The Revolution actually managed a win on the road, their first in 363 days, against the Chicago Fire on Saturday.

In what was a scrappy, high-energy affair, a long-distance Tomas Chancalay screamer ended up being the difference for the Revs.  The 3-points are desperately needed for New England, who have now collected just 7 points from a possible 30 and sit dead last in the league standings.

To say things haven’t gone according to plan for the Revs this season would be an understatement.  With few exceptions, New England hasn’t passed the eye test, creating few chances in the attack while conceding readily in defense.  The Revolution holds the worst goal differential in Major League Soccer through their first 10 games, with 11 more goals conceded than goals scored.

The team’s performance through April is notable not only for its poor performance but also for its large departure from preseason expectations.

Pundits and analysts (myself included) predicted something of a partial return-to-form for the Revs who, through last summer, sat near the top of the league.  Things fell apart (for good reason), but the team was still mostly the same.

This and some quotes I’ll outline in this piece gave hope for a resurgence in Foxboro.

I don’t intend for this piece to point the finger at anyone specifically.  We, as humans, are all just trying our best. I think there’s room to make and learn from mistakes in sports.  But I do think it will be instructive to revisit what the coaches and front office staff said, how they viewed the season, and how things have since changed.

A Ready-Made Contender

The pathway back to the prominence of early 2023 was, on its face, fairly straightforward.  New England’s talented roster cruised to 2nd place in the league by early summer.

Former league MVP Carles Gil led a powerful attack that included Dylan Borrero, DP Giacomo Vrioni, and a resurgent Bobby Wood to 18 goals (and 7 wins) in their first 11 matches. Furthermore, with the exception of a 3-0 road loss to LAFC, they allowed 1 goal or fewer in all games during that stretch.

Then… well, New England suffered hit after hit through the summer.  First, it was Dylan Borrero suffering a long-term injury against Cincinnati.  Then, coach Bruce Arena was placed on administrative leave.  Then star GK Djordje Petrovic held out of practice, eventually taking a move to Chelsea.  The list goes on and includes more long-term injuries to key players, 2 coaching changes, general locker room chaos, and a severe dip in form.

So, after all that chaos, what’s the obvious solution?

Calm things down.  Regroup.  Solidify the locker room under trusted leadership.  Let injuries run their course.

The players weren’t the issue, but rather, it was all of the extraneous ‘baloney‘ to blame.  Reset with the same players, and you should, theoretically, be good!

And Curt Onalfo seemed to signal his agreement with that sentiment when he returned all but 7 players from the 2023 roster.  Additionally, he hired Caleb Porter (a coach with MLS Cup experience) to right the ship.

He had the following to say at Porter’s introductory press conference during the offseason.

“We wanted a strong leader, we wanted a proven winner, and we wanted someone who wanted to coach our players.”

That last bit is the operative phrase here: “We wanted someone who wanted to coach our players.”

Curt Onalfo exercised 6 player-options (extending their contracts for an additional year), and resigned Ema Boateng and Tomas Chancalay.  This left them with A) a very similar roster to the previous year and B) very little wiggle room to make adjustments.

Porter, for his part, seemed to think the roster was good as is.  He had the following to say at his introductory presser:

“I feel like we’re pretty close to having a very good 1-2 in every position in our depth chart.”

That, plus additional praise heaped on individual players, formed the impression that he was looking forward to leading the roster as it was through the season.

It… hasn’t really worked.

Let’s fast forward to April 27th and hear what Porter had to say after a loss against Miami.

“…the results aren’t what we want them to be, but I have the support of the owners and Curt (Onalfo).  We need some pieces, they know that.  They are aligned with that.”

He has mentioned bringing in upwards of 3-5 players in the summer– a far cry from the 1-2 players he mentioned in preseason.  In fact, he has already made a pair of moves before the transfer window closed on April 23rd, adding Xavier Arreaga and Aljaž Ivačič.

