In some ways, the offseason is a tough time for content creators. There are no games (at least no televised games).  The news is a little slower.  There are some new signings, sure.  A new kit release, certainly.  But it gets a little slow.

Then again, sometimes the offseason is the easiest for content creators.  For example, I get to re-hash the same ideas, year-over-year.  I’m able to take an old concept, slap “2024” on it and – because it’s slower in the offseason – nobody complains.

At least, not to my face.

To that end, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here.  Here are a few bold predictions ahead of the Rev’s 2024 season, why I think they’re bold, and why they are absolutely possible.

Bold Prediction: Giacomo Vrioni Scores 15+ goals

Why it’s bold:

Well…to be frank, Vrioni has failed to live up to expectations in MLS.  As a DP, with Juventus on his resume, he was expected to make an immediate impact.

But things haven’t quite gone as planned.

He’s now in his third year with New England and he’s failed to make a lasting impression. Both on the fans and on the 3 coaches he’s played for.

Bruce Arena frequently left him out of the starting lineup, occasionally playing 3rd (4th?) stringer, Jozy Altidore ahead of him.  When Arena left, following a league investigation, there should have been an opportunity to re-establish himself at the top of the pecking order.  But it never happened.

Interim coaches Richie Williams and Clint Peay gave him more time to prove himself — he earned 8 of his 13 starts after Bruce Arena departed in August.  But in those 8 starts he tallied just 1 goal and 1 assist, and didn’t eclipse 73 minutes played in any contest.

Getting playing time was a challenge for Vrioni.  He played just 42.8% of available minutes in 2023.

If that trend continues, it will be very hard to hit this lofty projection.  Not without significantly more minutes.

Why it’s possible:

He may just end up getting those minutes.

If only because there really aren’t many other options to play at center-forward for the Revs.  With a midseason buy-out for Jozy Altidore, and a move to Finland for Justin Rennicks, New England’s striker depth chart is thin.  Outside of Vrioni, only Bobby Wood played significant minutes up top, in 2023.

Vrioni only had 6 goals in 2023, but he did so in right around ~1300 minutes.  That 0.41 goals per 90 doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, but it does give us a point off which to extrapolate.

Let’s say, out of necessity, he sees an increased workload in 2024.  If he increases his minutes from 1307 (43% of available) to even 2019 (66% of available), his projected goal total jumps up to around 9 goals.  If he plays starters minutes, say 75 minutes per game, he’d pace out at about 11.5 goals.

And that’s using his 2023 goals/90 rate, which was… well, not great for a DP striker.

Enter: Caleb Porter.

I wrote, at length, about how Caleb Porter’s tactical setup prioritizes possession, width, and interplay between the forwards.  His tactical system in Columbus also de-emphasized crosses.  All things that will set up for more involvement for Vrioni with the ball at his feet.

Vrioni was most involved in 2023, when he played next to a strike partner.

While it’s unlikely that he’ll get that luxury in 2024 – Porter has tended to prefer a 4-2-3-1 – the tactical setup will pull him wider, and will emphasize combinations and one-twos between strikers and wingers.  2024 *should* see him have higher touch totals.

From there math becomes fairly simple: More minutes +more touches = more goals.

Bold Prediction: Esmir Bajraktarevic has a Break-Out Season

Why it’s bold:

New England has done a good job in recent seasons at developing young talent and pushing them through the system to the first team.  Five players under the age of 21 earned minutes last season, with 4 of those coming through the academy.  One of those players was Esmir Bajraktarevic, who worked his way from “promising US youth player” to “Revs 2 regular” to getting minutes with the first-team.  It may seem reasonable for that progression to continue in 2024.

But…

There are simply too many great players ahead of him on the depth chart.  Bajraktarevic has played as an attacking midfielder and as a winger — 2 areas where New England has focused a large amount of money.  Carles Gil, Dylan Borrero, and Tomas Chancalay are filling those roles right now, and those are 2 designated players and a U22 initiative signing.  New England has also reportedly shown interest in former MLS DP Alberth Elis, who could add competition to those spots.

He’d need to beat out those players, or need an injury, ahead of him, to ascend into the starting lineup.

Porter, despite his history as a college coach, has preferred experience over youth in recent seasons.  As of May 2022, his Columbus Crew had the second highest average age (among players receiving minutes) in the league.  With Esmir being just 18 to start the 2024 season, he would be the youngest player to receive playing time under Caleb Porter since 2020.

Why it’s possible:

If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.

Porter has been willing to play younger players provided they can help the team win.  In the past few years Porter gave significant minutes to the likes of Aboubacar Keita, Aiden Morris, Sebastian Berhalter, Will Sands, and Luis Diaz.  All before their 21st birthdays.

So is Bajraktarevic good enough?

I’ll let this clip do the talking.

These were from his USMNT debut against Slovenia just over a week ago on January 20th.  He looked confident and flashed his technical skills well on a day where the US struggled mightily.

He’ll need to continue to improve some areas of his game, but if he can make the right impressions with the new coaching staff, it could be a big 2024 for “Milwaukee Messi“.

Bonus Bold Prediction: The Revs Finally Announce a New Stadium

I’m going to keep predicting this one, year-over-year, until it’s true.

Someday, I’ll look like a real genius.

Maybe that someday will be this year.

Probably not.

But maybe.

 

Photo furnished by the New England Revolution

 

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