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The New England Preview, Part II

Last week I lamented how quickly Charlotte played Atlanta for the second time. I should just copy and paste that for New England as well. I really don't understand this scheduling, but what can you do.


When NE came to Charlotte, they were coming off the heels of two blown losses. Charlotte added to their misery with a 3-1 win. It was 3 defeats in 7 days, and things haven't really improved for the Revs since. Coming into the first meeting with Charlotte, the Revs were on 4 points. Coming into this weekend's game with Charlotte, the Revs are on...4 points. Since the Charlotte match, they've only played 2 games--against NYRB and Miami. They lost both.


Now the loss to NYRB isn't the worst thing in the world, considering they sit on 10 points and are tied for 3rd in the East. With that said, this was a home match for NE, so losing the game is not ideal.


Miami is another story. Miami, as I previously touched upon in previews, is bad this year. NE were on the road, but they let 3 goals past them including the game winner in the 88th minute. This trend of giving away goals in the dying stages of games is becoming somewhat of a habit for New England.

 

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

51.1%

11.1

4.4

7 (6.8)

9 (11.6)

9 (5th)

6.55

New England Revolution

54.0%

12.3

4.8

8 (8.1)

12 (9.8)

4 (13th)

6.56

I think there are a couple interesting things to note from these stats. First, including the Charlotte game, NE has given up 7 goals over their last 3 games. That 12 goals against is a bit higher than their xGA, but even if we look at expected goals, they're still at a negative differential. Second, these teams are pretty similar. They're both within a few percentage points of each other in possession, both take a similar number of shots per game, and both have a similar number of shots on target per game. Even WhoScored's team rating is basically the same.


In my first preview, I stated that Charlotte might have been getting NE at either the exact right time--i.e., a reeling team--or the exact wrong time--i.e., a team out for revenge. Well, it appears we got neither: we got a team that is in a downward spiral. That's not to say that will continue, but NE have not looked like they did last year, that is for sure.

 
NE Lineup vs. CLTFC, 3/19
NE Lineup vs. CLTFC, 3/19

There's a bit of chop and change that goes on with New England's personnel and the exact shape of their formations, but for the most part this is a team that wants to play with 2 up top and 4 midfielders. Up top, they've struggled with production, but they have a lot of good midfielders and this allows them to roll with different midfield shapes.


Injury List

As of right now, there aren't too many injury concerns for NE. Matt Turner, their #1, remains out with his foot injury, but aside from him, they are healthy, according to transfermarkt. Rotowire, though, has Gustavo Bou, one of their forwards, out. Bou hasn't played since their second leg against Pumas (right before the first game against Charlotte). According to Bruce Arena (via RotoWire), he is still a week or two away with a leg injury.


In the previous few weeks they have had more people on the list. Starting CBs Andrew Farrell and Henry Kessler were both on the reports previously. Farrell missed the first matchup with Charlotte, while Kessler was out injured until the game against NYRB. Having both of them back is huge for New England. They've both started the past two games, so we can expect that to happen again tomorrow.


NE Lineup vs. NYRB, 4/2
NE Lineup vs. NYRB, 4/2

Attack

This is one of the areas with the most change happening for NE. Adam Buksa--Jóźwiak and Świderski's Polish compatriot--was starting a lot for NE early in the year. International duty and a red card against NYRB have seen him in and out of the lineup recently.


Jozy Altidore has played a lot for NE in Buksa's stead, starting 2 of the last 3. Justin Rennicks has also started 2 of the last 3. Both have one goal on the season.


Altidore is simply not the player he used to be. 2019 was the last time he had double digit goals (11 goals in 22 appearances). Over the past three seasons, including this one, he has a total of 7 goals in 35 appearances. Rennicks is young and has only made 10 appearances for the Revs in his career. His first senior goal came this year.

NE Lineup vs. MIA, 4/9
NE Lineup vs. MIA, 4/9

Edward Kizza is the only other forward on the roster. He did get into 11 games last year for NE, but failed to score. He's yet to see the pitch this year.


Buksa is the biggest threat amongst the forwards who are available and he's an interesting player on a clear upward trajectory. In 2018-19, he started 22 games for Pogoń Szczecin in the Polish league and netted 11 goals. The next year, 2019-20, he got 7 goals in 18 appearances for Pogoń. This brought about his move to NE, where he got 6 goals in 23 games for the Revs. In total for 2019-20, across these two leagues, he had 13 goals in 41 appearances. This doesn't appear too impressive--and you would probably have liked to have seen him score a bit more with Pogoń--but considering a move to a new league, I think this is a really good return. Then last year, he exploded for 16 goals in 31 appearances. He's yet to score this year, but the track record is very clear with him: he will get goals.


