CHESTER, Pa. — From the moment A.J. Soares pulled up around the hour mark of Saturday's 1-0 defeat in Philadelphia, it looked like New England would have a problem.
Soares' apparent right leg injury and subsequent substitution exacerbated the ongoing injury crisis in the Revolution rearguard. His departure left Revolution coach Jay Heaps with Darrius Barnes as the only natural center back available for the remainder of the match.
The enforced switch left Heaps with a series of rather unorthodox choices to make as he attempted to navigate his side through the remainder of a game finely poised at 0-0.
Heaps ultimately decided to move versatile midfielder Ryan Guy from right back to center back to compensate for Soares' departure. Alec Purdie then dropped from the left side of midfield to the right side of the back four to maintain the same defensive shape.
Full Match Highlights: PHI 1, NE 0
“Every time we've had to make a change at center back in the middle of the game, we've lost,” Heaps told MLSsoccer.com after the game. “That's just the way it is whenever you have to make a change like that. We literally had two guys back there who had never played defense before in Ryan Guy and Alec Purdie. They did a nice job, but when you pull a center back out in the middle of the game for non-tactical reasons, it's a tough move.”
Mostly, it forced a series of in-match changes that unsettled the defensive group. Everyone from the front two to goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth had to compensate for Soares' removal. Heaps even changed the shape to a 4-4-1-1 when Juan Toja entered the fray a few minutes later.
“You just have to be more aware in the back after that,” Revolution left back Kevin Alston said. Everything's going on and you have to make a change. It's a little different, but it's part of the game. You have to be ready for things like that. There isn't much you can do about it except stay focused and not think too much about it.”
For the most part, the Revs stuck to their task and kept their shape despite the adverse circumstances. Philadelphia didn't create a glut of enticing chances, but they did apply pressure in the final stages.
One such foray decided the game and highlighted the importance of those changes. Philadelphia drew a dangerous free kick on the right flank. Normally, the Revs deal with these situations in a rehearsed manner with designated marking assignments. Soares' removal forced them to switch a couple of those roles.
“A.J. is a key marker,” Heaps said. “At that point, you're shifting things around a little bit. That's what cost us.”
It certainly did. Jack McInerney floated past Guy at the back post to nod home Keon Daniel's free kick and underscore the quandary created by Soares' removal. Heaps and the Revs could and should cite other reasons for the defeat, but none of those issues created the direct and uncontrollable concern that ultimately led to their demise on the night.