The Revolution started the season hot. Through their first 11 matches, they held a record of 7 wins, 3 draws, and just 1 loss. That’s a 2.18ppg pace, slightly higher than the 2.15ppg pace New England set the points record in 2021.
Since week 11, however, things have not gone quite as well. A loss against USL’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the US Open Cup was followed up by back-to-back losses in league play. On Saturday, the Revs remained on their winless streak, accepting a 3-3 home draw against the 23rd-place Chicago Fire.
A major storyline in this winless run for the Revs is, unfortunately, one that is similar to 2022’s let-down of a season: injuries. So far, 17 Revolution players have missed at least one match due to injury, including several key players. Most notably, U22 Initiative signing Dylan Borrero will miss all of 2023 with a knee injury. Center back Henry Kessler is also sidelined for up to 4 months after hamstring surgery. Additional injuries to starter Brandon Bye and Designated Players Gustavo Bou and Carles Gil certainly haven’t helped.
This is not uncommon in MLS. “All teams deal with injuries” is a common refrain around the league. The idea being: since every team deals with injuries, it’s no excuse for dips in performance. That line of thinking, to me, leaves no room for nuance or discussion about the quality of players that may be missing time.
I think it’s worthwhile to take a deeper look at exactly what is lost as a result of all these injuries.
Besides, it’s been a few weeks since I forced the creatures that live inside Excel to do a bunch of unnecessary math!
With that in mind, let’s look at all of the Revs’ injuries and how much they cost: in terms of dollar value, playing time, and production.
Goals and Methodology
Once again, I need to lead this article by saying: I don’t set out to do a bunch of charts! Those words are starting to seem a little hollow by now, but it’s true.
However, I think the charts below will represent a good way to visualize that, which is my big question this week. How big a deal are the Revs’ injuries?
It’s one thing to say, “X number of players missed the game.” If none of those players are starters, maybe it’s no big deal. On the other hand, if the team relies heavily on those injured players, that could account for wins turning into draws or even losses.
My goals were to:
- A) Determine which players missed time due to injury and on which weeks. And…
- B) Gauge the quality of those players to determine which games were most impacted by injury.
Getting an answer to A was simple enough. Or rather, it should have been. Bruce Arena is famously cagey about giving out information about which players are injured and the extent of those injuries. In the end, I just used the Revolution’s official player availability reports to gather which players were missing from action.
For my purposes, players designated “questionable” were considered to be out. This is because on every occasion except one (Vrioni vs. TFC), players given the “questionable” designation failed to even make the gameday roster. Even in Vrioni’s case, he was an unused sub against TFC after holding the questionable tag. Players designated “out” were considered… well, out.
It’s worth noting that these likely underrepresent the actual list of injured players. The Revolution are, apparently, under no obligation to include all the injured players on their injury reports.
In fact, it has become something of a Twitter meme to guess which player will be a surprise inactive on game day.
— Tommy (@TommyQuinlan_IV) May 10, 2023
Getting an answer to B was somewhat more difficult to pin down. How do you truly gauge a player’s quality and impact on the field?
Ultimately, I opted to use several different indicators of quality and potential. These ranged from player salaries (de facto Revolution player valuation) to Transfermarkt values, to minutes played, to goals. Without further ado…
Money Under the Knife
If you’re looking for a peek behind the curtain, the proximity of MLSPA’s annual salary release to Carles Gil’s injury at Philadelphia paved the neural pathway for this week’s article. While salary isn’t a great indicator of quality, it may give us some insight as to how the Revs value their players.
This shows the combined annual base salary of all that missed a given match for New England this season. On the left, the values are shown in dollars, and the right shows the total Revs salary bill percentage. The Revs’ match against Sporting Kansas City saw $4.926M worth of player salary unavailable for selection, and that accounts for about 28.6% of New England’s total salary.