There's also nothing flukey happening with his goal returns either. With NE, he has 22 goals and his nxpG is 22.5. Further, he's adept at scoring with both feet and head. Last year, including playoffs, he had 7 headed goals, 3 right-footed goals, and 7 left-footed goals. In 2020, it was much of the same: 2 headed goals, 2 right-footed goals, and 3 left-footed goals. He really is a complete forward. Perhaps the only weakness in his game, if we really want to nitpick, is scoring from outside the box. He's only done it once for the Revs (in 2020). But this isn't a big deal to me. I want a CF who is constantly in the penalty box causing havoc for opposing defenses. That's what Buksa does. Charlotte won't really have to be too concerned with him when he's not in the box, but that's little comfort. Fuchs, Corujo, Makoun, Walkes--whoever is playing CB for Charlotte is going to need to be ready.


It should also be noted that Buksa and Bou have a really good partnership and therefore Bou's absence has been significant for both NE and Buksa. Last year they combined for 31 goals. NE are clearly trying to find a viable plan B, but, so far, that hasn't happened.


Midfield

There are 4 constants in NE's midfield: Tommy McNamara, Matt Polster, Sebastian Lletget, and Carles Gil. These 4 have played in all 6 matches for NE. McNamara has started all 6, while Polster, Lletget, and Gil have started 5. Lletget did start as a forward in their last match, and while I think that was more a function of player availability, I could be wrong.


Others who have gotten into games include Emmanuel Boateng (4 appearances, 2 starts), Arnór Traustason (3 appearances, 2 starts), Wilfrid Kaptoum (2 appearances, 1 start), and Lucas Maciel Felix (4 appearances, 1 start).


The last two midfielders on the roster haven't really played. Damian Rivera has 1 appearance (7 minutes) and Noel Buck has yet to see the pitch. Both are incredibly young at 19 and 17, respectively, so it's not really a surprise that they haven't played much.


Depending on what NE wants to do, any one of Boateng, Traustason, Kaptoum, or Maciel would join the 4 starters. Boateng and Traustason are wide midfielders, while Kaptoum and Maciel play more central. Both Kaptoum and Maciel really get all over the pitch when they play, too.


Gil continues to do Gil things and I will honestly be gushing about him a bit here. Sorry to any supporters who hate when an opponent is lauded (trust me, I can understand that!).


At first glance, it appears Gil might have found a new goal-scoring form, as his goal output is a bit higher than normal. He already has 3 goals on the year (he had 4 total last year). However, all 3 of his goals are the result of PKs (including one against Charlotte during the first meeting). His nxpG is only 0.6. In fact, of his 17 career goals for NE, 8 of them are PKs. Yes, Gil can score an odd goal here or there, but he's not in the team to score. He's in there to facilitate and he continues to do that incredibly well.


Like Buksa with goals, there is nothing flukey about Gil's ability to set up teammates for goals. Over his 4 years with New England, Gil has 25 assists on a 23.5 xA (note: I'm referring to assists as they are considered everywhere but MLS, i.e., I'm not counting "hockey assists" like MLS does).


Everything just runs through him for NE (everything below is via FBref):

  • 80 touches per 90

  • 70 pass attempts per 90

  • 51 passes completed per 90.

  • 87.6% completion percentage for his short passes (5-15 yards)

  • 82.2% completion percentage for his medium passes (15-30 yards)

  • 53.8% completion percentage for his long passes (>30 yards)

What's most impressive about Gil is that he has attempted more medium and long passes than short. On the year, he has 97 short passes attempted, 146 medium passes attempted, and 117 long passes attempted. This is not new for him either. Last year he was at 511 short passes attempted, 652 medium passes attempted, and 451 long passes attempted. He's such a daring passer who is looking to make the incisive pass rather than the safe one. He already has 58 progressive passes on the year (2nd in the league). He leads the league in passes into the penalty area (20). He's at or near the top of many other categories, including carries into the final third, progressive carries, progressive carrying distance, key passes, passes into the final third, and others I have not named here. It's one thing to try the difficult pass; it's another to actually be successful at doing it, which he consistently is. Plus, he can create dangerous opportunities by himself through his dribbling ability (73.7% success rate on 19 attempts). He's just a terrific player who is arguably be the most dangerous creator in the league.


