San Jose's Chris Wondolowski and New England's Stephen McCarthy go up for a header
Getty Images

New England's McCarthy learns centerback role on the fly

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Shrugging off an illness to step out onto the pitch for 90 minutes at an unfamiliar spot? Consider New England’s Stephen McCarthy game.

Figuring out how to deal with San Jose strikers Steven Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski proved somewhat more difficult to overcome.

A calf injury last Friday to Darrius Barnes paved McCarthy's way into the first team for New England's 1-0 defeat at San Jose on Saturday night. The 23-year-old midfielder shook off an illness that kept him off the field on Friday afternoon before making his competitive bow in central defense.

The first half offered a dose of on-the-job experience in familiar surroundings for the former Santa Clara (and North Carolina) man. Wondolowski pounced on a Revolution miscue after 15 minutes to open the scoring, while Lenhart spent the half pestering McCarthy and throwing his weight around up front.

“I think they got the better of us a little bit in the first half,” McCarthy told after the match. “They're both very smart players. They know how to hold the ball up. I don't think we were smart enough in the first half, but we got better.”

A series of halftime adjustments – plus a late first-half booking to Lenhart for persistent infringement – ensured a smoother second stanza for the makeshift partnership in central defense. McCarthy said he noticed the progress after the break.

“The spacing was a little too open between me and [fellow central defender John Lozano] for some of it,” McCarthy said. “I think we figured it out in the second half and got better as the game went along.”

Those second-half strides could prove important because McCarthy may have to feature in central defense once again for Saturday's visit to Sporting Kansas City.

Lozano is currently listed as doubtful for that match with a right hip flexor strain, while A.J. Soares – who played left back against the Quakes – is now listed as questionable with a right knee sprain after limping off during the second half.

Even if Lozano and Soares miss out against Sporting, McCarthy can still rely on their tutelage if he needs to keep that high-powered attack off the board at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.

“I'm learning,” McCarthy said. “I think I've started to pick it up pretty quickly. I'm figuring it out. I'm definitely getting help from A.J. and John, too, but it's hard with the language [barrier]. They're both helping me a lot. It's been good.”

Stay connected: Get access to breaking news, videos, and analysis from North America's best soccer reporters via "This Week in MLS" newsletter or using our FREE mobile app.