The least impacted game was VS Montreal, where only 4 players missed time. Those players were Tommy McNamara, Nacho Gil, Jacob Jackson, and Maciel. All four of those players had pre-existing long-term injuries since at least pre-season, and their combined ~$970K in salary has represented something of a floor for money lost to injury. Jacob Jackson has since returned from his injury, and there’s hope that Maciel is on track to do the same.
This chart is similar, but instead of actual money, it shows player transfer valuation (per transfermarkt.us). Transfermarkt isn’t necessarily the most reliable source, but there are few outlets that speculate about MLS players’ transfer worth. In this case, more recent weeks have cost the Revs the most. With Bou, Borrero, Bye, and Kessler all missing the most recent fixture (in addition to the aforementioned pre-existing injuries), the combined “unavailable transfer value” sits at an astonishing €13.3M.
While “money talks,” sometimes it doesn’t play. Perhaps a more useful metric to decide which players were most useful is “minutes played.” In this case, current injuries have a high likelihood to impact those numbers from 2023, so 2022 minutes played are used here. As a result, some players (Latif Blessing and Bobby Wood) will have their minutes played taken from their pre-Revolution teams.
At first glance, it may look similar to the “missing salary” chart I used above—a valley around Montreal, a peak around SKC. A closer look, however, shows that New England has been more affected in recent weeks, comparatively. This is, of course, at least partially due to using last year’s minutes and this year’s salaries. More than that, the Revs get good value out of lower-salary players. Brandon Bye and Henry Kessler are both every-minute starters when healthy, and both have a base salary below $500K. Their relatively high “minutes played per 90” makes a big dent in the nearly 300 minutes the Revs missed against Chicago. With ~900 field player minutes available per match, New England was without players that traditionally account for about 34% of that, against Chicago.
Goals on Ice
Now onto the most tangible mark of quality: goals. Well… and expected goals, too. Because why not?
Expected goals (per 90 minutes played) are a bit nebulous, and different sources will calculate them differently. In this case, I’m using AmericanSoccerAnalysis and pulling from 2022’s numbers again.
Expected goals missing due to injury peaked at TFC, primarily thanks to the lack of Giacomo Vrioni, Dylan Borrero, and Gustavo Bou. All of those players chipped in xG at a high rate in ’22, albeit in limited minutes in Vrioni and Borrero’s cases.
I think the impactful takeaway here is that since Borrero’s injury, the Revolution are missing players that added at least a combined 0.75 xG per match a season ago.
Actual goals are, as always, another story. In recent weeks the Revolution are actually missing slightly more goals/90 than xG/90. Absences in the past four games could have cost New England over 1 goal per match. This is because players like Borrero, Bou, and Kessler actually outperformed their expected goals last season.
Will it Get Better?
Yes! Wait, I mean, no! Maybe?
The first step will be just surviving in the short term. Borrero is out for the season, and Kessler is out for several months. Nacho and Tommy McNamara… well, nobody really knows how long they’ll be out.
But the other injuries seem to be short-term.
Getting Gustavo Bou and Brandon Bye both back within the next few weeks is a distinct possibility (if not sooner). Carles Gil’s injury doesn’t appear to be as serious as we all feared. Jackson is back in training, and Maciel seems to be making progress. Things will get better.
In the short term, though…the Revs will need to weather the storm for a bit.
— Seth (@SethMan31) May 29, 2023
Given this list of names, the Revs may be in for a tough go on Wednesday in Atlanta. Gustavo Bou may return, and his move to “questionable” is a good sign, but Bruce Arena has yet to give any minutes to questionable players this season. If he sits this one out again, and with the additional absence of Damian Rivera to international duty, New England will be without the highest combined minutes/90 AND highest combined goals/90.
Here’s the full combined “missing” table for the true sickos.
Here’s hoping they can weather the absences and avoid additional injuries long enough to make it to the summer transfer window, where a battered side may bring in reinforcements.
Photo: New England Revolution