So, how did Charlotte deal with him the first game? Well, they didn't really.


According to SofaScore, he still got 88 touches, completed 87% of his passes (on 52 attempted passes), created 2 big chances, had 4 shots on goal (one off the woodwork), and of course had one goal off the PK. Frustratingly, the numbers are different on FBref, which has him at 79 touches and 73.9% pass completion (on 69 attempted passes).


Regardless of the source, though, the point is Charlotte wasn't really able to take Gil out of the game as his numbers were pretty similar to other games. The only thing that jumped out to me was, according to FBref, he had his lowest short passing completion of the year against Charlotte (71.4%). That is significant, as he hasn't been below 85% in any other game. I looked to see if there is any correlation between him having a low short passing percentage and NE's wining or losing but didn't find one. Last year, of his 5 lowest short passing percentage games (ranging from 62.5-76.5%), NE was 4-0-1. To go back to the Charlotte match, he was also under his season average for medium pass completion (79.3%). Though, he did have his best long passing completion on the year against Charlotte (72%; 18 of 25 long passes completed!).


Honestly, I'm not quite sure how to interpret this. I don't know if this low short percentage and high long percentage is a result of the way Charlotte defended him (e.g., taking away his short options and forcing him long) or if this was simply an off game for him with his passing. Without re-watching the game (and unfortunately I didn't have a chance to do that this week), I can't say for certain. What does worry me is that he didn't have Buksa during the first matchup. Our central midfielders will need to deal Gil. I don't really know how (or if) you can effectively take him out of the game, but taking his time away on the ball might be a good start. I honestly don't think you can stop him, which is why MAR gets paid the big bucks to figure that out and I don't.


Defense

In the backline, New England finally have their first choice pairing of CBs healthy in Kessler and Farrell. Kessler is good in the air, while Farrell is terrific in ground duels. Both are good passers, sitting above 84% completion rate. They're both outstanding in their short (91%+) and medium (92%+) passing. Even with their long passing, they're above 70%, which is perfectly acceptable for center backs.


DeJuan Jones contineus to impress me. During the first preview I looked into the Rev's fullbacks, so if you want a bit more infomration about them check it out here. Suffice it to say, I remain a big fan. He is adept at both getting forward and maintaining his defensive duties. Here's the quick and dirty about him (below are comparisons to other fullbacks):

  • 88th percentile for assists

  • 74th percentile for xA

  • 83rd percentile for shot-creating actions

  • 95th percentile for passes attempted

  • 58th percentile for pass completion

  • 87th percentile for progressive passes

  • 97th percentile for progressive carries

  • 76th percentile for dribbles completed

  • 75th percentile for pressures

  • 62nd percentile for interceptions

  • 89th percentile for blocks

  • 74th percentile for clearances

I'm not saying he's a perfect fullback. His pass completion, for instance, definitely leaves something to be desired. However, overall these numbers are really impressive. A modern fullback has to provide both defensive cover for his center backs and offensive support--Jones does both of these things really well. On the other side, chances are we see Brandon Bye or Ryan Spaulding. Bye has also been impressive to me this year. I'm not quite sure why he didn't start last week, as I thought he was a first choice fullback for them. Spaulding is less impressive to me. I've already gone pretty long with this preview, so I'm not going to look into it. Unless it's injury related, though, I don't see why he wouldn't play. I might be missing something though.


Other options in defense include Jonathan Bell (CB), Omar Gonzalez (CB), and Adolph Joseph DeLaGarza (fullback). None have been particularly good and I believe the players above are first choice.


New England does like to get their fullbacks involved in the attack, so there could be space to exploit behind them (Jóźwiak instant impact?).


Goalkeeping

As previously said, Turner continues to miss games for NE thorugh injury. Earl Edwards, Jr. had been starting in Turner's absence until the NYRB match. Against NYRB and Miami, the Rev's have started Brad Knighton. Knighton is 37 and has been around MLS for a long time (he was on NE's roster way back in 2007, though he never played). He went to Philadelphia and Vancouver for 2 years each, starting in 2009. He returned to NE in 2014 and has been there ever since. He's never been a starter in MLS with his most starts coming in 2016 (13 starts).


Neither Edwards, Jr. or Knighton have been particularly impressive. Edwards, Jr. had given up 8 goals before Knighton took over. Knighton's given up 4 in his 2 starts. Both have save percentages in the 50% range.


