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  • Socks at Half-Mast

The New England Preview

Charlotte is still looking for its first points of the season, but I don't think the difficulty of the beginning schedule for this team should be ignored.

  • Game 1: Away to DC (currently 4th in the East)

  • Game 2: Home to LA Galaxy (currently tied for 1st in the West)

  • Game 3: Away to Atlanta (currently 5th in the East)

  • Game 4: Home to New England (currently 9th in the East, but the defending Supports' Shield winners)

On Saturday, New England comes to town and, well, it hasn't been going great for them in their last two games. Over the weekend, they absolutely blew a game, losing 3-2 to Real Salt Lake. RSL came back from a 2-0 deficit to win, scoring all 3 goals after the 78th minute. Meanwhile, in Champions League, the Revs took a 3-0 advantage into the second leg of their matchup with Pumas. Pumas went on to win the game in penalties.


2 games. 2 losses. 2 blown leads. Either Charlotte is facing the Revs at the exact right time or we're the first stop of the revenge tour.

 

Here's how the teams stack up so far (note: these are stats solely for the league; Champions League information is not included):

Team

Total Possession

Shots per game

Shots on target per game

Goals for (xG)

Goals against (xGA)

Points (Standings Place)

WhoScored Team Rating

Charlotte FC

​47%

9.3

5.0

1 (2.4)

6 (5.3)

0 (13th)

6.36

New England Revolution

47.8%

13

5.3

5 (3.7)

5 (6.1)

4 (9th)

6.77


The first thing that jumps out is there is a bit of luck in goals for and against (it's not crazy though). They're outperforming their xG and have been slightly lucky with their xGA.

 

Let's talk about their game against RSL; it was a weird one. This is what Carles Gil had to say:

“It's impossible to play football today,” the reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP award winner told the local broadcast crew. “I cannot talk with my teammates, I cannot run, I cannot do anything. It's impossible, this is not football. Stop the f---ing game. We play tomorrow or any other day, I don't care. This is not football, it's impossible. Try to make long balls, the wind, it's impossible. I don't understand nothing.”

What he's referring to is the very snowy conditions in which the game was played (see the post pic for reference).


I watched this game and, from a neutral perspective, it was fun. During most of the first half the snow was coming down hard and it was difficult to see the players (especially the RSL players who were in white). Field crews were barely able to keep up with the clearing of the lines. It was a scrappy first half, as you would expect in those conditions. However, at half, the Revs were up 1-0. After 62 minutes, they were up 2-0. They lost the game by giving up 3 goals all after the 78th minute. By the second half, though, the snow had stopped. There was still quite a bit of it on the field, but they had completely cleared both penalty areas and the corner areas.


Gil insists he would have said the same thing and been this upset even if New England had won, but count me skeptical. If the snowy conditions had lasted the entire game, maybe there is some merit to this, but it didn't. They didn't lose this game because of snow, they lost it cause they couldn't keep a 2 goal lead with 12 minutes left in the game.

 

Due to New England playing in the Champions League, their lineup against RSL was a heavily rotated one (note: Gil and Sebastian Lletget, maybe their biggest names, both made their way onto the field against RSL as subs). New England had the 2nd leg of the Champions League matchup on Wednesday. Below are their two lineups against Pumas and their lineup against RSL. Note that the only change in their Champions League lineup is at CB, where Bell came in for Farrell, who was out injured (more on that below).

NE Lineup
NE lineup vs Pumas, 3/9

To state the obvious, New England was trying to win the Champions League. As a result, I think it's safe to say their Champions League squad is more reflective of their preferred Starting XI.


If they had won the second leg of the Pumas matchup, I think we would see a heavily rotated squad, as they did with the RSL matchup. Now, I'm not so sure. After two bad defeats, this team may want to take this opportunity to flex their muscle against a side still looking for its first points. And, regardless of these last two results, this team does have plenty of muscle to flex.

NE lineup
NE lineup vs. Pumas, 3/16

Attack

New England is flexible in its attack. Against Pumas, they played 2 up top in Bou and Buksa. Against RSL, they reverted to just one striker up top (Buksa).


I watched the first leg of Pumas and the RSL game and Buska is dangerous. With16 goals in 31 appearances last year, he has yet to score this year in the league. He did have 2 against Pumas in the first leg, though. And in both games, he was constantly popping up in dangerous areas.

NE lineup
NE lineup vs. RSL, 3/12

He's not the most natural finisher to my eye and probably should have more goals (he has 3 big missed chances on the year). With that said, his movement is excellent and he was constantly making runs into dangerous areas. Charlotte's CBs will need to be aware of him (like they were of Martinez in Atlanta). Buksa started the RSL game after the first leg of the Pumas tie, so I would expect him to start against Charlotte.


Bou also has yet to score this year, but he had 15 goals in 30 games last year, so whether he starts or is an option off the bench, he's one to watch. Additionally, New England signed Jozy Altidore, who has come off the bench in 3 games this year. Altidore is definitely not what he once was with only 7 goals over the past 3 seasons (2 in 2020, 4 in 2021, and 1 this year). However, he is vastly experienced and if the Revs are looking for a goal, him coming off the bench into the forward or wide areas is a distinct possibility.


Midfield

This is where New England's squad really shines. They are deep in the midfield.


Gil is the headliner here. The 2021 MLS MVP, Gil is coming off a season in which he had 18 assists and 130 chances created. He will chip in the odd goal (4 goals last season), but his vision and ability to make a killer pass is what he's in the team for. Additionally, he will pop up all across the field. There is a slight preference to the right side with him, but really he's a player who is constantly looking to get on the ball, wherever the space is. So far he has 1 goal and an assist to his name.


