There are few jobs in the world that come under as much scrutiny as a goalkeeper’s. Whenever they make a mistake, it shows up on the scoreboard for all to see. When everything goes well, they mostly go unnoticed. But there are moments when they have the chance to step into the spotlight and change the course of a match with a single save. There are few who can use those moments to change the course of an entire season but Bobby Shuttleworth is one of them.
After arriving via a trade late in the 2017 preseason, Shuttleworth was expected to play the role of backup to John Alvbage as the season kicked off. But just two matches into the season, he was forced into the starting role during the home opener after Alvbage was carted off due to injury. Shuttleworth gave a good account of himself in his first start in Colorado, helping the club to its first MLS point with a 2-2 draw. Two weeks later he backstopped the Loons to their first win with five saves, including a point-blank stop in the first half to keep Minnesota in the match after conceding early.
Shuttleworth was extremely busy between the sticks in the early part of the season, making 18 saves in his first seven starts as he managed to keep Minnesota in several matches that would have been blowouts without him.
With a confident goalkeeper behind them, the Loons were ready for their next big test: an afternoon match against Sporting Kansas City in front of a national TV audience. The Loons soared to an early 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Abu Danladi and Christian Ramirez. Shuttleworth looked spectacular early on as he dealt with tricky, long-range blasts and sneaky shots down low. But it looked like his day was done just 10 minutes into the second half when caught a boot to the face that broke his nose. Training staff rushed in to tend to the wound, stuffing plugs into his nostrils to stop the blood from getting everywhere, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from his red kit.
With the bleeding contained and his nose (mostly) back in place, Shuttleworth triumphantly stepped back in goal to cheers from the 17,709 fans in TCF Bank Stadium. That moment changed the match, and possibly the course of the season, for Minnesota United.
In many ways, it was metaphor for the Loons’ season up to that point. They were bloodied and beaten down, but they did not quit. The team rallied around Shuttleworth and made the remainder of the match miserable for the visiting team. Players put their bodies on the line to block shots, harassed the attacking players and made SKC pay for every yard they tried to advance. Even with a broken nose, Shuttleworth was still diving into shots, stopping at least one with his face. The Loons earned the clean-sheet win in what would be a character-defining match for the club.
Shuttleworth showed he was a game changer. One save can completely turn the tide of a match and he was doing it six, seven or eight times every Saturday. However, none would be more important than a pair of saves in late September.
The Loons had ridden a wave of success through the spring, but injuries and call-ups made for a tough summer. The club managed to snag points where it could, and finally earned its first road win in August against the Chicago Fire. Players were returning from injury and things were looking up for Minnesota as it arrived in Montreal to take on the Impact on September 16.
The hosts scored just nine minutes into the match, and looked like they were about to double their lead five minutes later when they earned a penalty kick. Shuttleworth guessed correctly on Ignacio Piatti’s penalty, diving to his right to punch away the shot and keep the Loons within one as they rallied back to win 3-2 in the final minute.
One week later, he completed an encore performance of the save for the hometown crowd. This time the Loons were up 2-1 over FC Dallas, who were on the cusp of leveling the match after earning a penalty in the 66th minute. Momentum had swung away from the Loons after halftime and they were in danger of losing control of the match and their playoff hopes. As Mauro Diaz lined up his shot, Shuttleworth was not worried. He looked confident in goal, almost strutting as he took his place on the goal line to await the shot. A quick feint to the left coiled him up like a high-tension spring before he launched himself toward the right post. Diaz had no chance as Shuttleworth swatted down the shot and the crowd erupted in cheers.
In that moment, the match completely changed. Three minutes later Ethan Finlay scored the insurance goal and Danladi finished off the match with a breakaway in the final minutes.
Shuttleworth’s ability to come up with huge saves like these when the team needed him the most is a testament to his value to the club. He was the one his teammates could look to in tough matches and inspire them to play at another level. He was a true game-changer in 2017, and will no doubt be a driving force behind the club next season.