Both Edwards, Jr. and Knighton also have a negative PSxG+/- for the year (see the glossary for more information on PSxG+/-). Neither have a ton of history to look at to see if this PSxG+/- is fair, especially Edwards, Jr., but Knighton does have a little. He's usually in the negative for PSxG+/-, including last year when he had a -1.0 PSxG+/- in 6 starts. In the 2 years he was in the positive, his PSxG+/- was +0.5 in 7 starts (2018) and +0.9 in 1 start (2020). I don't think we should really put too much stock into 2020's PSxG+/- since it was one game. Basically, there's a reason Knighton--and Edwards, Jr.-- is a career backup.


Ideally, you would like Charlotte to pepper the goal with shots and test Knighton or Edwards, Jr. Of course, Charlotte struggles with shot creation, so we'll have to see if they can accomplish this.


Conclusion

Charlotte are up for a test. Yes, New England has been struggling, and a defeat against Miami is very worrying if you are a Rev's fan. However, they are also getting healthy, especially in their backline. Charlotte had a little luck in the first game by not having to play against Buksa, Kessler, or Farrell; I don't think they'll be that lucky again.


I expect New England to come out and try to dominate possession against Charlotte. Defensive shape and commitment will be vital if Charlotte hope to get anything out of this game. If Jóźwiak is truly healthy and available, I think this would be a fantastic game to start him. Charlotte are going to need to hit New England on the break. Having the pace of Świderski and Jóźwiak up top would help with this.


I'm not quite sure how I want to incorporate Jóźwiak, as one of our midfielders or Ríos will need top be sacrificed. I'm still an advocate for a 4-2-3-1 with Świderski up top, Bender, Jóźwiak (if healthy), and Alcívar behind him. I know many are already convinced that Ríos has to play in order for us to get the best out of Świderski. To that I would say three things:


  1. We're still way too early to know if that is the case. We just don't have the data to definitively say that Świderski can't play alone up top. I personally think he can.

  2. People are conflating our wins and Ríos playing with him actually making a huge difference. I'm not saying he hasn't been a contributor, however, I remain unconvinced he is doing anything particularly impressive or allowing Świderski to do anything he couldn't do otherwise. This team is not attacking well, with or without Ríos. They continue to lag behind each opponent in xG. Ríos is also a guy with 5 career goals in 37 MLS appearances. He's 27 years old. I'm just not sure why so many fans are expecting or thinking he is a must start. I kind of think he is who he is at this point and nothing in his history shows me a player that is undroppable.

  3. To further add to this point: our xG for games that Ríos has started has been 1.3 vs. NE, 1.0 vs. Cincy, and 0.9 vs. Atlanta (second game). Our xG for games he hasn't started: 1.2 vs. DC, 0.5 vs. LA, 1.0 vs. Atlanta (first game), and 0.7 vs. Philadelphia. Um, that's a higher xG when he didn't start against Atlanta than when he did. The more important point I am trying to make, though, is this team doesn't create good chances. This lack of chance creation is not solely, or even mostly, Ríos's fault, but he's also not doing anything that is clearly helping us alleviate this issue.

I know if feels like I'm kind of piling on Ríos and that's not my intention. I think he can be a useful player for Charlotte, I just don't think he's done anything to be considered a must start. I actually don't think he should be a starter once we have more poeple healthy. I certainly would not keep Bender, Franco, Alcívar, or Jóźwiak out of the lineup in order to keep him in. Please don't hate me.


Back to New England and what I would do in the midfield: I'd like a double pivot of Jones and Bronico for this game, even though I'm a huge fan of Franco. I think the defensive stability of Jones would help with Gil and Buksa in this match. I don't think that this will happen.


I'm not sure what lineup I expect from MAR and I think a lot depends on how they feel Jóźwiak has progressed in both training and with his injury. Does he start or come off the bench? I think if he starts, we go back 4. I think if he's a sub, we could do a back 5 with 2 up top. I just know I haven't been able to accurately predict MAR's lineup choices, which is why I talk more about what I'd like to see rather than what I expect to.


In my April preview I thought that if Charlotte could get 3-4 points during the month, they'd be in good shape and we should be happy. I still believe that. The good news is we have 3 points already thanks to the win versus Atlanta. I'm not saying a point or win is impossible in this game, but I'm not optimistic.


Prediction: New England 3 - Charlotte 1*


*I reserve the right to throw this prediction away if Jóźwiak plays and has the impact we are all hoping he will have (that hope may also be a bit too optimistic and naive but I will continue to believe!).










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