The Revoluton picked up their first real win of the Post-Bruce Arena era on Saturday, beating Charlotte FC 2-1.  The goals came from somewhat unlikely players with 18 year old midfielder Noel Buck getting New England’s first and center-back Dave Romney collecting the winner in the 85th.

New England has done a good job this season of getting contributions from their developing/depth level talent.  That’s been necessary because, outside of Carles Gil, they’ve struggled to get goals from their big name stars.

Designated players Gustavo Bou and Giacomo Vrioni haven’t quite put up the numbers you’d expect of a team near the top of the table.  Vrioni has put together 6 goals and 1 assist over 26 appearances, while Bou has managed just 5 goals and 3 assists in an injury riddled season.

Their third DP, Carles Gil, has been asked to carry the team.  And he has, to the tune of 9 goals and 13 assists.  He isn’t quite playing at his 2021 MLS MVP caliber level, but he’s not far behind.

Whether or not those 3 DPs will be enough firepower to push the Revs deep into the playoffs remains uncertain.

Even more uncertain is which of these players could even be with the team in the future. Contracts are contracts, but the Revs will very likely be under new management come February, and a new coach may be looking to streamline the roster.

They’ll likely have some leeway to make changes if they want.  Add in the growing rumors about MLS rule changes, and the Revs DP situation starts to get pretty murky.

So let’s take a look at the Revs Designated Players: how have they looked, produced, and are they worth building the team around for the future?

What is a DP?

Let’s say you’re not one of the 11 or so people who know the ins and outs of the convoluted MLS rules system.  That’s a very normal place to be.

MLS is a salary cap league.  Well, sort of.  The salary cap prescribes how much money you can pay individual players and sets a limit on how much/how little you can spend on your roster.  MLS builds in a few mechanisms to get around this self-imposed limitation.

First there’s allocation money, sometimes called GAM (general allocation money), TAM (targeted allocation money) or xAM (some combination of the two). These are additional moneys given to teams that allow them to pay additional cash to players on top of their salary.  This can be used to get higher quality players, while remaining roster compliant.  There is a limit to how much you can use on any single player (up to $1M on top of the league max salary of ~$651K).  Salaries above that $1.65M aren’t possible unless…

This brings us to the aforementioned designated players, or DPs.  These are players to whom league salary cap rules don’t apply.  They can be paid any amount.  The money is paid directly out of the owners pocket/team operating budget, and they will hit the salary books at the league senior maximum of ~$650K. You can choose to use this method on any player making above that max salary level, but oftentimes this mechanism is used to bring the best, most talented players to your team. Each team is allowed 3 such players, though there’s speculation that could change as soon as next season.

The Revs have 3 DPs, each making over that ~$1.65M threshold.

Carles Gil

Gil has been the Revs best player since he arrived in New England in 2019.  His vision and technical ability gives him the ability to find and complete incisive passes.  He’s consistently one of the best set-up men in the league.

Minutes PlayedGuaranteed CompensationGoalsAssistsG+A/90xG
2260$3,545,833.009130.8761066.3

To me, Gil falls under the ‘must keep’ category.  If and when a new coach comes to New England, having a number 10 with Carles’ skill and vision to build around is a rarity.  Carles is under contract through the 2024 season, but he’s not made it clear that he wants to stay for the long haul.  Getting Gil on board with the project should be a priority for the new manager.

Gustavo Bou

Bou’s value as a DP lies in his ability to score from anywhere on the field.  While he isn’t the best aerial threat, he packs a powerful right foot and is always a threat to uncork a shot from distance.  That keeps defenses honest.  He’s also formed a strong relationship with fellow DP Carles Gil, with the two often combining to great effect.

Minutes PlayedGuaranteed CompensationGoalsAssistsG+A/90xG
1018$2,675,000.00530.7072693.5

The downside with Bou is that he’s struggled to remain healthy for a large stretch of games.  He has already missed 14 games with an injury in 2023.  This is after missing 14 in 2022, and 9 in 2020/2021.  With the Argentine national turning 34 in February, there’s no guarantee of future health.

I think he still has someting left in the tank, but the injuries make his designated player salary more and more difficult to justify, long term.

His contract is up at the end of 2023, and that’s why I think he could make sense as a cut for 2024.  If he’s willing to come back on a lowered salary, opening up a DP spot in the process, I would be interested in a short term deal.

Giacomo Vrioni

Vrioni is New England’s most recent DP signing.  He joined just last summer, replacing the outgoing Adam Buksa (now with Antalyaspor).  The Albanian striker has struggled to get much going in his time in New England.  He spent much of his first season with the Revs injured.  This year he’s been in and out of the lineup, often making way for Bobby Wood.

