The sky fell last week after the Revolution suffered a 4-2 penalty shootout loss to the New York Red Bulls.
Fortunately, as reactionary fanbases often do, we hammered that sky back in place just in time for the Revolution to hammer Atletico San Luis 5-1 mere days later.
Given recent events, I feel totally confident in saying that the Revs are the best team in the universe.
Jokes aside, there are some good reasons for optimism about the Revs’ prospects this fall.
Something rare happened on Wednesday, and I’m not just talking about Giacomo Vrioni’s hat trick!
When it comes to regular season games, the #NERevs' DPs have only played 326 minutes together.
They played 17 minutes together against the New York Red Bulls in Leagues Cup play.
Tonight, all three of them started. pic.twitter.com/EPCjwxsDWd
— Seth (@SethMan31) July 27, 2023
New England’s DP trio of Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou, and Giacomo Vrioni all saw time on the field…TOGETHER!!
You might think, aren’t you supposed to play your 3 most expensive players simultaneously?
Well, conventional wisdom says yes, but apparently, conventional wisdom is overrated in New England. Since Giacomo Vrioni’s arrival and first appearance on July 23rd of, 2022, the trio has managed just 326 minutes on the field altogether. That’s about 3 and a half games worth of time.
There’s no doubt that injuries have contributed significantly to that phenomenon. All three DPs have missed some time in the past 12 months. When they have been healthy, head coach Bruce Arena has often opted to use only 2. When he does play them all at the same time, it’s typically over short periods at the end of games.
There’s evidence that maybe he should try playing them all together more often.
For starters, over 9 matches where they all appear together, the Revs are 4-2-3 (W-L-T). They have outscored opponents 15-10 in those matches as well.
There’s also this:
A limited sample size keeps this data from carrying a ton of weight, but Vrioni appears to play better with Bou and Gil on the field.
Both Vrioni and Gil contribute “expected goals” at a higher rate in games where all three appear than their season-long averages.
Gustavo Bou seems to contribute less, which may be why Arena has preferred to pair him with Bobby Wood instead of Vrioni this season.
Reinforcements Gonna Reinforce
New England hasn’t stood pat with their 2nd place squad, either. They have made 3 moves in the summer window looking to strengthen the team heading into the fall.
Ian Harkes was brought in from Dundee United to add to the central midfield rotation. New England then traded away Latif Blessing for Mark Anthony Kaye from Toronto FC. The biggest potential impact, however, comes in the form of Tomas Chancalay, a winger from Racing Club in Argentina.
Given the depth of bodies in central midfield, I was skeptical that Ian Harkes was the signing New England needed to make. Between Polster, Buck, Blessing (now Kaye), McNamara, and Maciel, it didn’t feel like that was the greatest position of need.
I (sort of) still feel that way, but you can’t argue with the results.
#NERevs double the lead before the half.
Ian Harkes scores his first goal back in MLS against his former club. ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/Oki2Ky0V7n
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 16, 2023
In my experience, players who score within their first 2 games with the club tend to be pretty good (as fans of Gil and Bou can attest).
Mark Anthony Kaye
Kaye arrived as part of a swap with Toronto FC for Latif Blessing. Both players were a large part of the midfield engine for the 2019 Supporter’s Shield-winning LAFC. But both were also in something of a rut in their new homes.
Blessing arrived in New England over the offseason and, after a few solid games, saw his production and playtime diminish as the spring turned to summer. Kaye was a regular starter for Bob Bradley’s TFC, for better or worse, racking up 21 appearances for the struggling Reds.
Perhaps a change of scenery is all that will be needed to jump-start both players and help them live up to their potential. And there’s some indication that, at least for Kaye, the change of scenery may be helping.
Mark-Anthony Kaye's stats through 50 minutes:
-24/26 on accurate passes
-2 shots, 0 on target
-2/3 on accurate long balls
-1/1 on aerial duels#NERevs
— Seth (@SethMan31) July 27, 2023
Chancalay has yet to join the team in training while he waits on a work visa. His arrival does, however, address a large area of need for the team. New England has somewhat lacked a bit of unpredictability in the attack ever since Dylan Borrero tore his ACL vs. FC Cincinnati earlier this year.
New England has great attacking fullbacks in Dejuan Jones and Brandon Bye, but without a true target forward, there isn’t much of an outlet once the ball goes wide.
Adding a wide attacker capable of cutting inside with the ball, or making smart runs without it, could help New England break down set defenses.
— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) July 30, 2023
I get shades of Gustavo Bou while watching his highlights: a smart player with a strong shot who can score from anywhere. That last bit will help immensely.
If he can prove a threat from a distance, it may force packed-in defenses to come out of their shell to defend him.
Depth Getting Healthy
In addition to the new faces, New England is starting to bring back some familiar faces as well.
New England has been carrying several injuries to key players for much of the season. Central midfielder, Maciel, has been recovering from an Achilles injury since last fall. Tommy McNamara and Nacho Gil both sustained injuries in preseason that have kept them out of action in MLS. Center-back Henry Kessler underwent hamstring surgery earlier in the year, just as he and CB partner Dave Romney were gaining familiarity.
Those injuries have been costly. New England spent resources in the summer transfer window to add players at 2 of the 3 positions impacted by those injuries. Tommy McNamara and Maciel’s injuries necessitated the addition of Ian Harkes, while the injury to Nacho Gil added the need for more wing players like Chancalay.
The good news is that it seems like those injuries may be coming to an end. Nacho Gil, after months on the injury list, finally made his way onto the field against San Luis.
Meanwhile, Tommy McNamara played with Revs II earlier this week.
— Gustavo Lopes 🇧🇷🇺🇸 (@SoccerWithGus) July 25, 2023
Maciel, meanwhile, appears to be back at practice.
Hopefully, soon he will be able to return to the field, as he was a very promising player for New England in 2021, making 15 starts after signing from the second team.
Lastly, Henry Kessler is, by all accounts, on track to beat his projected recovery timeline.
— Seth (@SethMan31) June 27, 2023
Things all seem to be heading in the right direction for New England. Injured players are all returning in time for the stretch run.
New signings are integrating and starting to make an impact.
If Bruce Arena can continue to get elite production from his designated players, a deep playoff run (even the MLS Cup) is a real possibility.
Photo: New England Revolution