BOSTON – Je-Vaughn Watson wasn’t thrust into the spotlight during Wednesday night’s penalty shootout against the Philadelphia Union. Instead it was Watson who thrust himself into the spotlight.
Originally slated to take the New England Revolution’s fourth penalty kick in the shootout, Watson voluntarily swapped spots with Jose Goncalves when it became clear that the fifth and final attempt was going to potentially decide the match.
The switch worked a treat as both Goncalves and Watson converted their penalty kicks, with the latter’s clinching the Revolution’s 4-2 shootout win and a spot in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals.
“I think Je-Vaughn was really up for the moment,” said head coach Jay Heaps. “You never know what’s going to happen with the fifth kick. It was a discussion between who felt a little more comfortable between Je-Vaughn and Jose, and Je-Vaughn really wanted it.”
“Jose was saying it was a lot of pressure for the last kick,” Watson said. “I don’t care. I like pressure.”
Converting the match-winning penalty in the shootout was a fitting capper to Watson’s stellar night. He scored the Revolution’s only goal in regulation – his first since joining New England prior to this season – and worked tirelessly for 120 minutes, starting at left back before moving to central midfield.
That continued a theme for Watson, who’s become the Revolution’s Mr. Versatile this season, playing every position across the backline as well as central midfield.
“He’s understated for what he brings to our group, but the last three or four games he’s been one of our best players,” Heaps said of the 32-year-old veteran. “Credit him tonight.”
Watson’s veteran savvy played a big role in his goal, scored on the stroke of halftime. Kei Kamara – a late addition to the starting lineup when Femi Hollinger-Janzen suffered an injury in warmups – was fouled outside the box, generating a free kick about 30 yards from goal.
As the Union set up a wall, Diego Fagundez quickly slid a pass to Watson inside the box, and after a touch to steady himself, he smashed a left-footed drive inside the far post.
The sequence wasn’t a lucky break, but rather the result of meticulous attention to detail.
“We had a free kick in the same spot before, and I found out they weren’t marking us quick enough,” Watson said. “I told Diego as soon as we get the kick, just pass it to me and I’ll try and just get a shot off. As soon as the ball came to me, I just needed to put it in the right spot.
“I aimed for the far post and it went in, so I guess that’s a good kick.”
The goal was ultimately just a precursor to Watson’s heroics in the penalty shootout, made possible by goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who saved a pair of penalties to set up Watson’s winner.
Now the Revs move on to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals for the first time since 2008, where they’ll meet the Chicago Fire on either August 9 or 10. The draw to determine who’ll host that match – and a potential final – will take place at 11 a.m. ET on Thursday, July 21, and will be streamed by U.S. Soccer.
Regardless of where that semifinal takes place, the Revs are now just two games away from potentially lifting a trophy, and that’s music to Watson’s ears.
“It’s a good feeling. We’re in the semifinals now,” Watson said. “I’m here to win trophies. That’s why I came to New England – because it’s a good team and I want to win trophies. We have to work hard. Even though it went to extra time tonight, we just put in the hard work and we came out victorious.”