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As we trudge through the sticky heat of the dog-days of summer in New England, it’s easy to forget that the MLS season is already beginning it’s wind-down.  With a winter World Cup this year (thanks Qatar), the MLS season is set to wrap up in just about 2 months.  We’re entering the part of the season where every result matters.  Each point you earn, and each point you nick off an opponent, can be critical.

It can be a stressful time for MLS fans as their teams scrap and fight to secure their berth in the playoffs.  At least for Revolution fans we can count on a lot of goals week in and week out.  Often for both teams!  New England is in the top half of the league in terms of goals scored and goals conceded and have had their fair share of goal-a-palooza games this season.  And this past week was no diff— what’s that?  A 0-0 draw.  I thought that was last week?  ANOTHER 0-0 draw?

 

This all feels kind of upside down.  Shouldn’t Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou be dunking on opposing goalkeepers?  Shouldn’t they be racking up huge leads?  More importantly, shouldn’t the defense be finding some way to viciously blow those leads?

According to Frank Dell’Apa, that’s the first instance of back to back scoreless draws for New England.  As such, is there reason to think that the Revs have shifted their identity to be more defensive?  Is this what we can expect going forward?  Or are these results a mere bump on the goal-laden path to the playoffs?

Wait, is the offense bad?

It’s been a year of change for New England, with 3 major pieces (2 on the offensive side) being moved to Europe.  As a result, they’ve had to replace and those pieces on the fly.  They’ve mostly done alright with that so far this season.

Bou has mostly picked up where Adam Buksa left off and Borrero has done well replacing Buchanan’s dynamic qualities.  Sadly injuries have somewhat negated the effect.  Losing a star striker and dynamic winger is tough, but even worse when your replacements are out with injuries.  That becomes even more of an issue when those same replacements are the only players to have scored for the Revs since June 15th.  That’s 7 matches in a row where it was Bou, Borrero, or bust!

Since Adam Buksa’s last match with the Revolution, on May 21st, only 4 Revolution players have found the back of the net.  Bou has tallied by far the most with 7.  Borrero has 2 goals, while Ema Boateng and Carles Gil each have 1.

The Revs are a team that grew to rely on pumping crosses into the penalty area for Buksa to head home.  New England is 1st in the league in total crosses this season.  There are many reasons for the emphasis on crossing, but it’s at least partly an adjustment to accommodate the loss of the speedy and technical Tajon Buchanan.  Now with Buksa also gone, it stands to reason that it would take some time to adjust their playing style to compensate for his absence.

Per data from American Soccer Analysis, the Revs have seen a marked drop in their expected scoring in the few months after Buksa’s departure.  Up until his last game, New England was averaging 1.31 expected goals per match.  This put them in the middle third of the league in terms of expected offense.  Since Buksa left for Ligue 1 in June, the Revs have averaged just 1.13 xG per match.  This dip in expected production is the 6th worst mark in the league over that timeframe.

So what’s to blame for this dip in production?

I think the easy culprit is just all of the change that the Revs have gone through this season.  Buksa left the team, but even before that, the Revs had changed to a single-striker formation to account for Bou’s injury.  The Revs haven’t been able to field 2 top level strikers at the same time this season.  A switch to the 4-2-3-1 leaves New England less vulnerable defensively but puts all the scoring squarely on the shoulders of the lone striker.  New designated player Giacomo Vrioni is still working up to fitness.  Add in another injury to Bou, as well as Borrero, and it’s not hard to see why the team has struggled to create.

The hope will be that either Bou gets healthy, Vrioni gets up to speed quickly, or that New England can find a way to play with 2 strikers without giving up too much of the midfield.

Wait, is the defense good?

Likewise injuries have played a big role in how the defense has performed.  Henry Kessler has missed a large chunk of time this season with various hamstring issues.  This has left Andrew Farrell to pair with either Omar Gonzalez or Jon Bell for much of the season.  Neither has quite lived up to the standard Kessler provides in central defense.

The good news is that Kessler seems to be getting healthier.  He’s started each of the last 4 matches after missing 10 matches earlier in the season.  When he pairs with Andrew Farrell, New England is more solid in the back.

“I always enjoy playing, no matter who I’m playing with, but maybe he makes it just a little bit more fun” Kessler said of fellow CB Andrew Farrell.  “We have good chemistry for sure and we’re very much in sync with one another, so if someone gets behind me he’s there.  If someone gets behind him, I’m there.”

Luckily for both of them, there’s another player who is “there” behind them. Djordje Petrovic.

Petrovic was brought in to be the replacement for outgoing Matt Turner.  Turner was coming off of a Goalkeeper of the Year level performance in 2021, and his hallmark penchant for fantastic saves drew the attention of English giants, Arsenal.  When Turner left for the EPL in June, many wondered just how well the new 22 year old from Serbia would do at replacing that production.

Very well, as it turns out.

In less than half of the number of games, Petrovic has already taken the league lead in goals allowed minus expected goals allowed (GA-xGA).  Revs fans should be familiar with this stat, since Matt Turner was arguably the king of saving xG.  Turner would end up with all 4 professional MLS seasons ranking within the top 25 GA-xGA seasons all time.  Three of those were in the top 11.

It seems as though Petrovic may be well on his way to etching his name into those same record books.  He already leads MLS in GA-xGA and GA/xGA.  Through 9 games, only 2016 Tyler Deric saved a higher percentage of his xGA.  These numbers tend to move up and down with more time played, so we shouldn’t necessarily expect Petrovic to remain atop the leaderboards.

Then again, he can do things like this.

If he keeps that up, he might just cruise to a league record for shot-stopping.

Photo Credit: @NERevolution on twitter

 

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