A few weeks ago I was honored with a guest spot on the Revolution Recap Podcast.  During the show, host Greg Johnstone and I took a look at the remaining schedule and endeavored to predict how many could be ‘possible wins’.  As optimistic as I tried to be, the schedule was replete with playoff caliber opponents, in good form.  We came to the conclusion that there were possibly no winnable games left, and that has turned out to be true so far.

Most recently, New England lost a second consecutive 3-2 road decision, this time against Nashville SC.  This follows a pair of losses against the Columbus Crew, and Orlando City SC.

I could spend this column dissecting the, sometimes odd, tactical decisions we’ve seen in the Clint Peay era.  I predict, however, that there could be ample offseason time to really delve deep into those topics.

Also that would require me to confront my negative feelings towards the teams recent performance and — well — I don’t wanna.

Instead, lets take a look at the Revs u22 talent piepline in light of MLS’s recently revealed 22-under-22 rankings.

22 under 22

MLS’ annual 22 under 22 list features the best young prospects in the league.  It’s a subjective ranking as voted on by ‘MLS Staff and Season Pass Talent’.  Voting took place in early September.  Players can be MLS academy home-growns, or imports from elsewhere.  They can play any position, and there’s no minimum number of appearances required.  The one rule that must be adhered to during voting is that the players must be under the age of 22 by the final game of the 2023 regular season on October 21st.

The full rankings list for 2023 can be found here.

New England was one of 5 MLS teams with 2 or more players to make the cut.  Noel Buck’s excellent season saw him finish 4th in the rankings, while Dylan Borrero did enough in just 516 minutes to earn the 13th spot.

Noel Buck

Noel Buck hit the MLS 22 Under 22 list at number 4.  That’s for a good reason, as he’s taken a big step up in his development over the past year.  The 18 year old has played 1,163 minutes so far with the Revs in 2023, mostly in the midfield.  From that vantage point he has been able to consistently contribute to New England’s ball progression and possession scheme.  He’s fluid on the ball and on the dribble and he’s capable of unleashing a killer shot.

The clip above showcases his balance on the dribble while working his way around defenders using technique not common for his age.  In my opinion that goal is a perfect distillation of his game and absolutely should have counted… ah well.

PositionAgeMinutesSalaryShotsGoalsAssistsRaw G+
MF181663$67,36016312.63

His skill has certainly turned enough heads among MLS media types to put him at #4 on this list, but also clearly with the English FA.  He recently received his second call-up with the England U19s, which makes sense given he scored for England during his first stint over the summer.  His recent success makes him a likely candidate to make a move in the next few transfer windows.

 

Dylan Borrero

Ah what a season it could have been for Dylan Borrero.  The 21 year old Colombian winger was beginning to show that he was one of the elite forwards in this league, when an April ACL injury sidelined him for the year.

PositionAgeMinutesSalaryShotsGoalsAssistsRaw G+
FW21516$638,96216211.63

Borrero presents a rare combination of technique and speed, tools which he used to great effect while driving at opposing defenses.  He has a powerful shot and isn’t afraid to take a defender on, in hopes of creating dangerous chances for himself and teammates.  Those qualities, even in limited minutes, were enough to put him at number 13 on the 22-Under-22 list.

Esmir Bajraktarevic

The Revs also have a bevy of youngsters that, while they are getting valuable minutes in MLS, haven’t done enough to sway the u22 voting panel…. yet.

Esmir Bajraktarevic is a great example of that type of player for the Revs.  The 18 year old from Wisconsin, affectionately nicknamed ‘Milwaukee Messi’, seems the most poised of the Revs current crop of homegrown to take a step up.

While he doesn’t have any goals or assists in MLS play, he scored a crucial goal for the Revs in the League’s Cup (as seen above).  He’s also been critical at times to the success of Revs II who finished the season in 2nd place and made it to the Conference Finals.

PositionAgeMinutesSalaryShotsGoalsAssistsRaw G+
FW18493$91,37615000.52

Esmir has a ton of talent and the technical skills to be able to compete in MLS.  He also has a nose for goal.  It’s a major part of why the USYNT keeps calling for his services.

