New England Revolution head coach Jay Heaps is adamant about his players taking advantage of opportunities. And on a night that saw established starters Charlie Davies and Teal Bunbury score in a 2-1 comeback win against the Philadelphia Union, no took advantage of an opportunity more than London Woodberry.
Making his debut for the Revolution, the defender was thrust into the starting XI at right back due to a host of injuries along the Revs' back line, and he stepped up in a big way, defending and pushing up along the wing as if he had been part of the lineup for months now.
“I thought London had just a great debut,” said Heaps. “I’m really happy for him, he’s worked hard for it. He defended well, he was everywhere. I thought he was one of our best players.”
Sunday marked Woodberry's first appearance in an MLS game since June 2013. A former Homegrown signing with FC Dallas, he was let go ahead of the 2014 season. He spent last year playing with Arizona United in the USL, the third division of the American/Canadian soccy pyramid.
But after impressing this past preseason, Woodberry signed on with the Revolution and he has now shown he could be a serious contributor this year.
“Big congrats to London,” said Bunbury, who had a goal and an assist on the night. “His first start back there today and he was unbelievable. He was the man of the match.”
Prior to Sunday’s match Woodberry had made the Revs gameday 18 on three occasions this season but had yet to see the pitch.
With starters Jose Goncalves and Darrius Barnes out with injuries and Chris Tierney starting on the bench as he worked his way back from a left ankle sprain, Heaps let Woodberry know of his decision before the team traveled to Philadelphia on Saturday.
Then it was just a matter of the waiting.
“I don’t think there were any nerves,” Woodberry told MLSsoccer.com on Sunday. “Probably leading up to the game there were a lot of nerves because I just wanted to get out there and start playing. It was the anticipation of waiting all day for that first game.”
From the get-go Woodberry looked relaxed, calmly cutting down Union efforts and showing a propensity for a solid cross from the right side. He had three tackles, three interceptions, three recoveries and eight clearances, six of which came in the box. His best effort of the night came in the 78th minute, when he followed a sensational save by Lee Nguyen on the line off of a corner kick, with a block on the follow up, at the left post to keep a one goal advantage for his club.
“Lee does a great job of covering the back post and really using his instincts to read the ball,” said keeper Bobby Shuttleworth. “London reacts really well, gets forward and makes another block. I think London did a great job. He was really strong today and held his position. He stepped in and did a great job.”
The Revs pulled off the comeback after allowing a late first-half goal off on a free kick from Cristian Maidana. A series of timely second-half subs from Heaps proved key, and Jermaine Jones first MLS start at center back was quality, but it was Woodberry’s consistent play that seemed to spark the whole effort, even if it didn’t all work out the way he envisioned.
“I thought I did alright,” said Woodberry. “It was a good debut for me. Going into the game we didn’t want to give up any goals, but you can’t take any credit from the free kick, it was a nice strike.”