BRADENTON, Fla. – It’s still very early in the 2014 preseason, but competition for starting spots will begin heating up in the coming weeks as the New England Revolution inches closer to the March 8 season opener against the Houston Dynamo.
There will be competition across the field, but it’s perhaps magnified greatest at goalkeeper, where the retirement of long-time starter Matt Reis has opened the door for Bobby Shuttleworth, Brad Knighton and Luis Soffner to lay claim to the number one role. Soffner is likely to assume third-string duties as the young netminder continues to learn the ins and outs as a second-year professional, but veterans Shuttleworth and Knighton began preseason on equal footing in the battle for the starting spot.
Head coach Jay Heaps said the first week of camp has been simply about getting back into the rhythm of daily training sessions, but with multiple games scheduled throughout the next four weeks, each goalkeeper will have his chance to put a strong foot forward.
“We think it’s important that they get games underneath their belt,” said Heaps. “It’s so early in preseason and all three of them are doing the right things. That’s what we ask of them. The games themselves will start to separate them.”
Shuttleworth played the full 90 minutes in last Friday night’s preseason opener against Swedish champions Malmo FF, conceding one goal while making several strong saves in the 1-1 draw. Knighton is expected to see his first preseason action when the Revs travel to Deltona, Fla., for a meeting with the Philadelphia Union on Tuesday afternoon.
The Revs have one final game at IMG Academy scheduled for Thursday afternoon against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (NASL), while they’ll play four more times in the Desert Diamond Cup during their second preseason trip to Tucson, Ariz.
“They feel good that they know they’re going to get a fair crack,” said Heaps. “It’s not one guy that’s going to get a lot of chances; it’s guys fighting for their chances.”
In the midst of an open competition, there is no room for complacency. Shuttleworth and Knighton know that each training session and each game could swing the pendulum in their favor – while the always-improving Soffner is waiting in the wings – challenging the entire goalkeeping corps to perform at their very best each and every day.
“That’s how we’re both going to get better is us pushing each other and Luis being along with us, bringing him along into our goalkeeper union, if you will,” said Knighton. “For us to push each other is only going to make each of us better.”
And while the competition this preseason will determine who gets the nod in the season opener, it won’t crown a number one for all of 2014. The need to be at their best at all times will continue throughout the year, as there will always be someone on the bench champing at the bit to get their opportunity.
According to Knighton, the atmosphere will be inherently competitive, but not cutthroat. All three goalkeepers have a strong bond, and although they’re all fighting for the same minutes, they’re incredibly supportive of each other, as well.
“When it comes down to it, whoever’s playing on the weekend, the person beside them is going to be behind them 110 percent,” Knighton said. “It’s a long season, so if you’re not starting the first game, you could be called upon in the second game or halfway through the year, and you need to step up to the plate when your name’s called.”