FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It’s been a while since the release of the New England Revolution’s 18-man gameday roster has been suspenseful, but after reigning Defender of the Year Jose Gonçalves was omitted from last week’s matchday squad, fans may well be waiting with baited breath ahead of Saturday's clash with the Vancouver Whitecaps (2 pm ET, MLS LIVE, CTV BC in Canada).
The Portuguese defender's absence from the lineup – his first since joining the club last January – raised eyebrows given that he had no reported injury. And though it came on the heels of a 4-0 blowout loss at the hands of the Houston Dynamo, it also led to speculation that he was held back due to a contract dispute after publicly expressing discontent with his contract situation during the preseason.
Now, on the eve of the Revs' home opener, the center back's status for the weekend remained uncertain, and though there was no word on it after a week of training, there have been some positive signs in Gonçalves favor.
By all accounts, Gonçalves has been a model citizen at practice throughout the week, and a slight nod of approval from his head coach won’t hurt his case for playing time either.
“All of the players have played well this week,” said Jay Heaps prior to Friday’s training session. “Jose has trained hard all week…we’ll make assessments today on where we are with the entire team.”
As far as the situation with Gonçalves affecting the rest of the club, A.J. Soares – who has made 18 career starts in central defense alongside the 28-year-old – dismissed it as being a distraction.
“We’re professionals,” Soares told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “There’s always things going on off the field. It’s something you just learn to deal with. When you come in as a rookie you see that there are off-field things that are happening with every player, all of the time. So this is no special case.”
Whatever the resolution of the situation, concerns about a continued absence for the team's star defender will be eased by the fact that Andrew Farrell, the first pick of the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, filled in admirably for Gonçalves in his first career start at center back in last weekend's 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union.
Nonetheless, the defensive unit continues to find its identity in the face of the shifting lineup.
“It’s all about the system as a defensive unit,” said Soares. “We’re all on the same page. It’s not really about the individuals. When you put anyone in there who’s a good player, they’re going to do a good job.”