PORTLAND -- Facing the top-scoring team in the league this past Sunday night, the New England Revolution held the Portland Timbers to one goal and zero shots on target in the second half. Combined with a goal from Lee Nguyen, the Revs got to leave Providence Park with a 1-1 draw and a valuable road point.
Much of the defensive credit belongs to Josh Smith, the 2017 fourth round MLS SuperDraft pick (75th overall) who made his MLS debut on Sunday's nationally televised game. In the dying moments of the first half, Smith rewarded the coaching staff’s faith in him. Already down a goal, Timbers striker Fanendo Adi went 1v1 with Smith on a breakaway.
With his physicality, speed, and technique, Adi tends to thrive in these situations. Smith, though, stood his ground, forcing Adi into a difficult shot. What would otherwise have turned into a two-goal deficit, instead became a sequence that saw Revs goalkeeper Cody Cropper easily corral the ball and keep the match within reach for the visitors.
It would be Adi’s only shot on the evening.
“Josh showed himself well,” New England coach Jay Heaps said in his post-match remarks. “We had a lot of great players out there, but for me, [Josh Smith] was the man of the match.”
Following the match, Smith described his MLS debut as "unbelievable.”
“Everyone knows here at Providence Park what an atmosphere it is,” Smith said. “Hats off to the coaching staff, they did a great job to prepare us. Hats off to my teammates, they did a good job to help me come in and play.”
Smith, a four-year starter at the University of San Francisco, had already shown Heaps he was ready “with his play in preseason and in training," said the head coach. Heaps said the “exclamation mark” came the previous Monday at training.
“[Josh] and Je-Vaughn [Watson] got in a tussle,” Heaps began. “Usually JeVaughn wins those types of things. But on Monday he and Je-Vaughn knocked around pretty good. I knew from that point on he, was ready for this type of environment.”
The only cloud hanging over Smith’s performance was an injury suffered late in the match. Unable to walk, Heaps was forced to replace Smith in the 90th minute as the rookie was helped off the field.
Heaps confirmed that the injury was “a little bit of cramp,” adding that Smith dislocated his thumb as well.
But while Smith recovers, Heaps said he would look forward to re-watching Smith’s match-up against Adi.
“I’m going to go back and just watch those two,” Heaps said. “It looked like something out of old-school football.”