Week two of the MLS season is done and dusted. And when that dust settled, New England found themselves atop the Eastern Conference! Or, rather, basically atop the Eastern Conference.
For those wondering how Miami sits ahead of the #NERevs in the standings, here are the MLS standings tie-breakers.
NE and MIA equal on wins, goal differential, and goals for per match. Tie breaker as of now is disciplinary record. pic.twitter.com/6y6gb5Ae0u
— Andy From Revs Nation (@AndyRevsNation) March 5, 2023
The Revs returned to Gillette Stadium for their home opener against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, and put on a show for the (certainly less than) 13,176 people in attendance. After struggling to put together any meaningful attack in the early going, Dylan Borrero found the breakthrough in the 42nd minute. The second half saw another pair of goals for the home team. The first saw Carles Gil slip a clever ball in behind for a Dejuan Jones cross into the box. That lead to a tidy finish from Bobby Wood. The third and final goal of the evening would come off the foot of Brandon Bye and (somehow) elude Steve Clark. New England would hold that 3 goal lead, conceding only 0.6 expected goals and earning the second shutout of the year.
The score line seems to indicate a dominant performance, and in many ways it was. But the box score doesn’t always tell the full story. Here are three numbers that give a bit more insight.
Six: The number of points earned through 2 matches
Believe it or not, this marks the first time in the Revs 28 year history where the team won both of it’s first two matches of the season.
— OptaJack⚽️ (@OptaJack) March 5, 2023
We could contrast that with the fact that St Louis City SC managed that feat in their first ever two games. We could, but let’s not.
Instead let’s allow ourselves to be happy with the 6 points.
As you might have gathered from the whole “first time in 28 years” thing, New England hasn’t exactly had much success early in the season. Part of the reason is that they often start on the road, since winter in New England is…not hot.
That was certainly the case on Saturday, with flurries and temperatures in the low 30s. To their credit, New England didn’t use the weather as an excuse (this time). They managed to push through the cold and in the end made rather short work of a reinvigorated Houston team.
Getting points early in the season is a huge positive.
Coming off of a long offseason, it often takes some time for things to gel. Banking early points could come in handy. It may give New England a little extra cushion later in the season, or even help propel them to a trophy.
Supporters Shield winning teams, as the Revs were in 2021, tend to make the most of their opportunities early in the season.
I did a quick analysis of Supporters Shield winners over the past 10 years and found that most of them found early success and hit the ground running. In fact, over their first 5 games, only one eventual SS winner was performing below a playoff level.
Early in the season when teams are still shaking off rust, being able to capitalize on opposition mistakes (and limit your own) is invaluable. These elite teams averaged 1.87 points per game over the first 5 weeks of the season. Over half of those listed above won 3 or more of their opening 5 matches.
I’m not saying the Revs are on their way to the Supporters Shield. It’s only been 2 matches, and not exactly against the fiercest opposition. However, banking 6 quick points helps keep that possibility on the table. We’ll see if they can keep the good times rolling on Sunday when they face their toughest test, a road match at defending MLS Champs LAFC.
Three: The number of different goal scorers this week
The Revs haven’t exactly faced a murderers row of opposition so far this season. Both Charlotte and Houston are sitting on 0 earned points through two weeks. Both clubs also sit fairly high on mlssoccer.com’s panic meter at this early juncture.
Still, it’s encouraging the ways in which New England has been able to find success so far. Specifically that they’ve been able to get so many players involved in scoring. New England had 3 different players score on Saturday, and an additional 3 players credited with an assist. Notably, none of those players were designated player Giacomo Vrioni, but more on that later.
It took New England a while to settle into the game.
— Sean Donahue (@SeanLDonahue) March 5, 2023
They started the match in a narrow 4-4-2 diamond formation, before eventually shifting Dylan Borrero out wide where he’s most dangerous. That proved to be a shrewd tactical adjustment as Borrero would find the game’s first goal in the 42nd minute.
The #NERevs’ goal starts with prolonged possession where they move the ball from side to side.
The Revs then find an opportunity to get the ball forward quickly.
That’s good soccer. pic.twitter.com/WmtaWZQ90a
— Seth (@SethMan31) March 5, 2023
Pushing Borrero back wide allows the Revs to more effectively sweep the ball from side to side, looking for an opening. At the end of this play, he is lurking on the far side of the field, and is able to run onto the ball un-marked and finish the chance.
Seemingly that shift also allowed New England to very effectively use the width of the pitch to get in behind the defense. In all three goals, the Revs found space up the flanks and put crosses in from wide areas. The most direct was this goal from Bobby Wood.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 5, 2023
Carles Gil and Dejuan Jones both see that there is space behind the defense out wide. Dejuan makes a hard run toward the end-line and Gil does what he does best, perfectly weighting a line breaking pass. From there it’s a low cross into the penalty area and a really nice finish from Wood.
The Third goal involved Dylan Borrero taking on a defender on the dribble, bursting into the open space again available in the wide area. He puts the ball into the mixer where it eventually falls to Brandon Bye, who takes a touch and stumps the keeper with a low shot.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 5, 2023
Twenty-Two: The combined number of touches between Wood and Vrioni
It was nice to see New England get goals from all over, primarily because they haven’t really been getting much from their center forwards.
While New England nominally started the match with 2 strikers, they shifted to more of a lone striker look when that proved ineffective. In this match that meant that Bobby Wood took on the role of lone center forward.
The Revs had Difficulty Getting Wood Involved
Now, I don’t think Wood looked bad in this match. He only managed 18 touches but worked hard off the ball as well. He scored a goal off of a nice run, and got credit for an assist on another. I’m dubious that he actually touches the ball on that “assist” but either way, it’s hard to complain too much about that kind of production.
What I find telling, is that Bobby Wood scores on his only shot in this game. When he got subbed off, his replacement Giacomo Vrioni attempted 0 shots. Combined between the two of them, they had 22 touches and 1 shot (?!) over 90 minutes. I’m not here to tell you how many touches a forward is supposed to have. I’ll leave that for others to do. What I will say, is that from the eye test the forwards looked pretty uninvolved in this one.
That’s plain to see here on the Revs passing chart.
Most of the team is well connected to each other, but they had difficulty involving wood in the buildup and possession. This is partly due to Wood’s skill set. He’s not tall, or dominant in the air, limiting the kinds of crosses they can use. He’s also not really built for hold up play, meaning he can’t really help build possession with his back-to-goal.
This leaves him toeing the offside line, hoping to spring onto a ball in behind. It’s a decent strategy, but leaves the Revs attack somewhat one-dimensional. Even when he did receive the ball in possession, it was almost always in wide areas away from goal.
Vrioni was brought in to be a do it all center forward.
Through 2 games this season we haven’t really seen enough of Vrioni, in my opinion. It’s hard to take too much away from Saturday against Houston, since he only played 21 minutes, all while New England was ahead by 3 goals. Even so, it’s disconcerting that your star forward is only playing 21 minutes, when fully healthy.
You might expect that from a hold-up capable striker, but ideally you’d like to see him complete a pass. Or better yet take a shot.
In 2021, when the Revs were flying high, Adam Buksa averaged 4.81 shots per 90. That should be the target for your Designated Player striker. Even when Buksa underperformed in 2020 he still managed 3.54 shots per 90.
It’s early times yet, but through two matches “Revs Center Forward” (combining Wood and Vrioni) has 2 shots. Total.
Bruce Arena will need to find ways to get more involvement from that position or good teams (like LAFC this weekend) will find ways to shut us down.