Student of the game
The following story was published in the Revolution’s “Match Day” program for the August 17 game against the Houston Dynamo
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – In his three years with the New England Revolution, Bobby Shuttleworth has already experienced every role imaginable for a goalkeeper. Most commonly filling the role as the Revs’ number two behind veteran Matt Reis, Shuttleworth has started a total of eight MLS regular-season matches, five of six reserve league games in 2011, and gone head-to-head with Manchester United’s world-class forward line.
The fact of the matter is that Shuttleworth is only 24 years old, and has been exposed to all levels of the game.
The Tonawanda, N.Y., native did not begin his college career immediately upon arriving on campus. After redshirting his freshman year at Loyola College in Baltimore, Md., he transferred to the hometown University of Buffalo, where he played three seasons with the Bulls. Of the 35 matches he played, he started 33 and finished his career at Buffalo with a record of 20-7-7, posting an 0.80 goals against average.
With one year left of eligibility, Shuttleworth decided to forgo his final season, turn professional and ultimately sign with the New England Revolution, becoming the first UB player to be signed by an MLS team. Looking back, he had no regrets about leaving when he did.
“I wouldn’t have done it any differently,” Shuttleworth admitted. “It was a good opportunity for me to come in [to the league]. I couldn’t pass it up.”
His signing to a developmental contract in 2009 marked the beginning of his MLS career, but he knew he still had a ways to go before he would be the starting keeper for an MLS team.
In his rookie season in 2009, he did not make a single first team appearance for the Revolution, which is a tough transition for goalkeepers who are accustomed to playing in most, if not all of their games in college.
Luckily for Shuttleworth, he had a mentor in Reis, who began his career with the LA Galaxy in 1998 and could relate to Shuttleworth’s current situation. Reis, too, had his fair share of seasons as a back-up to Kevin Hartman in Los Angeles from 1998 to 2004.
According to Revolution goalkeeping coach Remi Roy, Reis is the exemplary player whom his younger counterparts on the team - Shuttleworth and Tim Murray - can model themselves.
“Matt’s really, really good for Bobby and Timmy because, obviously, he’s been in that role before and he’s not one of those guys who just wants to do well himself,” praised Roy. “Matt wants those two to do well as well.
“I think Bobby and Timmy are very open to the tips that he gives them,” adds Roy. “He passes on a lot of his experience that he has as a player. They have a lot of respect for him.”
Similar to Roy’s assessment of Reis, Shuttleworth credits Reis for much of his improvement since he’s entered the league.
“Matty, since the first second I got here, has been great to me,” said Shuttleworth of Reis. “He’s been in the league a long time. He knows what he’s doing. He’s brought me along, and pointed things out in my game.”
The lessons learned during training often translate to success in games, but for a player who sees limited time on the field with the first team, it becomes challenging to be consistent and sharp when he finally makes the lineup.
What advice does the master provide his student?
“It has to do with confidence,” explained Reis. “After a while, if you’re not playing [regularly] it’s hard to have confidence, but the good goalies are the ones that have it day in and day out. [Confidence] is definitely something that Bobby has.”
That confidence manifested itself on May 29, 2010, when the then 23-year-old was tested on the main stage for the first time.
Late in the first half against the New York Red Bulls, former Revolution keeper Preston Burpo suffered a horrific season-ending leg injury. With Reis sidelined nursing his own injury, Shuttleworth was summoned by the technical staff to fill in as the first-choice keeper.
Shuttleworth recorded two saves and earned the 3-2 win over the Red Bulls in his MLS regular-season debut, much to the delight of fans who had lost both their first and second keepers because of injury.
“That was my second season so I had been training really hard, and I had played in a couple games before, an Open Cup game and a couple of friendlies,” said Shuttleworth. “I felt ready to go, ready to step in and help the team.”
A healthy Reis retook the reins in June, but when an ankle injury surfaced in October, Shuttleworth was called to man the pipes for the final three games of the 2010 season.
At the start of the 2011 season, Shuttleworth was positioned in the number two slot behind Reis. A new season also meant league-wide changes, including two expansion teams, the unveiling of new soccer-specific stadia and the reinstated MLS Reserve Division, which has proven to make a major impact on Shuttleworth.
He believes the Reserve Division to be beneficial because it gives players like himself – who are on the fringe and some who are not regularly getting first team minutes – the opportunity to play games against other MLS reserve teams. He has played a crucial role on the Revs’ reserve team, appearing in all six reserve team games and contributing to the team’s 3-2-1 record, including two shutouts.
Shuttleworth has established a leadership role among the reserves, many of whom are in their first year or are the team’s Under-18 and Under-16. Despite the abundance of young players on the roster, he doesn’t feel that he’s been demoted in any way by participating in the Reserve Division. On the contrary, Shuttleworth approaches the reserve league with the same intensity as he does first-team appearances.
“I know what my role is on the team,” he continued. “I’m more than happy to be playing in the reserve games. Obviously, I want to be playing in the first team games. Matty’s been great this season. I think he’s played really well. It’s not difficult for me. Playing a game is playing a game. I’m just trying to play to the best that I can each game.”
Reis, too, stresses the importance of games.
“It’s one thing to be able to go out and train and do well in training,” said Reis. “But the important thing is to do it in games. That’s why the reserve league is so good for these young guys. It gives them quality games.”
Shuttleworth certainly exudes the professionalism and focus that is required to succeed in MLS, and his teammates and the technical staff alike have taken note of Shuttleworth’s growth as a player from last season to this season.
“If I compare Bobby last year at this time to Bobby this year at this time, he’s matured a lot,” said Roy. “The way he manages the game, the way he prepares himself mentality when he comes into training. He really comes everyday like it’s his job, not just like it’s a hobby.”
Technically speaking, Shuttleworth is developing into a promising young keeper who can fill in on any day against any opponent. As Reis has observed, “His all around game: intercepting cross balls, shot stopping, hands … everything has gotten better.”
Because of the nature of the goalkeeping position, the main thing for Shuttleworth to learn, according to Roy, is to be patient. After all, only one goalkeeper can play on the field at a time and a lot them play until they are well into their late 30s and early 40s.
“He’s eager to play, but he understands that there are certain things that he has to do before he plays – certain things that are good to learn when you are a number two goalkeeper,” explained Roy. “When Bobby becomes a number one, he’ll remember when he was a number two, and how hard he had to work to become a number one.
“That’s going to be his position, his job,” Roy continued. “I think he realizes that now more than he did last year.”
At only 24 years old, we can expect to see Shuttleworth playing professionally for many years to come, and even well after. The young New Yorker has a plan in mind already for life after goalkeeping.
During college, Shuttleworth gained some coaching experience with club teams, which has carried through to his playing career. In 2010, he joined the Bentley University Men’s soccer coaching staff, and intends to rejoin the group this August when the team begins their preseason training.
“Obviously, it’s a different experience coaching college kids because a lot of them are similar age to what I am,” said Shuttleworth. “Coming here, I’ve learned a lot more, and being able to pass that on to kids that are playing in college is good.”
His commitment to learn and continue to improve has enabled him to build up an impressive resume in the past few years with the Revolution. He shares this advice with college-aged athletes who have intentions of entering the league either before or after graduating:
“The biggest thing for me, being a back up, is being consistent. I want to pass that along to those players. Even if you’re sitting on the bench or playing, everything needs to be consistent and you need to keep that going throughout the season. If you’re not playing, improving at practice.”
It seems like Shuttleworth may be his best student.