FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- If given the choice, the New England Revolution’s Pat Phelan said he prefers the rigorous demands of central midfield. But Saturday night his services were needed in central defense.
The switch might have served him well as the Revolution played to a scoreless tie with the San Jose Earthquakes before 13,611 at Gillette Stadium and Phelan after the game said he still felt he had mileage in the tank even as coach Steve Nicol noted his overworked team showed signs of fatigue.
“I prefer midfield,’’ Phelan said. “I feel like I did half as much running as I did when playing in the midfield but wherever [Nicol] needs me at this point I’m glad to play it.’’
In this month of May as the Revolution (2-5-2) struggle with injury while having to play six league matches, a U.S. Open Cup game and a friendly with Portuguese champion Benfica on Wednesday, the team has been beset with one challenge after another.
Saturday night Phelan was called upon to cover for Darrius Barnes (midfoot sprain) and Emmanuel Osei (leg infection) and did an admirable job helping to slow a visiting team that had won four of five games while riding the hot streak of striker Chris Wondolowski, who had scored in four straight games.
Considering the Revs had allowed seven goals in their two most recent contests, holding on for a shutout and not wreaking of vulnerability was a good thing for the team to build around.
“It was a positive sign for our midfield and our defense,’’ said Phelan. “Our back line didn’t defend for an entire game like we’ve been doing and our midfield didn’t get run through by any means and I think we both had some half-chances here and there. We had a couple of breaks that went our way. [Goalkeeper] Preston [Burpo] came up with some big saves. It was sort of a boring game to play in and watch but we’ll take a point and build on this going into Toronto.’’
Nicol, who has to be running out of player permutations as he continues to juggle the lineup, was pleased with the team’s defensive posture but thought the other side of things left something to be desired.
“First and foremost we were solid,’’ the coach said. “We’re happy to keep a clean sheet. I think the only thing that let us down was just that quality in the final third. We had numerous occasions where we played a bad pass or a bad finish or whatever. It’s that bit of quality in the final third that let us down.
“Preston made a good save in the second half,’’ Nicol added. “But I think overall we deserved to win the game. We were disciplined and I think we defended pretty well but it was just that quality in the final third that let us down.’’
Stating the team deserved to win was more than a slight exaggeration. The draw was fair. The Revolution’s best, and perhaps only, chance of the night came in the 61st minute when midfielder Joseph Niouky collected a pass from Chris Tierney and uncorked a rocket that clanged off the post to Joe Cannon’s right side. Sainey Nyassi’s 43rd minute volley from just inside the penalty area had promise but was handled by San Jose goalkeeper Joe Cannon.
The visitors’ best chance came in the 68th minute, falling to the feet of defender Bobby Burling. In alone and with Wondolowski on his right, Burling opted for the shot and was saved by Burpo, who came out to cut down the angle. The play was made possible by a splendid back heal by Andre Luis.
Nicol, praised his back line and singled out Phelan, said the team showed a lot of courage considering all the work they’ve put in of late.
“I think one of the biggest factors tonight was fatigue,’’ he said. "We could see with 25 minutes to go guys are beginning to [tire]. Not just the guys we brought off but the guys who were still on. They’ve played in all of these games we’ve had. So again, to play in all of the games they have and to keep going and keep a clean sheet is obviously good.’’
Phelan, who was matched against Dorchester native Ryan Johnson for the evening, said that while there were some challenges, neither he nor partner Cory Gibbs felt vexed.
“He’s a dynamic player at times but he’s somewhat predictable. So is Wondolowski,’’ he said. “Their runs didn’t give us too many problems. That being said, if you fall asleep [Ryan’s] got the pace to burn you and he almost did a couple of times and we had some lapses. On the whole I think the communication between Cory [Gibbs] and myself and Kevin [Alston] was pretty good.’’
The defensive midfielder said he had to rise to the challenge of adjusting to a slightly different role. He said it was just a matter of trusting his instinct.
“It’s kind of out of necessity,’’ said Phelan. “But I think I did all right. There’s not that much difference between being in a back four and a midfield four. There’s more defensive responsibilities but the basics are the same."