FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The stat that's still surprising many observers of Major League Soccer is the one that shows the New England Revolution are hands down the best defensive unit in the league.
On Saturday night, their 2-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes was their fifth clean sheet in nine home games, and the Revs’ goals-against mark now stands at just 14 goals allowed through 17 games.
And the biggest stars of Saturday night may be an even bigger surprise: the center-back tandem that wasn’t even supposed to be.
“If you look at the way the game played out, [Stephen McCarthy and José Gonçalves] were the reason we won the game,” said left back Chris Tierney. “The way that [San Jose] plays is they’ve got two big, strong forwards and that’s a tough assignment for any defender in this league.
“Macca and José are the biggest and strongest out there. The way that they battled and took care of that job – which was definitely not an easy one – I think really won us the game.”
Thanks to the McCarthy-Gonçalves pairing, the Quakes’ double-target man front of Alan Gordon and Adam Jahn was held to two shots total, and not a single one on frame as the bruising forwards barely saw any time on the ball. San Jose’s entire attack saw only nine total shots on the entire evening.
Since McCarthy took over for incumbent starter A.J. Soares (who was injured early in a 4-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls in April) alongside Gonçalves in the heart of the defense, the Revs have gone 5-2-4 and allowed only nine goals.
McCarthy, a converted midfielder, is enjoying learning from well-traveled Portuguese and says the experienced veteran is teaching him a lot of the nuances of being a defender. "He has so much experience and every body knows he's played at the top-level, so if he says something you don't question it," said McCarthy. "He has some different styles he has helped me adapt, too — like keeping a high line at points that I didn't know of before. He's taught me a lot."
And although head coach Jay Heaps says his team’s success this season comes down to “team defending,” it’s that partnership in the middle of the defense that’s one of the biggest keys to what New England have been able to do, no matter where they play.
“There’s a good feel,” Heaps told reporters. “I think there’s a good chemistry going on right now with our backline when we get the four guys that have been playing a lot together with José and Stephen in the middle working together.”