FRISCO, Texas – Players always talk about being mentally prepared to start every match, even when their name isn’t on the team sheet, and Jalil Anibaba put that mantra to the ultimate test on Saturday afternoon at Toyota Stadium.
Listed on the substitutes’ bench for the Revs’ season opener against FC Dallas, Anibaba was warming up with the reserves when starting center back Michael Mancienne pulled up with an injury. After receiving treatment for several minutes, it became apparent that Mancienne would need to be replaced.
It was just 30 minutes before kickoff.
At a moment’s notice, Anibaba joined in with the starters, forcing him to switch gears entirely. He not only needed to be physically ready to play 90 minutes, but also mentally prepared for the challenge of playing on the road, and fully tuned into the game plan and the threats that FC Dallas pose.
“It can be hard (starting on such short notice), but someone like Jalil, he’s been around the league for so long that I’m sure he prepared well last night,” said head coach Brad Friedel. “He got his chance to play and he did very well today.”
Anibaba was thrust into a somewhat similar situation in last year’s season opener at Philadelphia, coming off the bench in just the 27th minute following Antonio Delamea’s early red card. Those types of experiences – including other occasions in which he started on short notice – helped the veteran defender deal with the challenges he faced on Saturday.
“I think I just fell back on my experience there,” said Anibaba. “I’ve been in that position before as far as having your number called late. You kind of just have to rely on good habits and rely on your teammates, to be honest, in moments like that.”
A critical block in the early stages helped Anibaba settle into the match, and although the Revs fell behind in just the 13th minute when Michael Barrios capitalized on a counterattack, they recovered to tighten things up defensively and find a second-half equalizer through Carles Gil.
And who combined to set up the goal? Center backs Anibaba and Delamea.
“I just tried to put it in a good area,” Anibaba said of his left-wing cross, which found Delamea at the back post for a knockdown to Gil. “Toni did a good job to knock it down to Carles, and he did the rest.
“For all of us, it’s just a matter of doing our jobs and doing what we can to make sure that we’re pushing the initiative forward so we can get the results that we need, and be in good position at the end of the season. That’s what it’s all about.”
On Saturday afternoon, Anibaba’s job was to step into the starting lineup on short notice and help shut down one of the league’s most dangerous attacks to set the tone in a season opener.
Safe to say it was job done.
“Jalil’s an ultimate pro, being able to come in on such short notice,” said goalkeeper Brad Knighton. “It was difficult for Michael at the start of the game and it’s always tough – you don’t want anything to happen to anybody.
“But Jalil’s been a true pro in everything that he does, and for him to get the opportunity when he did, I thought he did very well today for us.”