By Kevin Koczwara
The New England Revolution lost its first game of the season last Saturday to Real Salt Lake — arguably the best team in Major League Soccer. In the, 2-0, loss, the Revs lost more than the game.
The team’s captain, Shalrie Joseph, and one of his center midfield partners, Pat Phelan, were both dismissed from the game with second half red cards, leaving Stephen McCarthy as the only healthy and eligible center midfielder for this weekend’s game in Houston against the Dynamo (1-1-2, 5 pts.) — Phelan and Joseph must serve a mandatory one-game suspension.
McCarthy may be a rookie, but he has started in every one of the Revolution’s (1-1-3, 6 pts.) first five games in the center of the midfield. The North Carolina Tarheel will be the only starter in the center of the midfielr for manager Steve Nicol’s side. The big midfielder will have to step up to fill in for Phelan — having his best season in the MLS — and Joseph — the team’s captian and leader. It won’t be easy.
“I feel good about having a few games under my belt,” said McCarthy. “This game coming up isn’t going to be easy without Shalrie and Pat. I feel a little scared, but excited.
“I have to communicate and I have to step up. I have to grow like that [snaps fingers], as quick as I can. I have to step up to being a leader in the middle,” McCarthy continued..
Growing up will mean controlling play and distributing the ball. McCarthy must be the Revolution’s a ball-winner and a distributor in the middle of the field, things he’s been asked to do thus far this season but on a more limited role with Phelan playing alongside him, for the team to come out of Houston with three points and a win.
It will also mean shutting down Brad Davis in Houston’s midfield and cutting off the supply line to rookie forward Will Bruin. McCarthy will need to show he is the type of player who can command the midfield and use his height and strength to win the 50-50 balls and aerial challenges for the Revolution to keep possession and control the game.
One of the ways McCarthy can command the midfield will be through communication. As a central midfielder he must be a leader and the controller of tempo and the play of the Revolution. To do that, McCarthy needs to be vocal. He will need to take over for Joseph and keep the team on the same page, from front to back.
“I’m confident in my abilities and the team’s abilities, but it’s going to be difficult without the leadership of Pat [Phelan] and Shalrie [Joseph]. We just have to come together and communicate as a team, which hasn’t really happened in the past because Shalrie’s usually the most vocal person out there,” said McCarthy.
It won’t be an easy task for the 22-year-old midfielder, but for the Revolution to be successful this weekend, he needs to step up and be a leader. McCarthy may be a rookie, but he has already scored one goal and become a regular in Nicol’s side, which says a lot about the midfielder because Nicol could go with any number of formations and parings, but because McCarthy has been one of the best XI for the Revolution, Nicol decided to play him in a diamond, three man, center midfield. Now, the rookie will play without his usual partners, and this is the time for him to step up. If he doesn’t, it could be a long day for Revs goalkeeper Matt Reis and the Revolution defense.
Revolution v Houston Game Notes:
- The Revolution go into the game with the Dynamo second in the Eastern Conference with a 1-1-3 record, six points. But, the Revolution are coming off of a tough week where they let up a late goal to Vancouver on Wednesday in Vancouver, which brought the game level for a draw, and then a abysmal 2-0 loss to RSL on Saturday.
- Houston are 1-1-2 on the season and have a plus-1 goal differential, better than New England’s minus-1.
- Houston is 1-1-0 at home while the Revolution ate 0-0-2 on the road so far this season.
- The Revolution are 6-1-3 against the Dynamo all-time in the regular season. The Revs have enjoyed playing in Houston, going 4-0-1. The Revs have won the last three meetings between the teams.
- New England leads the MLS with 79 fouls committed coming into the weekend, a staggering number. The team is also tied for the lead league in red cards with three.