FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Revolution defense has dealt with shuffling the past couple weeks, but newcomer José Gonçalves has emerged as a steady presence on the backline.
Soares' exit forced Revolution coach Jay Heaps to alter the bedrock of his defense for the first time this season. Heaps had already made one change to his back four when Chris Tierney replaced Kevin Alston (illness) prior to the 0-0 draw at Seattle on April 13, but the swap of left backs did not undercut the fundamental structure of the defense.
“We have some options at center back, but we had formulated a pretty good partnership across the back line in terms of A.J., José and reading the game together,” Heaps told MLSsoccer.com. “They understood who would be physical on some plays and who would read the game on others. That's what we have to do this week: We have to get the partnership up to speed and as close to game-ready as it can be.”
One-half of the duo that conceded a league-low two goals through the first five games remains, though. Former Portugal youth international Gonçalves provides experience, grit and leadership on the left side of any central defensive partnership. His assured displays so far this season offer ample hope that the defense can adjust to any alterations quickly.
“José adds a lot for us,” Heaps said. “He's physical. He's good with the ball. He's good in the air defensively. And he's a leader. If you ask anyone, he's one of our strongest and most athletic guys, but, with that comes a really good professionalism. The players really respond to him.”
Gonçalves' selected partner for Philadelphia's visit on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, watch on MLS Live) – likely culled from a group including Darrius Barnes, Andrew Farrell and Stephen McCarthy – must heed his direction in order to ensure they remain on the same page. It isn't a difficult assignment to accept, according to McCarthy.
“José's really good,” McCarthy said. “It makes it easy to play with him. He communicates really well. I think I just need to work on a few things, stepping up and pressing attackers when they get the ball a little bit better. We need to get our line a little bit tighter when they are coming at us. That will come with this week of training and into the game. I'm excited.”
No makeshift partnership can replicate the understanding developed between Gonçalves and Soares over the past few months in such a short time frame. Instead of attempting to meet that standard straight away, the new inclusion – no matter his identity – will instead try to work earnestly with Gonçalves to establish the common ground necessary to repel Jack McInerney and the Union this weekend.