By Sean Steffen (@seansteffen)
New England continues to thrive with a balanced attacking core which balances veterans with young talent.
Last year the Revs had an expected goal differential (xGD) of 0.11 but a GD of 0.03, which is why they finished lower in the table than many predicted. This was mainly to do with a shaky defense which unperformed their xGA by 0.16 goals a game.
This has a great deal to do with their attacking set-up with less emphasis on midfielders tracking back. New England's attacking posture continues to be most the most aggressive in the league, seeing more possession in the final third than any other team over the last two years. While such a style is fun to watch, it puts enormous amounts of pressure on their center midfielders to absorb pressure, which is partially why Jermaine Jones instantly transformed that team in 2014, providing both defensive cover, and a passing backstop which brought players back into the midfield more often to receive the ball. His importance to the team in 2015 was significantly less, however, and the addition of Gershon Koffie should help to bring back some of the magic of 2014.
As I mentioned before, New England relies heavily on a core of good players rather than any one or two great players. This makes them a fun team to watch, but also incredibly frustrating if you are interested in the development of players like Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo or Kelyn Rowe, all of whom get rotated quite a bit. Having too much talent to field at once, however, is ultimately a good problem to have.
Spoiler alert, we’ve already highlighted most of them, but let’s go into why some of these guys are so effective.
Lee Nguyen is one of the only true number 10’s this country has ever produced and he’s an absolute pleasure to watch. While his stats were insanely inflated in his breakout year in 2014 (over performing xG by a whopping 9.35goals) he remains an incredible talent and the driving force of New England’s attack. He’s silky smooth on the dribble, making him excellent at creating shots for himself, but he also possesses notable passing vision, making him excellent at creating shots for others. He is a complete player and it’s no wonder he is starting to find his way into the national team picture.
Diego Fagundez: Fagundez signed with the league at the age of 15 and has somehow managed to stave off the Freddy Adu curse. 2015 was a rough year for Diego, having to really fight for his starting spot for the first time, but he came out the other end stronger for it, and ended the season a regular fixture in the lineup once again. At 0.4 goals plus assists per 90, Fagundez had an excellent year, outperforming his xG+xA. Whether this is sustainable is anyone’s guess, but he’s definitely a player to keep your eye on in 2016
Kelyn Rowe : Rowe is an impressive 24 year old with the versatility to play as a holding midfielder and an attacker. He’s smooth on the dribble and is especially adept at delivering key pass when cutting inside.
Juan Agudelo: Agudelo may be the biggest wild card in the league. His per 90 numbers are always super impressive, however, he simply doesn’t get starting minutes to prove whether he can do this consistently or if he’s best used as a super sub. Agudelo has an exceptionally good fist touch, and knows how to work a shot for himself as well as any striker in the USMNT pool. If given enough of a chance, Juan can absolutely shine in this league.
With so many key pieces returning, New England is set up nicely to have a great year in 2016 and should challenge for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. While they still may suffer from their overly attacking posture at times, it’s also this sort of brash, unapologetically offensive play that makes them one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the league.