FOXBOROUGH — Bobby Shuttleworth, a career backup, has started the last three games in goal for the Revolution. On Saturday against the Chicago Fire at Gillette Stadium, the 25-year-old is expected to get the nod once more. It would be the longest starting streak of Shuttleworth’s MLS career.
“Obviously, you want to play in every game,” he said after practice on Thursday. “This is the third year now where I’ve kind of gotten the last run of games here when we’ve been out of it. Obviously, we’d prefer to be in the playoffs and be in the hunt. But it’s nice to get a couple games in a row.”
The Revolution (7-17-8) conclude their home schedule on Saturday. They will wrap up the season, their third straight without a playoff appearance, Oct. 27 in Montreal.
On Sept. 15, following a 2-1 loss to D.C. United, the Revolution were eliminated from postseason contention. During the last month, first-year coach Jay Heaps has been in evaluation mode to gauge the personnel that could make 2013 a bounce-back season. Shuttleworth has been one of the primary pieces of Heaps’s assessment.
“It’s been good to see him over a stretch of games,” Heaps said. “For us, it’s important to evaluate what Bobby’s trajectory is. I think that getting games as a starter, preparing during the week as a starter, that’s important. It’s not being thrust into a game. It’s really seeing how he prepares himself, how he prepares the back line, how he communicates, and how he prepares from the film work — set pieces, everything we do together. We’re watching that development as well as on the field. I think on the field, he’s had some excellent saves. But there’s areas in his game that we continue to watch and want him to work on.”
For the last nine seasons, Matt Reis has served as New England’s go-to goalkeeper. The 37-year-old Reis has appeared in 242 games for the Revolution. Reis, who began his MLS career in Los Angeles, has started 276 games, tied with Zach Thornton for fourth in league history. This year, Reis is 6-14-7 with a 1.44 goals-against average and six shutouts.
But Shuttleworth (1-3-1, 1.00 GAA, one shutout) may be approaching the point where he can challenge Reis for playing time.
“Being in my fourth season now, I kind of know where I’m at and where I want to be,” Shuttleworth said. “Every time I get a nice stretch of games, the more games I get in a row, the stronger and sharper I feel. This is going to be my fifth season next year. I’m looking to transition into being picked more regularly for the team. This is a nice little sample of what I’m hopefully going to get in years to come.”
Shuttleworth kicked off his current streak with a three-save performance in a 1-1 tie against New York Sept. 22. One week later, Shuttleworth allowed two goals in a 2-0 loss to Houston. On Oct. 6, Shuttleworth stopped one shot in a 1-0 loss to Philadelphia.
Shuttleworth is not satisfied with two losses and one tie. But it’s a step forward from being on the sideline. Because of a sprained left knee, Shuttleworth was absent for eight games between July 29 and Sept. 5, Tim Murray serving as Reis’s backup.
The sluggishness Shuttleworth initially had to shake because of the layoff is fading.
“I’m just starting now to kind of get all the sharpness back,” he said. “That just comes with playing and being on the field. The more time goes, the sharper I’m feeling.”
On Saturday, the Revolution will welcome back two players from international play. Last week, forward Diego Fagundez participated in Uruguay’s under-20 camp. Forward Jerry Bengtson appeared in two games for Honduras. On Tuesday, Bengtson scored three goals and two assists in Honduras’s 8-1 blowout of Canada in World Cup qualifying.
The Revolution will be without Benny Feilhaber. The midfielder received a red card in the loss to Philadelphia.
Shuttleworth and the Revolution will square off against a Fire club that already has clinched a playoff spot. But Chicago is within 3 points of Kansas City for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
“I think where we’re at with Bobby — and we’re still assessing — he’s a keeper where the sky can be the limit,” Heaps said. “He’s big. He’s a great shot-saver. He’s got good feet. Throughout his career, he’s been excellent in the air. Those are things, if he continues to get better at, he’s a future player.”Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.