the channels and tries to pull apart the center backs by taking up peculiar spots in front of the back four and along the defensive line. Wenger interchanges with others (including Di Vaio) and plugs the gaps left by Di Vaio's movement.
The Revs' defensive trio communicated frequently to sort out the assignments and stop both players from roaming freely. Barnes said he and Soares wanted to pick up Di Vaio and Wenger in a two-versus-two situation most of the time, but they passed them off if required to maintain proper shape and spacing.
Montreal made that task more difficult as the match progressed. The home side piled on the pressure in the second half and served plenty of crosses into the penalty area toward Di Vaio and Wenger. Those forays were turned away by a group that simply didn't want to concede, according to Soares.
“They came hard,” Soares said. “We absorbed all of their pressure and defended really well. The whole, entire team, there wasn't one guy out there. Bob [Shuttleworth] did a great job in goal. Darrius next to me, phenomenal. Clyde right in front of me, he really runs the show. He keeps the game together. He's the glue right now. It's great to have him there.”
All of those efforts yielded a second straight clean sheet and a second road win of the season. They also revealed the progress the Revs have made this season in transforming from a side that might crack under this sort of pressure to a team that refuses to allow the opposition to play through the middle of its rearguard, according to Heaps.
“They weren't through us,” Heaps said. “They were never behind us and through us. They'd go wide and get the ball in the box. They were dangerous on those when they got good service. When it was bouncing around, we were really good defensively.”