FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Having led the New England Revolution into a first-place tie atop the Eastern Conference, goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth's next challenge is to help his defense maintain its outstanding form.
New England stumbled out of the gate with a 4-0 season-opening loss at Houston and an 0-2-1 start, but the club has come to life to go 5-1-1 since, inspired by a series of key Shuttleworth saves and four consecutive home shutouts.
Among the key stops have been pushing aside an Alex Martinez effort to keep Sporting Kansas City off the board on April 26 and a point-blank save of an Obafemi Martins header in the fifth minute against Seattle last Sunday, allowing the Revs to swing momentum en route to a 5-0 romp. Add those to Shuttleworth's penalty-kick save on Chicago’s Juan Luis Anangono – and the follow-up stop on Mike Magee – in stoppage time of a 1-1 game on April 19, and the 27-year-old could build quite a highlight reel from the year's first 10 games alone.
“That’s what you ask your goalkeeper to do, to keep you in the game,” coach Jay Heaps told reporters on Tuesday. “Bobby has made timely saves going on three, four weeks now. Each game he’s made one or two big saves. That allows our team to gain that confidence.”
Shuttleworth, whose 1.00 goals-against average ranks second among MLS goalkeepers with at least 500 minutes played (behind only Kansas City's Eric Kronberg), has been here before.
Last year, Shuttleworth had a 0.75 GAA and seven shutouts in his first 12 games (the Revolution only managed a 4-4-4 record), but he posted a 1.92 GAA in his remaining games and allowed the since-retired Matt Reis to win the starting job back and take New England to the playoffs. This year, having beaten out Brad Knighton for the starting spot, the Revolution hope Shuttleworth and his defense can sustain their quality throughout the season.
“Bobby continues to progress every week; that’s important,” said Heaps. “Whether it’s distribution, whether it’s game management, whether it’s big saves, he continues to get comfortable.”
The season-opening loss aside, Shuttleworth has allowed just six goals over New England’s last nine matches, including one in the Revs' most recent three contests, which came against the potent offenses presented by Seattle (led MLS before last weekend) and Kansas City (currently seventh in MLS), as well as Toronto FC's talented group.
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Much like the shots he faces, Shuttleworth is quick to deflect the credit, hailing a group in front of him that has allowed less than four shots on goal per game. The backline, which has undergone several personnel shifts due to injury, has been especially dominant at Gillette Stadium. Shuttleworth had to make a season-high six saves to earn his shutout on Sunday, but in the previous three home shutouts, he had totaled just three saves.
“It’s been a great collective effort from everyone,” Shuttleworth told MLSsoccer.com. “Defensively, everyone has known their role and done a good job.”