It was a draw that felt like a loss. New England took to the field on Saturday, for the first time in 3 weeks, to play against the Chicago Fire in front of a huge crowd.
All 28,414 of you in attendance tonight were electric ⚡️
— xyz – New England Revolution (@NERevolution) October 17, 2021
Like most Revs fans, I expected a fairly comprehensive win for the red-hot Revolution. New England had won 4 of their previous 5 matches, while Chicago were struggling near the bottom of the conference table. The two teams had already played one another twice, earlier in the season, but both previous meetings took place on the road, where the Revs play slightly worse than at home. Both prior occasions saw New England concede two goals and generally make things difficult for themselves by failing to track Chicago attackers. Unfortunately that form would carry over across state lines, resulting in a 2-2 draw at Gillette.
The good news is that Willy Kaptoum got his first Revs goal, Carles Gil got back on the assist sheet, and Bou got back to doing what he does best!
The bad news is for the third time this season Chicago seemed to have the Revs figured out. They pressed high and in unison, which the Revs struggled to play through, and when they played forward they played direct. While the Revs didn’t look bad, per se, they did often struggle to keep track of Chicago’s movement with Brandon Bye allowing Medran to run right past him for the Fire’s first goal.
For what it’s worth, the players seemed to acknowledge their struggles after the match.
According to Boateng everybody is pissed off in the locker room #NERevs
— Sam Minton (@sam_minton22) October 17, 2021
In both attack and defense New England looked to lack some sharpness, which is understandable since they hadn’t played a competitive match in 21 days. This got me thinking; how does the time between matches affect how this team performs?
Mind the Gap
For those following the Revs this season, the past three weeks without a game probably felt like an eternity. With the condensed schedule this year, 21 days kind of IS an eternity. It was just the 4th time this season where the Revs had more than 9 days off in between matches, including the first game of 2021 after the offseason. In fact, more often the opposite was true. The Revolution have played, on average, once every 6.4 days. They have played a whopping 13 times this season within 4 or fewer days of their previous match. And they’ve got 3 more such matches coming up in the next 10 days.
With the games coming so thick and fast this season, surely an extended break was welcome for the players. It afforded the team an opportunity to gather themselves ahead of the final stretch of the regular season and playoffs. With the additional rest, the Revs had an empty injury report for the first time all season. All of that is certainly a positive. There’s also this:
BREAKING: The #NERevs look rusty after a long break
— Sam Minton (@sam_minton22) October 16, 2021
The rest of this year is a bit of a stop-start affair for New England. The Revs are now set to play a cluster of 3 games in 10 days, followed by an 11 day break in play. They will then finish the regular season against Inter Miami before a possible 23 DAY BREAK until their first playoff match. The playoff specifics are up in the air, but the whole post-season wraps up in fairly short order this year.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) September 9, 2021
Can we expect New England to look rusty after each of their upcoming breaks as well? Is the rest hurting more than it’s helping? Here’s a quick analysis of how the team performs after short, medium and long periods of rest.
For the purpose of this analysis, ‘standard rest’ is 6-9 days, or roughly one game per week. In previous seasons that was about the pace of matches throughout the season. Long rest is 10 days or more, while short rest is anything 5 days or fewer from their last match.
The caveat of sample size is in play here as, quite frankly, the Revs haven’t really gotten all that many extended periods of rest all season. If we include the offseason as ‘rest’ that gives us only 4 games-worth of data to work with for ‘matches played after extended rest’.
On the other end of the spectrum, New England has actually played on ‘short rest’ more often than any other kind. They’ve played 13 matches with only 4 (or in some cases 3!) days to regroup from their last game.
I broke down points, goals scored and goals conceded over each of these ranges. Doing so, I found that, unsurprisingly, New England appears to perform slightly worse after long stretches of rest. Their 4 ‘long rest’ matches have resulted in 2 wins and 2 draws, good for a still phenomenal 2 points per game. This is, however, below their season long ppg average of 2.20. With such a small sample size I think it would be inappropriate to conclude that the Revs are actually 0.2 ppg worse after longer periods of rest, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Perhaps more interesting to me was that the Revolution actually seem to perform better on short rest. They post their highest ppg split with 2.23 points per game earned when they have fewer than 5 days to rest and prepare. Not only that but they also score at their highest rate with 2.23 goals scored per game. That’s better than their 1.97 goals scored average across the entire season.
The defense seems to do their best work after a ‘standard’ amount of rest. They allowed only 1.08 goals per game from the 12 matches played after about a week of down time.
With all these numbers in mind, Revolution fans will be hoping that the ‘advantage’ of having a first round bye in the playoffs doesn’t come back to bite them in the end.