The Revolution capped off a week filled with tumult and bad press with a loss to the worst team in MLS.
Ahead of Saturday’s tilt in Commerce City, the Rapids had won just once in their previous 15 matches. They had scored 7 goals over that span, with their last goal coming 6 games prior, on July 9th. The Rapids fired their head coach, Robin Frazier, on September 5th, and fans set out to protest the team’s performance, prompting a response from the club.
The Revs, for their part, had also been dealing with a poor run of form, dropping points in back-to-back matches in second-half stoppage time.
They had also recently parted ways with their manager. Not once, but twice.
Bruce Arena stepped down at the conclusion of an investigation into his “inappropriate and insensitive remarks,” and interim coach Richie Williams was replaced by Clint Peay after his involvement in the aforementioned investigation came to light.
They’ve also released their fair share of team statements over the past week, prompting one Twitter user to call Saturday’s dustup the “Club Statement Derby”
-“Club Statement” derby
-The Stumble Rumble
-Clash of the Titanic
-Fan Boycott Brawl
What’s your favorite?
What would you call it?
— Andy From Revs Nation (@AndyRevsNation) September 16, 2023
With a message of unity and a desire to shut out the “baloney” (as Curt Onalfo so eloquently put it), New England sought to change their fortunes against a weak Colorado Rapids team.
Despite taking more shots, earning more corners, and (infamously) winning the possession battle, New England couldn’t get it done.
So what went wrong?
Let’s take a look at some of the contributing factors, and whether or not they could continue to haunt this Revs team for the foreseeable future.
In light of recent events, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Revolution’s struggles are a direct result of no longer having the league’s winningest coach at the helm. But, there’s an argument to be made that the Revs’ shortcomings long predated their recent spate of bad results.
And furthermore, that the winningest coach in MLS history had a lot to do with that.
In transitioning from Richie Williams to Clint Peay, we didn’t really see too much in the way of line-up changes.
The only difference from last week was Andrew Farrell entering the lineup for a suspended Matt Polster.
All 👀 on 3️⃣ tonight in the Centennial State 🔵🔴
— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) September 17, 2023
Oh, sorry, I should have mentioned that the switch from Defensive-Midfielder Matt Polster to Center-Back Andrew Farrell was to fill the position of Right-Back.
The reason for the positional switcharound has to do with Brandon Bye sustaining a season-ending injury earlier this year. This organization had plenty of opportunity to build out depth at outside-back over the winter, as well as plenty of opportunity to seek out and sign a suitable free-agent replacement. They did not. They made an in-season acquisition of Ben Sweat after he was cut by (then) league-worst Sporting Kansas City but have not relied on his services. Instead, they’ve preferred to play veterans out of position, with Matt Polster, Andrew Farrell, and even Dejuan Jones filling in at RB in recent matches.
In fairness to Clint Peay, he inherited a roster with 3 natural outside backs, two of whom are injured.
He also inherited a roster that seems built for a single-striker formation and a DP center forward that doesn’t seem to play well in a single-striker formation.
I may start to sound like a broken record, but Vrioni simply hasn’t been very involved enough as a lone striker in his time in New England. He played 71 minutes on Saturday but only managed 11 touches, touching the ball once every ~7 minutes or so. When Vrioni starts as a lone striker, he touches the ball, on average, once every 5.3 minutes. Per FBRef, his 4.3 touches in the opposing penalty area per match is in the 35th percentile for strikers.
Given his low involvement in the build-up, you’d think they might try to use Vrioni with a strike partner more often.
In 2023, the Revs have started a 2 striker formation with Vrioni on exactly two occasions. Once with Vrioni partnering with Bobby Wood against Chicago, and once with Vrioni partnering with Gustavo Bou against Atlanta. From a pure involvement standpoint, those were Vrioni’s 2 best matches of the season.
Those account for his 2 highest touch totals and 2 highest touches/minute all year. That 5.3 minutes per touch as a lone striker drops to 2.66 minutes per touch.
It’s a limited sample, but he’s touching the ball twice as often when he has a strike partner.
This is why it was so befuddling that Bruce Arena set up the team as a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1. And also why it was befuddling to see Peay substitute Bobby Wood in for Giacomo Vrioni when down two goals. It’s hard to put too much blame onto Peay. He has only had a few days to train with the first team. But given the situation, having 2 forwards might have made sense.
Again, it’s also hard to assign too much Blame to Peay for his substitutions, given how last week went down. However, all 5 subs were like-for-like and did little to change the trajectory of the game. Interestingly, three of the five subs were had played for Peay with Revs II. Buck, Bajraktarevic, and Rivera may have been likely substitutes either way, but they are worth monitoring.
To hear Onalfo talk about it, he’d like to characterize the past few weeks as noise… baloney.
"It's time to get out there & play & stop talking about all the baloney." ⬇️#NERevs Interim SD Curt Onalfo here yesterday along w/ Revs Prez Brian Bilello.
In 48 hrs, Arena resigned, Interim Williams given leave, van den Bergh & Joseph depart.
Lots of questions, few answers. pic.twitter.com/iO91FJBxmF
— Glenn Crooks (@GlennCrooks) September 14, 2023
To everyone else, however, it seemed pretty clear that your coach resigning and removing your interim coach (and two assistant coaches) could take a real toll on team morale.
To the players’ credit, they’ve mostly indicated that they feel united and are focusing on what they can control. That doesn’t mean that this hasn’t taken a considerable mental toll on the players.
— The Blazing Musket (@BlazingMusket) September 17, 2023
Between not having answers in the wake of the coaching staff overhaul and having to deal with questions from media, fans, and social media alike, there is a whole lot of “baloney” to wade through.
It’s probably too small a sample to draw any real conclusions, but there is an indication their focus has taken a hit.
Since the investigation into Bruce Arena began, the Revs conceded in the 83rd minute or later in 3 of 5 MLS matches. This isn’t a huge departure from the norm. The Revs did concede 8 goals after the 80th minute prior to Arena’s departure. But those were spread out over 23 games.
The big caveats here are the change in the goalkeeper and the loss of Brandon Bye.
Even still, conceding after the 80th in 60% of matches is concerning.
Photo: New England Revolution