Not many teams in MLS last year had a turnaround like the Timbers did, but one of them – from the right coast of America surely did. And for those clued in this should not have come as a surprise.
All told, in 2012, the only real piece lacking in New England were strikers – and with the draft coming for 2013 the Revolution signaled that know-how by bringing in four of them; not all of them panned out but the message was clear to the supporters; the Revolution were determined to get back into the playoff mix.
Fast forward partway into the season and two strikers seemed to have stood out more than others; Juan Agudelo and Diego Fagundez to be precise. And by season end Fagundez led the team in goals with 13 while the ever present Kelyn Rowe and Juan Agudelo followed up with 7 each.
But this end of season analysis isn’t about individuals, it’s about the team and how well they performed compared to others this past year.
With that said it would be folly not to recognize that when viewing 2012 compared to 2013 the single greatest difference that stood out were their Goals Scored (39 in 2012 compared to 49 in 2013).
So in considering their team performance indicators, in attack as well as defense, did New England match or exceed other top teams in MLS last year?
Defense first – With Goals Against New England were 3rd best in all of MLS last year (tied with 2 others) at 1.12; a very good improvement from 2012 and while other teams seem to have let in more goals, this year compared to last, New England didn’t.
In looking at their approach it appeared New England concentrated more on defending their final third as opposed to applying significant pressure higher up the pitch; and in recalling that nil-nil draw in Portland I’d offer that they did, indeed, clog their defending third.
All told, New England had the 2nd fewest defensive activities (tackles won, interceptions, clearances and blocked crosses) across the entire pitch in all of MLS; only Philadelphia had fewer defensive activities than New England.
Given that how did they rate in defensive activities within their own defending third?
Oddly enough they were 3rd lowest in total defensive activities within their own defending third. That’s a bit unusual given that they reduced their Goals Against compared to other teams this past year. What I would offer here is they simply got better in their timing and their organization of the back-four and midfield!
Another view point on how they could have gotten better defensively might be taken from how well they performed in possession and control on the attacking third side of the pitch. With that here’s some attacking performance indicators that might shed light from a different angle.
Last year New England averaged ~47% possession per game, with a total number of passes completed per game at ~357 and a passing accuracy ratio of 74,64%. That was 4th worst in possession, 5th worst in passes completed and 5th worst in passing accuracy.
In considering those numbers, for me, that still doesn’t quite explain how those lower team performance indicators helped lead them to make the playoffs and their improvements between 2012 and 2013.
All that remains in reviewing how they performed in the attacking third.
In what might be a stunning team indicator New England, even though they were 4th worst in possession, were 2nd best, in all of MLS, in possessing the ball within their attacking third (26.67%).
In other words even though they didn’t possess the ball as much as other teams they exceeded all but LA Galaxy in time of possession within their attacking third. For me that simply reinforces what Possession with Purpose is all about; when they did get the ball they were 2nd best in taking that possession and converting it into dangerous possession.
Even more impressive was their passing accuracy (67.68%) within the attacking third; only Real Salt Lake, Portland, LA, and of all teams, Columbus, were more accurate with their passing within the attacking third.
So did that improved penetration lead to increased Shots Taken, Shots on Goal and Goals Scored compared to others?
With Shots Taken the answer is no; New England averaged just 11.71 shots taken last year (3rd worst in MLS) – but – they did end up with 4.35 Shots on Goal, and that average was 10th best in MLS. And when viewing average Goals Scored that 10th best in Shots on Goal translated into 7th best in Goals Scored.
As such, I think it is fair to say that yes, their improved team performance, in the attacking third, helped them attain better results – points in the league table.
In 2012 New England just weren’t good enough in scoring goals and translating those goals scored into points in the league table.
With 2013, Jay Heaps led a complete Revolution in exactly the area that was needed.
Bottom line is they penetrated more in the attacking third (improved their team attacking performance without losing traction in defense) and they also improved their individual player striking performance with the maturation of Fagundez and Rowe and the addition of Agudelo.
If not for Caleb Porter’s complete remake of the Portland Timbers the clear favorite, in my books, for second best Head Coach in MLS last year was Jay Heaps!
As 2014 begins to take shape they’ve brought Brad Knighton back to challenge Shuttleworth and they’ve added Paolo Delpiccolo.
I’m not sure, yet, what Paolo adds other than depth in the midfield – he had virtually no minutes last year with Montreal, as a Rookie, even though he was the 27th player taken in the 2013 MLS Superdraft.
In his write-up, on the Revolution team page, Delpiccolo did add value in College by recording a University of Louisville school record 23 assists.
Perhaps his addition might work towards increasing the number of Shots Taken next year?