Minutes PlayedGuaranteed CompensationGoalsAssistsG+A/90xG
1190$1,847,500.00620.6050425

Vrioni has the lowest production of the Revs DPs.  He also has the lowest salary (more on that later).

His base compensation, in fact, is below the DP threshold.  Unfortunately for the Revs players budget, his guaranteed compensation of ~$1.85M means he can’t be bought under the cap using xAM.  He also signed a contract through 2025 with the Revs, so Revs fans should be hoping he can turn things around and start finding the back of the net more often.

If a new regime comes in and doesn’t rate the Albanian striker, their only option to offload his budget hit and open a DP spot would be by transfer or buyout.  This assumes there are no changes to the DP rules.  Theoretically if a rule were put in place to allow teams to spend more xAM to buy down players, he could be brought under the cap, using ~$1.2M.

Goals Added

Below is a chart of every MLS team’s designated players.  Plotted on the Y axis is their guaranteed compensation (as of April 2023).  The X axis is AmericanSoccerAnalysis’ Goals Added metric, a calculation meant to show player value regardless of position.  These values are compared to the average player at each respective position.  Positive values indicate they are better than the average player, while negative values… you get it.  They are also normalized to a 96 minute scale to allow a more direct comparison, regardless of playing time.

The chart is sectioned at the intersection of DP Average Salary and DP Average G+.  This allows us to see how the Revs DPs stack up against other DPs by production and salary.

It’s worth noting that these values include only DPs for whom salary data was available from the MLSPA in April. This notably leaves out Leo Messi, which is probably for the best as his estimated salary and production wouldn’t come close to fitting on this chart anyways.

DP Salary vs ASA G+/96 over Average

The first thing I notice is… well there are a lot of DPs in MLS that are doing worse than the average player at their position. Given the substantial resources required for this category of player, you would expect to see a higher concentration in the positive G+ section of the chart.

The second thing I see is that the Revs are, sort of, getting what they pay for.  Their highest salary (and 9th highest DP salary in the league) goes to Carles Gil, who has the highest G+ over average of the trio.  His 0.10 G+/96 over average is the 12th highest mark among DPs.  Bou has shown enough in his limited minutes this season to merit a barely positive G+ of 0.01 G+/96 over average.  Vrioni’s cumulative G+/96 of 0 means he’s a statistically average striker.

Given these figures, if a new coaching staff were looking to make a cut, Vrioni would be first in line.

But we can’t just normalize everything to 96 minutes.  Availability matters.

DP Salary vs ASA Raw G+

This chart shows the raw, unaveraged, G+ values.  These are cumulative, by game.  What we see is Gil still near the top of the league (9th among DPs) in terms of G+ production.  Vrioni shifts further below the average DP (44th among DPs) in terms of total G+ production and Bou shifts greatly to the left (49th among DPs).  This is likely due to the fact that he simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy this year.  That Bou inhabits the red-area here implies that the Revs are probably paying too much for his services.  By this metric, he makes the most sense to part ways with this offseason.

Because of availability (either by injury or coaching decision) we’ve seen very little of Bou and Vrioni on the field together this season.  You can almost think of the pair of them as a single DP, and one who combined is producing the 13th best raw G+ in the league.  Unfortunately that production comes at the cost of the (combined) 7th highest DP salary while also requiring 2 DP slots.

Tomás Chancalay?

There are some conflicting reports about what happens if New England opts to keep standout winger Tomás Chancalay after his loan expires.  Initial reports indicated that he would become a designated player, but Prost Amerika’s Caleb Pongratz has intimated that his contract would not rise to that level.

The math appears to indicate that he’s either right at the DP threshold, or likely above it.  His ~800-850K for half of this year PLUS his $800-900K for next year would put his annual salary in the range of $1.6-1.75M which toes that DP line.  Keeping in mind that if he signs a full time deal, it likely comes with a bump in pay.  Whichever way it shakes out, I’ve seen enough to think that he’s worthy of the DP designation.

Minutes PlayedGuaranteed CompensationGoalsAssistsG+A/90xG
499$800K-850K300.5410821

A trio of goals during a limited sample size is a pretty good return for a winger.  Worth noting that those goals have come during a time where the organization appeared to be collapsing around him.

A lot remains uncertain about the Revs in 2024.  Who will be coach?  Will Bou stick around?  Is Chancalay a DP?  Will the DP rules change?  Will Gil stick around beyond his current contract?

As the season draws to a close, fans should pay particularly close attention to those four players.  Their success (or lack thereof) may have a lasting impact on the shape of this roster for next season, and even beyond.

 

Photo Credit: New England Revolution

 

 

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