We made it, Revs Nation! The 2023 season is officially upon us. New England began their campaign, as they so often have, on the road. This time it was in front of 69,000 people in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte FC is MLS’s second most recent addition. Given that, the crowd and atmosphere at this game should make the league, and fans, feel proud.
Charlotte had a lot on their minds heading into this week after the tragic passing of defender Anton Walkes while in Florida for their preseason training in January. They did a great job of honoring his memory with a pregame ceremony.
Thank you to everyone who helped us honor Anton Walkes tonight 💙 pic.twitter.com/Rm4k0vWYv0
— Charlotte FC (@CharlotteFC) February 26, 2023
As tough as I imagine it was, after that, for the players to do something as trivial as play a soccer match, play they did.
The quality wasn’t quite there for either side, as should be expected in the early season. Teams haven’t ramped up to their final form yet, and it showed for both clubs. The match was defined by poor passing, and cheap giveaways in either direction. In the end, a poor pass would give New England an 89th minute goal. That goal would hold up to give the Revs their first win of 2023.
This is a welcome sign for Revolution fans, who aren’t accustomed to winning the season opener.
That's a huge road win for the #NERevs, who won just three times away from home in all of 2022. Also the first season-opening victory for New England since 2013. Djordje Petrović with the clean sheet (no surprise). Henry Kessler with the game-winning goal (surprise).
— Jeff Lemieux (@jeff_lemieux) February 26, 2023
There’s also a sense of relief that, maybe, this year will be different from last. Given we’ve only seen 90 minutes of action from the Revs, it may be too soon to draw any season long conclusions. That won’t stop me from trying!
Revs may be less reliant on their stars this season
If you read my 2022 post-mortem, you may have noticed that much of New England’s success appeared to come as a direct result of their designated players. When they were performing well, New England performed well. When they were underperforming, or injured, or sold to European clubs, the Revs struggled.
The obvious conclusion to draw from that info is that New England relied heavily on the top of the roster. When they needed to lean on depth, something that they had to do often last season, they found their options lacking. Building out depth seemed to be a key priority for head coach Bruce Arena in the offseason, and perhaps it paid off?
The Revs were without designated player Gustavo Bou in this match, who just returned from Argentina after awaiting the arrival of his green card. The DPs that were available, Carles Gil and Giacomo Vrioni, were….let’s say a hair shy of dominant.
— Sean Donahue (@SeanLDonahue) February 26, 2023
This isn’t necessarily a bad game from either designated player. The way the Revs played essentially left both players on an island. That said, Gil wasn’t the playmaking force he usually is, and Vrioni was largely invisible until he was subbed off in the 64th minute. Perhaps the best example of the stars not quite clicking is a play that took place in the 54th minute, where Gil finds himself in behind the defense. He cuts the ball back towards the top of the box, but somewhat awkwardly in between Vrioni and an on-rushing Borrero.
In these next clips (same play, different angles), Vrioni intercepts Gil’s pass that’s intended for Borrero. You can see that there’s some frustration on the field.
The hope is that Vrioni will build chemistry with his teammates. I also think he should work on runs in the box. pic.twitter.com/nIa42waVqm
— Seth (@SethMan31) February 26, 2023
Vrioni should leave it for his teammate, but doesn’t. The attack totally fizzles out after that.
This sort of performance from the Revs best players usually spelled a loss in 2022. That wasn’t the case on Saturday. The defense stayed resolute for 90 minutes, effectively limiting Charlotte’s chances. The team seemed to play more as a unit as well, defending as a team and breaking in transition as a group. Eventually New England would find their breakthrough from an unlikely source, CB Henry Kessler.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) February 26, 2023
Could this be an indicator that the Revs will be better able to rely on their depth in 2023 and less on their stars? Perhaps too soon to tell, but this result is promising.
Return to good road form?
For years, a hallmark of the Revs, was poor road form. Between the start of the 2016 season (under Heaps) and when Brad Friedel was fired in May of 2019 the Revolution managed just 5 wins away from home. In 2018 their only road victory came at Houston early in the season. The Revs missed the playoffs 2016-18.
All that appeared to change once Bruce Arena took over. In about half a season in 2019 the Revs earned 3 road wins. In a COVID shortened 2020, New England won 5 of their 10 away matches. All of that built up to a dominant 2021 wherein the Revolution won 10 of their 17 games away from Gillette.
Then… well we all remember 2022 right? New England would manage just 3 wins in 17 attempts on the road last season.
Bruce Arena’s teams throughout that 2019-2021 stretch went into every match with a chance to win. No matter the locale, there seemed to be belief amongst the players. If Matt Turner stood on his head, the defense could bend without breaking, and Carles Gil was on the field they always had a chance to win.
Maybe this first win of 2023 portends a return to that sort of belief.
This win feels a bit different though. A bit more sustainable, perhaps. I’ve already mentioned that Carles Gil had less of an impact than usual. There’s no doubt Djordje Petrovic is capable of standing on his head to keep the Revs in games, but that wasn’t really necessary here. Compared to 2022, this is a step in the right direction.
The #NERevs recorded just 3 road shut-outs all of last season.
Encouraging to start strong defensively, especially away from home.
— Andy From Revs Nation (@AndyRevsNation) February 26, 2023
Once again, this is just one game. Against an average opponent. It’s still good to see if you’re a Revs fan.
Noel Buck is legit
I’m hardly the first person to notice or write about this. Noel Buck looked great in his limited minutes in 2022 and continued to look great on Saturday.
Age is obviously going to be baked into any analysis of his game, as the homegrown is just 17 years of age. Having said that, I think he had a great game regardless of age.
Due to some injuries to players like Latif Blessing and Tommy McNamara, Buck got the start. Whether or not Bruce views him as a regular starter, there was no observable drop in quality with him on the field. To the contrary, there were several times in this match where he was the best player on the field.
I’ll let these highlights do most of the talking.
Noel Buck vs Charlotte 2/25/23 MLS week 1 pic.twitter.com/ShlBLjOEOn
— alden (@aldeneats) February 26, 2023
He ended the night playing the full 90 minutes and logging an impressive 7.5 FotMob rating. On the defensive side of the ball he contributed 4 interceptions and 3 recoveries. The most impactful of which saw him saving a sure goal by tracking back during a transition moment and winning the ball away from Brandt Bronico in the box.
He also created 1 big chance, sending a cross back into the mixer after a corner kick that was nearly headed home by Henry Kessler.
It’s early days to anoint the youngster, but if he keeps putting in performances like that he’ll definitely be a player to watch in this league.
Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports