The Revolution won a game!  It had to happen eventually.
For Caleb Porter, it couldn’t have come at a better time – seeing as he made some promises.

A win at home against a middle-of-the-pack Charlotte team shouldn’t have been a bold claim, but New England’s form leading up to Saturday made it a silly thing to guarantee.

Ahead of the matchup, Charlotte had earned 1.33 points per game, which included a 2-0 win over 2023’s MLS Cup winners, Columbus Crew, and a 1-1 draw against 2023’s MLS Supporter’s Shield winners, FC Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, New England had managed just 0.20 points per game, with a 1-1 home draw vs Chicago counter-balancing 4 straight losses to start the year.

In the end, it appeared to be a case of: A) Charlotte not being quite as good as their record indicated, and B) New England being slightly better than their record indicated (as I alluded to in my last piece).

But let’s not pop the champagne quite yet.

The stats for this game (depending on the source) paint a picture of a decent but far-from-dominant win.  With no numbers immediately jumping out at me, I think this may be a good game to analyze using the eye test.

The Revs Were Most Dangerous When They Attacked At Pace

The thing that has left Revs fans screaming at their television sets most often this season, perhaps, has been their proclivity to slow down the pace of play.  New England plays out of the back and attempts to control the game through possession and passing.

They own the 5th most passes-per-sequence in MLS at the moment.  That combined with a below-average direct speed, according to Opta, they fall firmly in the “slow and intricate” play-style quadrant.

Oftentimes, when New England looked to have options in behind or an avenue for a counter-attack, the team would slow down to prioritize possession.

Given their 1-point-from-5-matches history, you could easily argue that that style wasn’t working.

While they didn’t abandon that style altogether (more on that below), they did take advantage of space and changes in possession more effectively on Saturday, especially towards the end of the first half.

This play starts with a long throw in up the sideline trying to push the ball into the attacking third. It doesn’t connect, and Charlotte plays the ball back towards the Revs’ backline.  Romney is under duress on the next pass but hits the ball in behind for Chancalay. Once again, the pass doesn’t find it’s mark and is headed back into New England’s half.  Nacho Gil attacks the ball and sends it into the space behind for Vrioni to run into.

That’s three straight attempts to bypass the opposing midfield. Even when it didn’t work, they tried it again immediately.

None of that sounds similar to the safe, at times maddeningly predictable, build-out we’ve become accustomed to under Caleb Porter.

This next sequence starts when New England turns Charlotte over in their own penalty area. Taking advantage of Charlotte’s shape in transition they play 3 vertical passes up to their opponents box, ending in an unsuccessful cross.

Both of these examples took place within the last 5-10 minutes of the first half. It was that commitment to pushing numbers towards goal that would eventually give the Revs their first lead of 2024.

Defensive Lapses Could Be Their Undoing

Something that appears to have carried over from former coach Bruce Arena’s system to Caleb Porter’s system, is the use of outside backs as a part of the attack and build up.

That should help the attack and, in fairness, there were some signs of that working for the Revs — see above.

The issue it can cause, however, is that it leaves your center-backs (and theoretically your defensive midfielders) with a big job to do if the ball turns over.

That’s a problem for the Revs, who have turned the ball over the 4th most times of any team in MLS.

The ball is pinging around the midfield, and because Lima is pushed up (in case New England wins the ball), Kessler has moved wide to cover. Charlotte gains possession and quickly starts working the ball toward the goal.

Kessler steps forward to pressure the pass but fails to win the ball or block the pass, taking him further out of the play. Charlotte bypasses Polster with a through ball, leaving Jones and Romney as the last men to beat. Jones goes to ground but doesn’t win the ball, giving Charlotte a 2-on-1 chance at the Revs’ net.

This is, realistically, 2 or 3 defensive errors in a row. While that’s rare, the conditions leading to it aren’t.

Ahh, now that’s the slow, predictable buildup we’ve come to know and love.

Methodical passing patterns are a legitimate strategy if done with a purpose. The problem with passing without purpose is that it opens you up to turnovers. Blame will rightfully fall on Ravas for losing the ball, but Kessler also nearly miscontrols the ball a few passes earlier. Remember, New England has turned the ball over the 4th most times of any team this season. A lot of that stems from sequences just like this one.

So, did they pass the eye test?

Kinda? This wasn’t the Revs best statistical game of the season, somehow, but they showed improvements.

Their slow, plodding possession leads to a few quality chances for Charlotte. Turnovers remain an issue for this team, especially against the press. Carles picked up anther yellow for shouting at the referee.

BUT when they settled in and began playing with more direct purpose, they were the more dangerous side. There were signs of life!!

They’ll need more of that if they want to rise up the table.
Hopefully, they can build on the momentum this win can bring.

Photo: New England Revolution

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