June 9, 2014

Shuttleworth seizes control of starting job

By Kyle McCarthy

Bobby Shuttleworth's shot-stopping ability has helped the Revolution establish themselves as one of the top teams in MLS this season. (David Silverman/New England Revolution)

 

Bobby Shuttleworth arrived in New England five years ago as a developmental player. There were no guarantees upon arrival. His play in college with Buffalo and his brief stint with Austin Aztex earned him a chance to join the Revolution. It offered him a foot in the door and an opportunity to impress. Nothing more. Plenty of hopefuls receive the same chance and wash out before they ever step on the field.

The task is even harder as a goalkeeper. It is a binary position: play or sit. And this Revolution side boasted Matt Reis. He didn’t get hurt. He didn’t miss games. He didn’t permit his form to drop enough to warrant a change.

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Reis loomed as the specter over everything, the immovable number one blocking the way when Shuttleworth first joined the club. As frustrating as it is to practice every day without having a realistic chance to take the field in a competitive, first-team match, it is somewhat liberating. The predicament gave Shuttleworth time to lay the groundwork required to ensure he was ready when and if his time finally arrived.

* * *

It arrived sooner than expected as Reis began to show the cracks created by the burden he carried for all of those years. Shuttleworth picked up appearances here and there during his first two full seasons with the team. The door opened slightly when Reis battled through intermittent knocks and Preston Burpo suffered a horrific and ultimately career-ending injury in 2010. It creaked open again the following two years when Reis continued to feel the strain of years and years of playing every game.

Those moments offered Shuttleworth precious match practice, but they did not offer him a genuine chance to establish himself as the dominant figure. Reis still functioned as the number one even when he missed games. Shuttleworth used his intermittent opportunities wisely to hone his craft and push himself forward.

David Silverman/New England Revolution

“I think Bobby started showing some really good signs after about 2½ years that I was here (starting in 2010),” Revolution assistant coach Remi Roy said. “He was showing flashes of things I really liked about him. The one thing that helped him was being here with Matt for so long. He saw what the model of a number one goalkeeper needed to be in MLS, not just on the field but off the field. By his third year, you could see the possibility of him being a number one.”

Shuttleworth craved the chance. He pushed for it. He strived for it. He worked for it. And it showed in every training session as he pressed Reis and learned from him at the same time.

The diligence paid off for most of last year. Shuttleworth started 23 games after starting 20 in the previous three seasons combined. He posted career highs in just about every meaningful category. He set a new club mark for consecutive minutes without allowing a goal (420 minutes from May 11 through June 15), too. Those efforts established his number one credentials without cementing them. He ended the season on the bench, watching Reis play an outsized role in securing the Revolution’s first playoff berth since 2009.

Reis retired during the offseason after tearing his quadriceps in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal defeat to Sporting Kansas City in November. It created a vacancy in goal for the first time in forever. Shuttleworth tussled with the returning Brad Knighton for the opportunity to fill it. He eventually won the battle in preseason. He hasn’t looked back since.

“I don’t think it’s been any different for me than it has in the past couple of seasons,” Shuttleworth said as he reflected on his path this season. “I have come in and tried to play in every game. It was no different than when Matt was here.”

* * * 

The difference now is the consistency of his presence. Shuttleworth — aside from one match missed due to concussion in May — carries himself and operates like the number one he is. There is a conviction to his movements, an overwhelming sense of dominance in his duties as he undertakes them. It always bubbled underneath the surface before, ready to boil over at any moment. It peeked through for much of last year as he patrolled his area and strengthened his case for this permanent change in status. It pores through now as he asserts his dominion behind the Revolution back four.

“Bobby’s been huge,” Revolution defender A.J. Soares said. “You can hear it on the tape: Bobby’s screaming at the back line, trying to organize the back line the entire game. That’s pretty much the biggest thing you can ask for. He sees the field. He understands the shape. He does a really good job of organizing us. On top of that, he’s made huge saves, which is what we expect of him.”

Shuttleworth carved out his place in this role because he dictates the terms as Soares describes then and subsequently reinforces them by intervening at the proper times. He imposes his aerial superiority by claiming crosses and coping with set pieces. He makes the key saves to transform losses into draws and ties into wins. He provides the sense of comfort and security required to really shine in his duties.

“I think his best quality is his physicality and the way he dominates the box,” said Revolution defender Chris Tierney (Wellesley, Mass.). “The best thing for defenders is when a ball is coming into the box and attacking players are going after it, Bobby is never shy to come out after it and use his frame to make plays. That takes a lot of pressure off of us.”

* * *

The pressure is always on Shuttleworth, though. He operates in a high-profile position with scant margin for error. He remembers the way he scrapped his way to this perch after spending years as an apprentice. He understands all too well the motivation of Knighton behind him to dislodge him from his position.

It creates a scenario where Shuttleworth — even as he preserves and snatches points — relies on Knighton and third-string goalkeeper Larry Jackson to prod him forward. The motivation remains internal, but the impetus comes from every day in training as his colleagues push him in the way he used to push Reis.

“Bobby continues to progress every week,” said Revolution coach Jay Heaps (Longmeadow, Mass.). “And that’s important. Whether it’s distribution, whether it’s game management, whether it’s big saves, he continues to get comfortable.”

Every passing week provides yet another opportunity for Shuttleworth to protect his status and stay on the right side of the equation. His continued hunger and his increasing experience afford him more latitude, but he isn’t planning to use it. He is just 27, a young man at a position where starters often reach the peak of their powers somewhere in the early stages of the next decade.

The importance of taking advantage of this opportunity remains at the forefront of Shuttleworth’s mind. He grinded day after day to reach this point in his career. He took the proper measures to ensure it finally arrived. He is no longer a project, no longer the goalkeeper of the future. He is the goalkeeper of the present, the number one charged with performing week after week. He waited years for this chance. He does not plan to let it go to waste.

“I’m happy to have the responsibility of playing,” Shuttleworth said. “I hope it continues. For me, it’s just taking it one game at a time and trying to get wins to get us into the playoffs.”

 

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of New England Soccer Journal. 

Kyle McCarthy is the MLS editor for FOX Soccer and the assistant editor of New England Soccer Journal.

Email: kyle@NESoccerJournal.com

Follow @kylejmccarthy