Well, it had to happen eventually. On Saturday, the New England Revolution traveled to south Florida to take on Inter
Milan Miami CF and lost for the first time since March 12th. I won’t say that the loss was unexpected, but I, like many Revs fans, had gotten used to collecting points.
Given their respective places in the standings, there was some hope that the Revolution could earn at least a point against a resurgent Miami team. In the end, it was not to be. A deflected ball slipped past Petrovic in the 6th minute. Bruce Arena… did not like that.
Bruce Arena had some candid thoughts on the #NERevs game tonight.
"I believe it's a game we gave away."
Full quote: pic.twitter.com/qshdLYBaUx
— Hayden Bird (@haydenhbird) May 14, 2023
Giving up early goals is one thing, but if you let Josef Martinez have a free shot from this distance… you can’t win games like that.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 14, 2023
New England responded after conceding the first. Noel Buck thought he had equalized in the 17th minute, but for the second time this season, VAR found a player in an offside position. Then, also for the second time this season, Carles Gil got mad and scored a goal 9 minutes later.
Down 2-1 for the second half, New England threw the kitchen sink into the attack. Even more so after Miami went down to 10 men in the 81st minute, try as they might, they couldn’t find the breakthrough.
Four of New England’s 5 center-forwards saw time in this matchup, but none were able to find the net. This, combined with previous performances, prompted some negative feedback from the fans.
— Tre (@tacoszznn) May 14, 2023
Due to injuries and coaching decisions, New England hasn’t rolled out a consistent forward/forwards over a long stretch of games. As such, they’ve relied on a rotation of 5 players to lead the line. Vrioni, Bou, Wood, Altidore, and Rennicks have all made at least 6 appearances, with mixed results. So, let’s take a look at whether or not their “striker-by-committee” approach is working for New England.
What the Team Stats Say:
Look, we need to start this section with the most important stat of all, team record. Whether or not the forwards are producing to their potential, the Revs are sitting on 24 points from 12 games and (at the time of writing) are atop the Supporters Shield standings. We can all agree that winning is more important than beating our expected goals.
Having said that, there are some stats we can use to gauge the forwards on this team.
Team goals: 18 / Striker goals: 8
A combined 8 goals in 12 matches from the 5 center forwards on the roster isn’t bad. Vrioni and Wood each have 3 goals so far, while Bou has 2. Altidore has no goals for New England in over a calendar year, while Rennicks has none since August of 22 (excluding the open cup).
It’s also not bad that the Revs have been getting goal contributions from all over the field. A well-rounded team prevents opponents from keying in on a single player. Forwards have scored 44% of the team’s goals. That said, in the Revs best ever season in 2021 had 49% all to themselves.
Team xG 19.2 / Striker xG: 9.02
That trend more or less holds for expected goals, with 47% of xG belonging to the strikers. This actually indicates that they’re underperforming their expected goals more than the rest of the roster, but more on that later.
Team Shots-on-Target per 90: 5.33 / Striker Shots-on-Target per 90: 1.11
This is where it gets a little dicey. If we account for all 5 strikers’ shots-on-target, normalized per 90 minutes, they are contributing just 1.11. Even when not normalizing to player-90-minutes, they’ve taken a combined 23 shots on target through 12 matches, or 1.91/match. When you consider that 2, sometimes 3, of those players are on the field at the same time… That’s not enough production from the position that ought to be taking the most shots.
Carles Gil leads the team with 10 shots on target this season. Of the center forwards, Vrioni is leading the way. He has 8 of that positional group’s 23 combined.
What the Player Stats Say:
Expected goals are a weird metric. We get so worked up with who is over-performing or under-performing their xG. In this case, I like it as a way to see “who is getting into good spots.” All stats from americansocceranalysis.com.
So, who is getting into good spots? There’s a clear divide in total xG. Wood leads the way with 3.46 expected goals, followed by Vrioni with 2.48 and Bou with 2.30. Rennicks and Altidore are a tier below with under 0.5 xG each. A lot of this has to do with minutes played, as their “minutes played” follows the same order.
Then again, minutes played come as a result of player quality. Or, instead, it should.
Expected Goals per 90
This is how it breaks down on a per-90-minute basis. This chart is also about “who is getting into good spots.” But it also shows who is doing so consistently.
Again, there’s a big divide between the Wood/Vrioni/Bou tier and the Rennicks/Altidore tier, but it’s less pronounced now. Interestingly, while Wood leads on xG, Vrioni takes the top spot on a per-90 basis.
If the earlier charts showed who was getting into good spots, this one should show who is turning those good spots into good shots?
The xPlace stat from americansocceranalysis is the difference between their pre- and post-shot expected goals. Shooting from good positions is one thing, but putting those shots on target is another. The post-shot model adjusts xG by the trajectory of the ball. Shots taken off-target are worth less than shots on-target, which in turn are worth less than shots placed in the corners and away from the goalkeeper.
Now the difference between Bobby Wood’s xG and his xG/90 starts to come into focus. He’s easily doing the worst job at making his shots count. These aren’t normalized per 90 minutes, so the comparisons aren’t perfect, but Wood being steeply negative is… well, bad. Good spots and bad shots.
Vrioni, on the other hand, has the highest of the strikers. Perhaps this indicates that he deserves more playing time.
What the Eye Test Says:
Uhm… Maybe he doesn’t deserve more time?
He hasn’t exactly set himself apart from a visual standpoint. Oftentimes it feels like he’s disconnected from his teammates and struggles to get involved.
This could be tactics. The Revolution are built to flow through Carles Gil and, when that fails, zip crosses into the box. The problem is: neither Vrioni nor any of the other strikers excel at getting on the end of those crosses.
— Seth (@SethMan31) May 14, 2023
New England is still scoring, but it often comes in moments of transition, or from moments of individual brilliance.
Clip 1: Carles Gil 9 minutes after VAR disallows Borrero’s (OG) goal vs NYCFC
Clip 2: Carles Gil 9 minutes after VAR disallows Noel Buck’s goal at Inter Miami
Time is a flat circle.
— Andy From Revs Nation (@AndyRevsNation) May 15, 2023
For a while, this type of individual brilliance was supplemented by the aerial dominance provided by Adam Buksa.
Rumors are floating around that he could return to MLS after an injury-riddled stint in Ligue 1. He could be a fit in New England, but do the Revs actually need him?
With their Powers Combined!
I combined the relevant stats into a radar chart and compared Adam Buksa’s 2022 season with the combined stats for the existing strikers on the roster.
As it turns out, the current strikers fare pretty well. Buksa has a slight advantage in xG/90, but, on the whole, Revs-Striker-Frankenstein does well. These stats are either normalized by 90 minutes or as percentages, so there’s no consideration for Buksa’s slightly shorter 10-game 2022 season.
Now we just need to find a way actually to combine all 5 strikers into one person. Yeah, that might work. Indeed science is now advanced enough. The height of Vrioni, with the physicality of Altidore. The shooting prowess of Bou with the positioning and work rate of Wood and Rennicks. YES! We could call that person…wait.
I’m just describing Adam Buksa, huh?