After brief respite last week, the Revs lost again. Worse still, it was another loss to a team at the bottom of the table. DC United were on a 4 game losing streak, heading into the week. Their performances had been so bad that they had just fired their head coach. None of that would sreeem to matter to the Revs, though, who, after going ahead early, would concede 3 times before the end of the first half. A flurry of late chances were not enough to take even a point, and New England would drop their 5th result in 6 matches 3-2.
If you told me before the match that the Revs would lose the game on the road, by a single goal, against a team who were fighting for their lives, I wouldn’t question it. I’m a firm believer in a new-coach bump, as we saw with the Revs a few seasons ago after the firing of Brad Friedel. What I didn’t expect was to see this team look so easy to beat. DC was able to find tons of chances in the first 45, just due to sloppy passing and lazy defending from the Revolution. Last week we talked about what went right, this week we saw the flip side to that coin. That said, it’s only fair we look at what’s going wrong. There’s a lot, so we’ll do it in quick hit style.
Problem #1: Injuries
This isn’t meant to be an excuse, but it absolutely bears mentioning: New England can’t field their first choice team. Injuries have plagued this team since the beginning of the season, with only Carles Gil, Matt Polster, Sebastian Lletget and Dejuan Jones healthy and in form for all the games this season. Both Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou (the Revs DP striker partnership) have missed significant minutes this season, with Bou still rehabbing a leg injury. Andrew Farrell, Henry Kessler, and Jon Bell have missed time due to injury leaving Omar Gonzalez (we’ll get to him) as a frequent starter in central defense. Perhaps most importantly, goalkeeper Matt Turner is still rehabbing from an injury sustained in preseason.
Here are the updated rankings heading into Round 9!
CLT's small sample size means a game where they had higher xG as the away team nets them a huge jump in xGD.
NER still seems to be a tale of two teams. Their offense still is one of the best, but they're really missing Turner. pic.twitter.com/LrifogeyQm
— LineupIQ (@LineupIQ) April 25, 2022
On the one hand, it isn’t particularly surprising that the Revs have failed to prevent goals so far this season. They won a lot of games last season by a single goal, and Matt Turner frequently allowed fewer goals than would have been expected. Now they’re rolling with a combo of Brad Knighton and Earl Edwards Jr in net, and they’ve reminded us that All-Star caliber goalkeepers don’t grow on trees. Even the low percentage shots seem to be going in lately for New England. Add in the fact that they haven’t been able to start their first-choice center back pairing other than a few times and we’re seeing better chances for the opposition.
On offense, they’ve sorely missed Gustavo Bou’s ability on the break and as a threat from distance. Adam Buksa has been great in the air, and distrubting the ball with his back to goal. He has now scored in back to back games, but he really only brings one dimension to the Revs attack. The departure of Tajon Buchanan has really hurt, as his pace was a terror to opposing defenses. The Revs recently signed a promising young speedster using the U-22 initiative last week. Kudos to Bruce Arena for recognizing this and taking action.
Problem #2: Bruce isn’t learning from his mistakes
While props may be due to Bruce for scouting and signing a potential replacement for Buchanan, it doesn’t excuse how long it’s taken him to make the necessary signings. Nor does it excuse the way he’s lined his team up in Tajon’s absence. The Revs are, so far, trotting out the same 4-4-2 diamond formation they employed to great success last season. What’s different this season is that he doesn’t really have the personnel to use it effectively.
Without Tajon Buchanan’s speed and dribbling ability, the team pushes both fullbacks way up-field. This provides them with depth in the attack, but leaves them exposed defensively, relying on Matt Polster and whatever combination of center backs are available to put out a lot of fires. To be fair, this system can work. It requires your center backs and d-mid are lock down players, and your possession is clean and limits needless turnovers.
— Seth (@SethMan31) April 24, 2022
This is clearly not the case for New England right now. You can see it on this play courtesy of Seth Macomber on twitter. As Rennicks drops back in between the lines to receive the pass, Bye begins his run up the right touchline. Shortly after we see Dejuan Jones do the same on the left. Rennicks’ pass isn’t clean, however, and is intercepted. From there it’s all too easy for DC. One pass into the space vacated by Brandon Bye sets in motion a 2 v 2 headed towards Brad Knighton’s net. Andrew Farrell does well to see the ball out, but it could have easily gone the other way.
Arena continues to roll out tactics for a team he doesn’t have. The Revs took a 1-0 lead in the game. They were playing on the road, and trying to build momentum after a tough April. It would have made sense to play more conservatively, keeping the outside backs set deeper to sure up the defense. Instead, the Revs conceded 3 goals before half-time.
Problem #3: Omar is bad
And the Revs have had to rely on him all too often. Andrew Farrell, Henry Kessler, and Jon Bell have all missed time this season with injuries. This has left Omar Gonzalez with 6 appearances in the Revs 8 matches so far. This wouldn’t be an issue if he didn’t regularly miss his mark on plays like this.