Lletget has come over from the LA Galaxy this year and has been off to a good start (although he did miss a penalty against Pumas). Already with a goal and an assist, he is starting to find rhythm with Gil. If these two continue to progress with that chemistry, the league as a whole will be in trouble.


Other midfield options include Tommy McNamara, Matt Polster, Lucas Maciel Felix, Wilfrid Kaotoum, Emmanuel Boateng, and Arnór Ingvi Traustason (all have started games). Again, it's very difficult to discern what New England might do with their lineup coming off of the Pumas defeat, but even if they decide to rest Gil and/or Lletget, they still have players like Traustason (7 assists last year) and McNamara (6 assists last year) who can make things happen.


Polster and Kaptoum are more defensive minded, while Maciel can do a job there, but will also look to get forward a bit. Polster, in particular, impressed me during the first leg against Pumas. He was an excellent screen for the backline. This team can leave space when they push forward, but Polster was consistently covering ground in the middle of the field and dropping into defense to provide cover. Time and again he was there to snuff out dangerous passages by Pumas.


McNamara and Boateng are more attack minded. McNamara likes to drift into wide spaces and Boateng will get forward along the left.


It's honestly anyone's guess as to who will start this game, but I imagine that Gil and Lletget will find their way onto the field regardless. The bottom line is that whether they start their best midfield options or rotate a little, there isn't a huge drop-off (with the exception of whoever would come in for Gil).


Defense

Defense for this group hasn't been stellar. They've conceded 8 total goals over 5 games this year (5 goals in 3 games in the league). The most obvious reason for this has been injury. A big miss for the team has been Henry Kessler who re-injured himself during the Dallas game (a recurrence of a knock from preseason). He hasn't played since.


Stepping in for Kessler has been Omar Gonzalez. Coming over from Toronto, he has looked his age (33). Against Pumas in the first leg, he was exploitable the entire game. The years have caught up to him in the pace department and he was getting beat often. His passing out of the back was also not very impressive and, at times, really sloppy. If Gonzalez plays, I would love to see us test him with the press and by putting some balls over the top.


Other options at CB include Andrew Farrell and Jon Bell. Farrell has played well this year, but he was out injured for the 2nd leg of Pumas. He's a solid passer and very good defender and, if fit, would be a big return for them.


Bell has been less good, though he's only played one game. In that game, he was at 60% for his passing and was dribbled past a couple of times. The Bell/Gonzalez pairing proved disastrous for New England in the Pumas second leg and, if Farrell is still out, Charlotte should look to exploit them.


Their fullbacks include DeJuan Jones, A.J. DeLaGarza, Ryan Spaulding, and Brandon Bye. Bruce Arena likes to push his fullbacks up the field, regardless of who is playing, and it leaves space in behind. The fullbacks are an essential part of attack for New England, providing width and overlaps. Look at these heat maps:


DeLaGarza heatmap
DeLaGarza heatmap via SofaScore
Jones heatmap
Jones heatmap via SofaScore

Spaulding heatmap
Spaulding heatmap via SofaScore


Bye heatmap
Bye heatmap via SofaScore





















In the first leg of Pumas, Jones was hugely impressive. Pumas couldn't handle him. He was constantly getting down that left side with pace and putting really good crosses in.


We can and do see a difference between the first choice fullbacks and second choice ones. DeLaGarza and Spaulding, who are second choice, aren't quite as good getting forward as Bye and Jones (they're by no means bad though). They still do push up, but either they're not quite as skilled at it as Bye and Jones, they are both just a bit more defensive minded, or some combination of the two.


Either way, the fullbacks will leave space behind when they push up. Coupled with the defensive struggles of Gonzalez and Bell, there are spaces to exploit. When Charlotte wins the ball, they should be looking to find runners and quick passes into those spaces between the CBs and the sidelines.


Goalkeeping

First choice goalkeeper and USMNT starter Matt Turner is out injured with a foot problem. Earl Edwards Jr. has stepped into the sticks for New England in his stead. He's not necessarily been bad, per se, but, before this year, he hadn't made an appearance in MLS since 2018 with Orlando. This lack of playing time over the past few years has shown. He's only saving 58.3% of the shots against him and he's giving up 1.5 goals per game. He does have good size at 6'3", but him playing instead of Turner is very much a good thing for Charlotte.


Conclusion

New England aren't in a great spot right now. After the Pumas first leg, this preview was set up to look very different. But with 2 consecutive losses where multi-goal leads have been blow, dare I say I feel a bit more optimistic? Yes and no.


Even with their struggles, this is a good team. They won the Supporters' Shield last season and they have a ton of talent. Charlotte may be facing them at a good time, but this team is still very good. Gil--whether he comes off the bench or starts--will be a big issue for Charlotte. He's such a tough opponent and his ability to find space all over the pitch makes him difficult to mark. Backed by players such as Lletget, Buksa, Bou, Polster, and Jones, this team doesn't lack for talent, especially when attacking.


It should also be noted that in their first leg against Pumas, their team pressing during the first half was outstanding. Pumas grew into the game in the second and found their footing, but for the first 45 minutes they could barely get out of their own half. It was very reminiscent of the first half Charlotte had against Atlanta. Whether through tactical changes or the team tiring, the press wasn't as good in the 2nd. Pumas was clearly trying to play out from the back and, in the first half, had to abandon that to go long. We know Miguel Ángel Ramírez likes to play out from the back, but Charlotte needs to be careful.


Playing a low block and attempting to hit them on the counter (especially with balls behind the fullbacks) might be the best way for Charlotte to get something out of this game. Just like Atlanta, there are goals to get against this team. Just like Atlanta, too, this Revs team can score. Can Charlotte keep up?


Prediction: Charlotte 2 - New England 2

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