Meanwhile, players he had praised early in the offseason,like Henrich Ravas and Dave Romney, now find themselves essentially replaced—just three months in.

It’s clear now that either the coaching/front office assessment of the talent available was off or that the players aren’t responding to Porter’s coaching style/tactics.

An Aggressive Way of Playing

Let’s talk about those tactics.  When asked in the offseason what Revs fans would see on the field, Caleb Porter had this to say:

“I believe in an aggressive, proactive way of playing. I prefer to decide the game. Football is a cruel sport, so I believe in reducing the element of luck by playing in a proactive way.”

Porter is nothing if not clear with how he wants his team to play: aggressive, exciting, ball-dominant soccer.

He said similar things at his previous coaching stops, and reinforced it during his introductory press conference when he was hired by New England.

“So we’ll have a very clear way of playing, you’ll see that. It’ll be exciting, you know, we’ll decide the game with the ball. We’ll create a lot of chances and score goals.”

Dear reader, you and I are in the future. So we can evaluate whether or not we think that playstyle has come to pass for the Revs.

In terms of ‘deciding game with the ball,’ I have to give Porter credit.  New England possesses the heck out of the ball.  They have the 6th highest average possession in MLS, behind teams like the Columbus Crew and Inter Miami.

It’s worth noting that those teams have had *just a touch* more success with that possession.

Where Porter’s description of his style stops matching the output on the field is the ‘aggressive’/’exciting’/’create a lot of chances and score goals’ portion (aka the rest of the quote).

In terms of aggression, New England plays some of the least direct and slowest-paced soccer in the league.  They play with the 5th slowest direct speed of any team in MLS, per the Opta Analyst.

Defensively, they are slightly more aggressive, allowing an average of 12.2 passes to opponents before intervening defensively.  That PPDA is squarely middle-of-the-pack for MLS, at 13th lowest in the league.

I’m going to address ‘exciting’ at the same time as ‘create a lot of chances and score goals’ because I see them as intertwined.

Here’s the MLS expected-goals-per-match chart from AmericanSoccerAnalysis.

Not exactly creating a ton of chances.

They are floating around ~1.1 expected goals per game and underperforming that to the tune of just 0.7 actual goals per game.  That’s the 4th lowest chance creation and the 1st lowest goals-per-match.

I think we could stand to be a skosh more enthralled.

As to whether or not we can expect the aggression and goals to tick upward as the season goes on? That remains to be seen.

Injuries Continue to Plague the Revs

This is less of a major issue, but I found it a bit odd to hear Caleb Porter proclaim that they could prevent soft-tissue injuries in the preseason.

I haven’t looked into whether there’s any data to support specific practices are effective at reducing those types of injuries, but I thought it was a strange thing to mention, given that it could only end poorly.

There’s seemingly no benefit to saying the following, as Porter did during the preseason:

“But that will be an important piece, as well as how we can minimize injury through our sports science, our awareness of that, and our planning. Again, if we’re good with our planning – you can’t avoid some injuries, but with soft tissue injuries, you can avoid some mistakes.”

This isn’t that firm a stance, either, but given the Revs’ recent injury history and the fact that they play on turf, which is widely perceived to be more conducive to injury, it seemed strange to offer accountability here at all.

Since that quote, Jonathan Mensah, Tommy McNamara, and Dejuan Jones have suffered hamstring injuries.  Against Miami Nacho Gil suffered a non-contact knee injury.

Dejuan Jones’ injury was also non-contact… or maybe it wasn’t if you believe Caleb Porter.

“DeJuan Jones has a hamstring strain.  It’s a grade 3. He did it when he slipped, so it was kind of a fluke. I’ve never seen that happen, actually. It wasn’t a hamstring that you get from a load; it was the first 20 minutes, and he only played 45 minutes in the midweek. So, it was very fluke.”

I don’t think I fault the coaching or conditioning staff here, but it just felt odd to hear a coach preemptively taking some of the blame for soft tissue injuries ahead of a long sports season.
Even if they were all to be “flukes.”


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