Stellar defense makes draw more palatable

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Revolution coach Jay Heaps tried to find the silver lining following Saturday’s 0-0 draw to conference rival Columbus.

Yes, his team created attacking chances. And yes, it had defended well enough to keep the Crew off the board. In fact, the record will show that Revolution had done many things right on Saturday.

But the one thing they didn’t do is get the three points they envisioned going into the conference clash. So Heaps took a step back and looked at the bigger picture.

“It’s just one of those games where it’s another step for us,” Heaps said. “We defended well at times; it got a loose a little bit. Overall, we had some good chances.”

While the chances certainly were there for the up-and-coming Revolution, it was the defense that gave Heaps something to be happy about.

Against a Columbus team that thrived off its opponent's mistakes, the Revolution back four put together a clinic in front of the net, making sound tackles and thwarting dangerous chances.

One such chance arrived in the eighth minute, when Nemanja Vukovic played it forward to Milovan Mirosevic, who looked for an opening inside the defense. But with A.J. Soares, Stephen McCarthy and Shalrie Joseph walling up the attacking third, the Columbus midfielder was forced to pull the trigger early and the chance dissipated into the arms of keeper Matt Reis.

“We’re kind of the last line of defense,” Soares said of his fellow defenders. “We’re kind of just backing everyone up and I thought everyone did a good job today.”

Although the defense certainly kept the lid on the Columbus attack, they were aided by the Crew’s inability to convert its chances.

With halftime approaching, Vukovic lobbed a free kick from center circle into the area, where a crowd of players battled for the ball. Josh Williams put his head on it, but the effort hovered above the bar to keep the board unblemished in the 44th minute.

In the second half, the center back pairing of Soares and McCarthy was put to the test. Although the Crew recorded one fewer shot on goal (three) than they did in the first half (four), the fact is that sharp tackles and good man-marking limited the Crew’s chances from developing into legitimate threats.

Case in point: a 78th-minute counterattack that saw Emilio Renteria, who had menaced the back four all night, go one on one with McCarthy near the area. Instead of pushing Renteria wide, McCarthy went straight for the tackle -- but not without paying for it.

Although he managed to pry the ball away, the converted central defender was stepped on in the process and had to come off for a few moments before he returned to the field.

“[Soares and McCarthy] both put their bodies on the line,” Reis said. “And they did well. Renteria is a pacey player and he can really cause a lot of damage. The three they had underneath him all popped in and caused us problems, but I think as a team we did well defensively.”

It was all the Revolution could do in the wake of some missed opportunities of their own. In the first minute, Benny Feilhaber nearly found the back of the net when he went alone on Andy Gruenebaum but pushed his shot wide. Then there was the 29th-minute effort from Saer Sene, whose ambitious shot from distance ricocheted off the post.

But on the whole, the Revolution defense came through when it counted. And in a season in which they’ve seen results disappear in the waning minutes, it was a sign that Heaps’ squad is starting to mature.

Three points was the goal, of course. But in the grand scheme of a 34-game season, shutting out an opponent isn’t something to be embarrassed out.

“It was a tough game,” Reis said. “Especially in the second half when it was back and forth and back and forth. I think we created some good chances in the first half, the first couple of minutes too. But the key is that we fought hard and didn’t give anything away.”