The Revs are on a bit of a hiatus from league play, but that didn’t stop them from looking pretty rough against the New York Red Bulls for the second time in as many weeks.


New England, to their credit, managed to avoid losing this time.  After a fairly painful 0-0 draw in regulation, the Revs lost in penalties 4-2 and would take just a point back to New England in their search for leagues-cup success.

The obvious takeaway is that, well, New England doesn’t play well when they go to Red Bull Arena.  Last time around, they lost 2-1 while generating only 0.8 expected goals.  It was worse this time, recording only 2 shots on target and generating just 0.35 xG.

But it’s not just the Red Bulls that the Revs struggle with, it turns out.  It’s the ‘Red Bull philosophy.’  Digging through some stats, I found a pretty damning trend among teams that play physical, high-pressing soccer.  They beat the Revs.


The Revs ‘ 5 worst games, by expected goal differential, were all against teams with strong midfielders that play aggressively when defending.

I’ve found 6 stats that New England’s toughest opponents all excel at; using those, I have some predictions about which games may present a particularly difficult time to the Revs later this season.


Methodology

First, I needed to determine which teams New England struggled most with.  Given last week’s article, selecting teams based on xGD (expected goal differential) seemed like an easy and effective method.

Using the most strongly negative xGD gave me 5 obvious teams against which New England struggled:  LAFC, Philadelphia Union, FC Cincinnati, NY Red Bulls, and Atlanta United.  Rewatching the highlights for those games confirmed the struggle.


Each of those teams had games where they statistically dominated the Revolution.  New England, to their credit, only lost 3 of the 5.

TeamHome/AwayResultxGD
LAFCAway4-0 Loss-2.5
PHIAway3-0 Loss-1.7
CINAway2-2 Draw-1.3
NYRBAway2-1 Loss-0.8
ATLAway3-3 Draw-0.7

The next step in the process was trying to determine in which ways these teams were statistically similar.

Can we glean anything about how these teams play that gives the Revs difficulties?


PPDA

Given the Revs’ struggles against New York and their frantic high press, I set out to see if the other teams also pressed high up the field.

This leads me to PPDA, or “passes-per-defensive-action.”  Essentially, how many passes does an opponent complete before you perform a defensive action (tackle, interception, challenge, foul).  Put more simply; lower PPDA means you’re more “up in the other team’s grill”.  The New York Red Bulls have made this their personality for years.

Perusing that stat via Opta’s Analyst makes that clear, with the Red Bull’s allowing the league’s fewest passes before stepping up the pressure at 9.3.


And would you lookie here:

Photo: —

The teams allowing the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 8th fewest passes-per-defensive-action just happen to be the 5 teams New England has struggled most with this season.  5 of the top 8 in high-press-iness is no coincidence.

From there, other stats began to fall into place.  Tackles+Interceptions.  Tackles in the middle third.  Fouls Committed.  Basically, any stat that says “midfield all up in your grill” was where these 5 opponents really excelled.


Here are those 5 teams and how they rank in 6 stats in which they were similar.

Photo: BOSSportsNation

Worth noting I’m comparing rankings, not actual stats.  Primarily because I’m lazy but also because I feel like we can get enough of a sense without having to delve too deep into the numbers.

From here, it wasn’t difficult to compare how the upcoming schedule ranks on those same stats.  Some of the tough challenges won’t come as a surprise, but there were a few teams that caught my attention as potential trap games.


No Surprise

8/30 vs. New York Red Bulls

It turns out that the Red Bulls have a very similar style to the Red Bulls.  New England has struggled in the past against the Red Bulls.

The good news this time around is that the match will be at home, where New England has yet to lose so far this season.

10/21 vs. Philadelphia Union

It turns out that the Red Bulls Union have a very similar style to the Union.  New England has struggled in the past against the Union.

The good news this time around is that the match will be at home, where New England has yet to lose so far this season.


This match will also be played on decision day, so there’s some added drama if you needed it.


8/21 @ Nashville FC

The Revs’ next MLS Regular Season TM opponent is an interesting case.  On paper, Nashville is one of the best teams in MLS but has hit something of a rough patch in recent weeks.


They’ve lost 5 of their last 6 league matches, but with Hany Mukhtar, they’re always a threat to take 3 points.

PPDATKL middle 1/3TKL+INTFouled leading to shotFouls committedAerial win %
17th18th10th8th12th9th

While they don’t seem to press all that hard, their midfield is strong and capable of causing New England problems.  Their most Revs-Unfriendly attribute is their “fouled leading to shot” stat.  Basically: don’t tackle Hany Mukhtar unless you’re sure you can win the ball.


Some Surprise?

10/4 vs. Columbus Crew

The Revs already played Columbus this season, earning a valuable road point in Ohio.


They nearly earned all 3, despite playing down a man due to Dylan Borrero’s red card in the 65th minute.


To say, however, that Columbus didn’t give the Revs a tough challenge would be untrue.


And they have the firepower to challenge the Revs again.

PPDATKL middle 1/3TKL+INTFouled leading to shotFouls committedAerial win %
5th16th19th17th17th28th

Wilfrid Nancy has instilled a high-pressing ethos into the Crew this season, allowing the 5th fewest passes-per-defensive-action.

They aren’t quite as strong in the air nor quite as physical as the “prototypical tough New England opponent,” but they can cause issues for the Revs all the same.

9/20 vs. Charlotte FC

While 11th-place Charlotte may not seem like a true threat, they’re firmly top half in pressing statistics.  They are 13th in PPDA while also being quite physical, committing the 6th most fouls.


They don’t do much with their pressures; however, they are near the bottom of the league in tackles+interceptions.

PPDATKL middle 1/3TKL+INTFouled leading to shotFouls committedAerial win %
13th23th28th23th6th8th

Still, the math maths for this being a tougher-than-it-seems matchup, given the Revs’ weaknesses. Their total score was similar to Columbus.
Even at home, maybe a trap-game brewing?

Photo: New England Revolution

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