In my last post, I wondered if we had seen enough to make a determination about what sort of club New England would be in the 2024. Spoiler: we hadn’t.

That was three weeks ago, and since then, the Revs have played 6 times across 2 competitions.  In the CONCACAF Champions Cup, New England have more than held their own, quickly advancing past CAI and CD Alajuelense, and outscored their opponents 9-1.

In league play, on the other hand…  IT. HAS. NOT. GONE. WELL.

The Revs have suffered defeat after defeat in MLS, falling to 0-4-0 in a lopsided fashion. New England has managed to find the net just 3 times in 4 games while conceding 10 times at the other end.

So, why the disparity between Champion’s Cup and MLS league play?  Or, more importantly, what is this club’s actual level?  Are they a good team that is focusing on CCC to the detriment of MLS?  Are they a bad team that has lucked into a favorable CCC draw?

For what it’s worth, I posted this question to Twitter, and it seems like (as of last week) Revs fans weren’t panicking yet.

From my perspective, I think the answer is in between those two realities.  It’s almost always in between the extremes, right?

I don’t suspect we have enough information to be able to fully answer that question in this article, but let’s take a look at some of the factors that may be contributing to the hot and cold nature of the Revs in 2024.

Top Down View

It’s probably important to begin with some context.

I can hear the backlash now; “No excuses!  Good teams win games — and that’s that!”

Good teams do (in fact) win games, but I don’t think we can simply ignore all of the extraneous factors that could contribute to success or lack thereof.

One major factor has to be scheduling.

By virtue of winning the league  … making it deep into the playoffs … coming in 6th place in MLS in 2023, the Revolution qualified for CONCACAF Champions Cup.

It’s a really cool thing to be able to watch my favorite team compete against the best-of-the-best in the region, but that competition adds significant strain to the schedule – in this case, doubling the number of matches scheduled as compared to most MLS teams.

Travel, tired legs, increased risk of injuries, and lack of adequate preparation time are all factors due to the compacted schedule.  New England has had to travel significant distance so far.  They dealt with the largest distance traveled of any matchup in round 1 of CCC to CA Independiente, and it was an even longer trip to their second opponent in Alajuelense.

Sneaking in trips to DC and Atlanta amidst the international travel can’t have helped.  But this is not uncommon for MLS teams in CONCACAF competition.  Every team in that competition has to deal with that type of congestion, and while it has a negative effect on most, none of them have struggled as mightily as New England.

That may be due to New England’s unique position of being the only MLS team to make the CCC while undergoing a coaching change.  All of that schedule congestion hits MLS clubs right at the start of their season, a time when teams are still finding their rhythm.  Team’s are building into fitness while also learning new teammates’ tendencies and preferences.  That’s especially been true for New England, who have the added wrinkle of learning their new coach’s tendencies, preferences, and tactics.

Add that all together (and pepper in a few red/yellow card suspensions), and it may not actually be all that surprising that the Revs have struggled more than anticipated in MLS.

Vrioni

I mean, we have to talk about the owner of those red/yellow card suspensions, don’t we?

It’s not exactly a hot take to imply that Albanian striker Giacomo Vrioni may not be a long-term solution for a club with MLS cup aspirations.  Many, including MLS columnist Matt Doyle and commentator/Revs legend Taylor Twellman, have said as much outright.

Vrioni has struggled to get into shooting positions this season.  He’s also not pulling the trigger as much as his fellow strikers.  Per americansocceranalysis, he is 30th out of 40 strikers (with at least 180 minutes) in terms of shots-per-90.  He ranks slightly higher in xG/90 at 19th out of 40 qualifying strikers.

Heck, he only has the 7th most shots-per-90 on his own team.  And I have to use per-90 values in these comparisons because (thanks to that aforementioned red card) he has only played 197 minutes in MLS this season.

None of that is great news from your starting striker, and it gets worse when factoring in his DP status.

He did get a goal against Cincinnati, following up this sweet strike against Alajuelense.

There are signs of life!  While I haven’t generally been impressed, if this week provides the confidence he needs to find the back of the net, it could help turn things around for New England.

Ravas

Another thing that could turn things around for the Revs is letting in fewer goals.

Henrich Ravas was brought into be the heir apparent (excluding the Vaclik fiasco) to the “Revs-GK-to-EPL-Pipeline” throne.

Thus far, he’s been… fine?

Where Djordje Petrovic (and Matt Turner before him) excelled was keeping ‘expected goals’ from turning into ‘actual goals’.

Every shot, depending on where it’s taken, who’s nearby, and what direction the shot goes, is assigned an expected goal value.  Well-taken shots from good positions are worth a high xG value.  Saving those types of shots was New England’s bread and butter for the past ~5 seasons.

That was necessary since Bruce Arena’s Revs emphasized the attack and often left the defense exposed.  Create many chances, allow many chances.  They relied on elite goalkeeping to keep them in matches they might otherwise not be.

That’s partially remained true in 2024 — they still allow many chances.  The Revs have conceded a whopping 9.58 PSxG (post-shot expected goals), this season.  That’s the highest in the league.

Where we diverge from previous seasons is that instead of having an elite shot-stopper between the sticks, we have… well a fairly average one.

 

This graph shows the goals-allowed/expected-goals-allowed ratio of every Revs keeper over the past 5 years.  A value closer to 0 is better, while values over 1 are worse than average.

Per americansocceranalysis, Ravas is an average (to slightly below average) shot-stopper.  He allows 1.04 goals per every expected goal so far in 2024.  A value of 1 would be a perfectly (statistically) average GK.  At 1.04, he’s fairly close to that statistical average.

He’s a slight step up from Earl Edwards, but certainly not as good as Revs fans were hoping, given GK Coach Kevin Hitchcock’s recent success.

To Ravas’ credit, he is taking accountability for some of the goals the Revs have allowed.  The defense will need to help him out because allowing nearly 2.4 xG per match isn’t doing him any favors.


Photo: New England Revolution
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