To pull back the curtain a bit, I usually have a decent idea of what I want to write about each week by about half-time of the Revolution match.  Sometimes it changes in the second half, but often times the story-lines are starting to establish themselves by mid-game.  By the end I even sometimes have a headline ready to go.

The head-line I was getting for the most recent match was “Revs and NYCFC fairly evenly matched, draw 1-1”.

As riveting an article as that would be to read, no doubt, I’ll spare you the excitement and just say…the headline pretty much sums it up.

There are many smaller ideas I had during the match.  None, however, were quite big enough to be a whole post.  So instead of focusing on one, let’s take a look all the storylines, in brief.

Get Vrioni Out Of Your Heads!

This is, far and away, the biggest story of the weekend.  As such you can find myriad sources of quality analysis on the Revs corner of the internet.  The Blazing Musket did a few great pieces here, and here.  There was also a debate between Tom Quinlan and Seth Macomber on twitter spaces on Sunday.

New England signed Giacomo Vrioni as a Designated Player last summer and he almost immediately got injured.  Fast forward to this season, where expectations for the Albanian striker are high, and he has yet to make an impact on the field.  For the third straight match, Bruce Arena opted to start Gustavo Bou and Bobby Wood.  For the second straight match, the first striker off the bench as a sub was Jozy Altidore.  Vrioni didn’t feature at all against NYCFC, leading Sam Minton to ask Bruce Arena why he didn’t see the field.

“Get that out of your head, alright?”  Bruce replied at the press conference. “It’s stupid, every week, we gotta talk about that. Jozy’s a good experienced player, can hold the ball up.”

Arena doesn’t think he owes reporters or fans an explanation.  He’s technically correct.  We aren’t the ones footing the bill for a player that has seen 2 minutes over the past 2 weeks and just 388 since joining MLS.  Vrioni cost Kraft and the Revs organization $3.8M to acquire from Juventus.  Not to mention his DP salary which saw him earn $1.7M for his half season in 2022 (2023 numbers not yet released).

More than the financial side of it, Vrioni is a young striker with a lot of promise.  He may get involved yet, but sitting on the bench while 3 strikers play ahead of him might not be the best for his confidence.

xG Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

No matter which source you look at, NYCFC won the xG battle in this match.  xG, or expected goals, are an advanced stat to determine which team had better quality scoring opportunities.  Winning the xG battle often means you outplayed your opponent.

In addition to MLSSeasonPass, Fotmob, AmericanSoccerAnalysis, and Opta all calculate their own xG and had NYCFC with a distinct edge in the expected goals department.  As such the easy takeaway is that NYCFC was the better side on the night, right?

I don’t necessarily think that’s true.  I typically like the xG stat for what it can tell us about what we see on the field, but in this case I think the stats don’t tell the whole story.

ASA’s gameflow gives a fairer picture of the evening.  The gameflow model uses ASA’s “goals added” metric to determine how a teams possession makes them more – or less – likely to score.

Through halftime the teams were pretty evenly matched and New England dominated the first 25-30 minutes of the second half.  After their goal, the Revs took their foot off the gas.  They conceded a bunch of corners and eventually the tying goal in the 80th.  Overall, a draw felt like a fair result from the eye test.

I xG often, but they really rely on larger sample size before they give a great representation of quality.  New York pushed the ball to the center of the field frequently.  Shots taken from central positions, even if heavily contested, or blocked, count for higher xG than those taken from wider positions.

It’s one thing to get in good spots, and quite another to trouble the keeper.  Per Fotmob it was New England that had the better shots with 0.7 xG-on target compared to 0.62 for NY.

Completely Absurd VAR Decision?

Head coach Arena was feeling spicy during his post-match press conference.  In addition to his comment above about getting the Vrioni narrative “out of [our] head[s]”, he also had some choice words about the referee’s decision to wave off a Revolution goal in the 61st minute.

Dylan Borrero appeared to give New England the lead after a series of cutbacks earned him enough space to uncork a cross.  That attempt would deflect off the head of Mitja Ilenič and fly past the outstretched arm of Luis Barraza into the NYCFC net.

Moments later, after conferring with the sideline official and with VAR, the referee waved the goal off for an offside call.  To say Bruce was… displeased, wouldn’t quite do it justice.

While not communicated to the crowd, the call on the field appears to be that Gustavo Bou was in an offside position and within the line of sight of the keeper when the ball was kicked.  As such, he was ruled to be interfering with the goalkeeper and involved in the play.

If you follow the letter of the law here:

  1. Gustavo Bou is in an offside position when the ball is kicked.
  2. He is also close enough that it would be hard to deny he was in the goalkeepers field of vision.

What complicates this is that he

  1. Makes no attempt at the ball
  2. Is moving away from goal
  3. The ball is played by the defender.

It’s hard to argue that he is making any attempt to impede Barraza, let alone an attempt to be involved in the play at all.  He’s walking back from an offside position.  Kind of slowly, too.

It feels like a soft reason to call a goal back, but if you go by the letter of the law, here, he’s off.

Counter-Attack Not Quite There

As I implied above, I felt that this match was more evenly contested than the xG would indicate.  A big reason for that is that New England found good opportunities on the counter for much of the evening.

New England’s goal, after all, comes off of a turnover and a quick transition.

Most of the night, however, saw these types of chances go wanting.  New England’s midfield, especially early, did a great job of creating pressure and causing turnovers.  New England would break the other way and then… well something wouldn’t quite work.

A pass would miss the mark, or a big cross-field ball would send a teammate too far wide.  On one very notable occasion, Bou just didn’t have the speed to stay ahead of his defender.

Whatever the individual case, the theory was there.  The tactical awareness was there. From all the players involved.  The quality passes and touches, however, were not.  Hopefully it improves as the season goes on.

No Polster, Big Problem?

Matt Polster has quickly become one of the most important players on the Revolution.  Not only is he one of the best defensive midfielders in the league, New England has done very little to provide him backup on the roster.

He missed this match with an illness and Christian Makoun got the start in his stead.  Makoun has played d-mid before but has also spent a lot of time at center-back and as an outside defender.  As of now, it would seem he’s second-in-line to fill a number of defensive spots.

Makoun didn’t have a great night, winning just 1 of his 3 tackles, 4 of his 10 duels and getting dispossessed 3 times.  One of those times lead to what was, in my opinion, NYCFC’s best chance of the night.

Not paying attention to his back shoulder, he loses the ball falling down in the process.  NYC is quick to goal where Talles Magno’s shot deflects just wide.

Perfomances like this underscore how important Polster is at the top of the roster.  Makoun is one of a slew of non-perfect fits behind Polster that also includes Tommy McNamara, Maciel, and Latif Blessing.  None of them were available in this match due to injuries.

Of those players, Maciel is probably the best fit and he’s still possibly months away from fully recovering from an Achilles injury. Blessing and McNamara are probably better as 2 way central midfielders than as true defensive mids.  This leaves Makoun as the only viable option for the time being.  Unless he’s injured, or needs to fill in at center back… or outside back.

Perhaps it’s best just for Polster to never miss a game from here on, deal?

Photo Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
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