By most measures, the 2013 season was a certifiable success for the New England Revolution.
Whether you look at the unexpected run to the postseason (first since 2009), the third-place finish (highest since 2009), the 14 wins (most since 2007) or the +10 goal differential (best since 2005), few will argue that the Revolution didn’t take a significant step forward from their ninth-place finish in 2012.
Yet, for all the positive developments, the fact is that there’s still room for considerable improvement. Improvement that will be necessary to turn the Revolution from a postseason contender to a championship-caliber club. After all, isn’t that the ultimate goal?
The Revolution front office and coaching staff will take a hard look at its personnel at every position, and analyze what they need to do to strengthen their squad for 2014. We’ll follow suit, as well, and examine the roster in order to get a better understanding of what the Revolution need to find even more success next season.
In the first of a four-part series, we’ll take a look at the team’s goalkeepers: Matt Reis, Bobby Shuttleworth and Luis Soffner.
Overview: The 2013 season should’ve belonged to Shuttleworth. At least that’s what many felt as the Revolution entered preseason camp back in January.
The fifth-year veteran re-signed with the club during the offseason, and after a strong finish to the 2012 season, the starting keeper’s job was essentially Shuttleworth’s to lose. Unfortunately for Shuttleworth, that’s exactly what happened during the winter months.
After getting beat out by veteran Matt Reis during the preseason, Shuttleworth found himself on the bench for First Kick -- a sure sign that doubts remained about the understudy’s ability to take the reins between the sticks.
But it wasn’t long before he got another shot. Reis picked up a left knee injury soon after First Kick, opening the door for Shuttleworth to slide back into the starting role. From there, it looked like Shuttleworth would finally prove himself once and for all as the club’s best option between the sticks.
During a 16-game span that ran from late-April through early-August, Shuttleworth posted a sparkling 0.86 goals against average, and collected eight clean sheets within that span. At one juncture during July, he was ranked 12th on the Castrol Player Index, and was named as one of the club’s six candidates for the All-Star game.
Just when it seemed he was ready to guide the Revolution to the postseason, Shuttleworth’s began to struggle. He struggled to stop long-distance shots, and opponents quickly took notice. From Jun. 15 through Jul. 27, no fewer than seven shots from outside the area found their way past Shuttleworth. Back-to-back wins at Columbus and D.C. United allowed him to keep his job for the time being.
But after a humbling 3-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City on Aug. 10, the writing was on the wall: Shuttleworth was no longer assured of his starting spot.
Outlook: Reis’ injury presents a slew of question marks at the keeper’s spot. First and foremost: will the injury force the 38-year-old to hang up his boots? Is Shuttleworth capable of taking over Reis’ spot once and for all? Or will the Revolution look for a veteran keeper during the offseason? And can Luis Soffner step into the backup spot?
Despite an inconsistent campaign, Shuttleworth currently has the inside track for the starting keeper’s spot. He’s proven himself in the past, but needs to show he can play at a high level for an entire season. Over the last three years, Shuttleworth has looked strong at times, only for his form to eventually slide.
Soffner has the size to impose his presence inside the 18, but the second-round pick didn’t see a minute of action with the first team in his rookie season. He’ll attempt to elevate himself to second-string keeper after spending most of the 2013 season as the third-choice.
Bottom line: Whether Reis retires, or has his option declined, 2014 could be a sink-or-swim season for Shuttleworth in New England. After five seasons and at least three different chances to claim the starting spot, the job still isn’t his and his alone. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Revolution pick up a veteran to serve as both a mentor and competitor to push the streaky keeper during the preseason. Soffner’s spot on the roster isn’t assured, but if he remains on the roster next season, he’ll need to elevate his game in order to put himself in a position for his first MLS minutes.