April 23, 2013 - Major League Soccer (MLS) - New England Revolution
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - For the first two months of the 2013 season, Stephen McCarthy focused on getting himself healthy, maintaining the required level of fitness and waiting for his opportunity to take the field.
That opportunity arrived last weekend at Red Bull Arena when a hamstring strain forced center back A.J. Soares to limp off early in the first half with the New England Revolution already trailing 2-1. Without hesitation, McCarthy hopped off the bench and onto the field to make his 2013 debut.
He only wishes his first marking assignment hadn't been Thierry Henry.
"It was a tough one," McCarthy joked. "You never think about coming in against Henry your first time back."
McCarthy handled his duties well under the circumstances and earned praise from head coach Jay Heaps for the way his passing ability aided the Revolution's possession game. While the resulting 4-1 loss left a bitter taste in his mouth, McCarthy was nevertheless pleased with how he felt physically during his first game action of 2013.
Maintaining a high level of fitness was one of McCarthy's primary goals during his spell on the sidelines, and he credits off-the-field workouts with preparing him for last weekend's 72-minute stint.
"It's a lot about staying fit without game fitness, which is difficult," said McCarthy. "I've been doing a lot of biking and stuff that's pushing your lungs; stuff to try to pretend like you're playing a game when you're not. Physically, I felt really good. I felt fit."
McCarthy's fitness could be tested once again this weekend when the Revs host the Philadelphia Union. Soares is likely to be sidelined by his hamstring injury, opening up a spot in central defense alongside Jose Goncalves. Candidates to fill the spot include McCarthy, Darrius Barnes and Andrew Farrell.
Whether or not he's called upon to start on Saturday, McCarthy will be ready to go, just as he was last weekend when he was forced into action at a moment's notice.
"I'm not sure if the mindset changes that much (with a spot open)," he said. "Every day I want to try to do well. Really, it's just about us getting wins right now. This is the vital time. We have to get a win and keep getting wins. It's not so much thinking about myself as just trying to get the team to work together to get the win."