Where he may need to work on as he gets more minutes, is being able to handle the physicality of MLS.  He’s got the technical skills and speed to get around many defenders, but he sometimes loses possession when defenders read his intent.

Jack Panayotou

Panayotou, in many ways, finds himself where Buck and Esmir found themselves last year.  He clearly has talent and upside, but he isn’t high enough the coaches depth chart to break into the lineup very often.

PositionAgeMinutesSalaryShotsGoalsAssistsRaw G+
MF19316$69,360300-0.03

That’s not a bad thing.  At 19 he’s got room to grow, and there should be a clear path next year and beyond for him to get more minutes.  His recent play, both with the first team and Revs II, have been enough to see him called up for the USYNT roster for the Pan American Games.

Damian Rivera

I found myself surprised to see that Damian ‘Tico’ Rivera was still just 20 years old.  He signed with the Revs all the way back in 2019 as a 16 year old.

PositionAgeMinutesSalaryShotsGoalsAssistsRaw G+
MF20180$88,2006000.72

In that time he’s shown flashes, scoring his first goal against Inter Miami last season, and providing a critical goal against Atlas in the Revs Leagues Cup win.

Unfortunately, he’s not been consistent enough to warrant very many minutes.  It also doesn’t help that he has the likes of Dylan Borrero, Tomas Chancalay, Nacho Gil, and Ema Boateng vying for minutes ahead of him.

Salary vs Production

If this chart looks familiar it’s because I made a similar one last time around for the Revolution’s Designated Players.

Coming up with new ideas is hard.

In that chart I compared each Revs DP to every other DP for whom both salary and Goals-Added data was available.  This time we’ve narrowed our criteria from “every comparable player” to just those that were included on the MLS 22-Under-22 list.  On the vertical axis, we have player guaranteed compensation in US Dollary-doos.  The horizontal axis is, once again, “Goals-Added over Average per 96 minutes” from our good friends at AmericanSoccerAnalysis.  This is a metric they invented to allow for comparisons of each player’s contribution toward their team’s chances of scoring a goal, regardless of position.  This data is tabulated after each game and then compared to the average at each player’s given position.  Add those up over the course of the year, and normalize to 1 full game and Bob’s your uncle.

That may sound complicated but essentially: negative numbers on the left vs right axis mean you perform worse compared to players of your position.  The opposite is true for positive numbers on the horizontal axis.  Up vs down is higher vs lower salary figures.  The upper right and lower left quadrants (in gray) show performance in line with expectations based upon average salary and G+.  The blue quadrant is players of exceptional value, where the red section is low value-for-dollar players.

So what does it tell us?

There are a bunch of caveats, but what may strike you first is how low all the salary figures are.  That’s to be expected when the sample set heavily favors younger players, often on rookie or homegrown contract deals.  What may strike you next is just how few, or relatively few, players are performing at a better-than-average G+ value.  Only 8 of 25 on this graph perform better than the average player at their position over the course of the year.  This should again be expected due to the youth of the players in the sample selection.

The biggest surprise, however, could be Damian Rivera with the highest value over average of any player on this list.  That’s certainly an interesting tidbit but, given he has only played 180 minutes this season, I’m more inclined to chalk that up to low sample size. Hard to take too much away from it, but he could be worth more of a look to see if trends hold.  Jack Panayotou being the most intensely negative may similarly be due to a lack of minutes.

Outside of that it’s mostly what we’d expect.  Borrero costs the most of any Revs u22 eligible player, but has the highest production.  His performance stats are followed by Noel Buck, then by Esmir.  That mostly follows with playing time, accounting for Borrero’s injury of course.  Given their age profiles and playing times, PLUS the fact that this is a comparison against the ‘best’ young players in the league, I don’t think there’s cause for concern yet with Jack P and Esmir.

With a likely change in coaching and front office personnel, roster changes could be short behind.  The value provided by these young players make them an intriguing set of building blocks for the future.

Photo credit: New England Revolution
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