— D.C. United (@dcunited) April 24, 2022
Yes that’s him giving Estrada about 6-10 feet of working space within the 6-yard box.
This is where it’s time for an unfortunate mea culpa. I was all in on Omar Gonzalez when we signed him. Sure, he was old, and perhaps too old and slow form MLS, but he had decent g+ stats in 2021. I thought if anyone could return him to his old glory, it would be Bruce Arena. This goal isn’t a “he’s old and slow” kind of goal. This was a lack of basic positioning, or lack of focus. Things that he should have a firm grasp of at this point in his career.
For the “Omar is washed” crowd. ASA’s goals added per 96 puts him pretty much on par with both Kessler and Farrell.
When not normalized to 96 mins, Gonzalez ranks 32nd in G+ among CBs, with Kessler 28th and Farrell 26th.
— Andy From Revs Nation (@AndyRevsNation) December 23, 2021
Not my best take. He would end up getting subbed off at halftime in this game. Wonder if we see him again this season.
Problem #4: The defense doesn’t handle fast breaks well
I won’t belabor the point, since I already touched on it a bit when talking about the lack of tactical adjustments. For a team that concedes as many fast-break counters as the Revs do, there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place for how to handle that inevitability. Outside of, perhaps, Andrew Farrell, the team seems to go into panic mode. Players lose sight of their assignments, or run well out of position. Sometimes they frantically clear the ball directly back to the opposition in good positions to attack. Sometimes those two things collide and well…
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) April 3, 2022
Problem 5: The Revs are too predictable in possession
I hope that a lot of this is cleared up when Bou returns and with the addition of Borrero. Both should add something to the attack that is currently lacking. And I don’t just mean keeping Buksa and Bye company in the “B last name” crew.
One thing I really appreciate about the Borrero signing, is that ever since we lost Buchanan and Bunbury, our "last name starts with B" game has been pretty weak.
Bruce playing BD chess.
— Andy From Revs Nation (@AndyRevsNation) April 25, 2022
As it stands now, the Revs best players kind of present with one attacking vision. Carles Gil, Sebastian Lletget and the fullbacks Brandon Bye, and Dejuan Jones, are all proficient crossers of the ball. They provide other qualities as well, but they’re really quite suited to finding a bit of space and sending crosses into the 18 yard box. And the Revolution are set up tactically to do just that. Adam Buksa excels at getting up to put his head on crosses. It was that combo that helped New England claw their way back into the game.
Goal actually given to Buksa. https://t.co/6Lw4jb79Mf
— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) April 24, 2022
Unfortunately if that’s the only way you have to score, it becomes all too easy to defend. The Revolution sent in an absurd 30 crosses in this match. Carles Gil leads the league in crosses with 41, and Bye leads the league in crosses into the box at 12. Last week I wrote about how all those crosses had paid off. And it worked again this week on a set piece. But relying on Gil and Buksa to connect on a jump ball header as your main method of attack isn’t going a great long term solution.
The shot map tells the story. Buksa accounted for 8 of the Revs 20 shots. Most of those were headed from a cross or set piece. There were few other shots from within the 18. Altidore had a nice header, but that was off another cross. There’s a real lack of creativity around the 18 yard box, with very few incisive passes to unsettle the back line of their opponent.
Problem #6: The step down from Turner to Knighton is vast
Take another look at the video in problem #2. Farrell is able to shield the attacker off the ball, and it goes out for a goal kick. Not shown in that clip is Farrell shouting at Knighton after he gets back up off the ground. It’s not a given, but based upon his body language on that play, he was expecting Knighton to come out collect that ball after he puts the shoulder in. Instead Farrell has to work the defender all the way to the end-line.
It’s little things like that that matter to defenders. Matt Turner has always been pretty in sync with his back line, and does a decent job communicating on the field. But that’s not why he’s regarded as one of the best American goalkeepers in the world right now. The goalie’s number one job is to keep the ball out of the back of the net, something that Matt Turner has basically been the best at since he got his chance in 2018.
— D.C. United (@dcunited) April 24, 2022
Knighton, for his part, has mostly been fine. His GA/xGA is 0.98. A goals allowed over expected goals allowed of 1.0 essentially means you are a statistically average keeper. But the Revs are giving up too many high quality chances for an average keeper to keep out of the net. To my eye, Knighton seems a bit slow to react on almost every shot. If it’s taken from distance, he’s got a chance, but if not? Well… see the above goal from Fountas.
— Charlotte FC (@CharlotteFC) April 17, 2022
Turner is back training, and New England just signed a new goalkeeper from Serbia. There is some hope on the horizon, but the Revs will still need to limit opposition chances.
Is there a solution to all of these problems?
Getting players back and healthy would go a long way. Healthy attackers will force opposition defenders to defend deeper, and commit fewer numbers forward on counter attacks. Matt Turner can help keep goals off the board, but he will be leaving for England in June. Petrovic and Borrero are going to need to hit as well, but if those things happen New England could get back to something resembling their 2021 selves.