Diego Fagundez

New England Revolution 2019 Season Preview by ASA Staff

The New England Revolution began a new era in 2018. Former coach and legendary Revs player Jay Heaps had pushed the team all the way to the MLS Cup Final in 2014, but the team hit a multi-year slide from then on, ending with his dismissal in 2017. Brad Friedel, former Premier League and USMNT goalkeeper, was hired to start fresh and instill a new culture in the club. Friedel’s squads were able to get lots of results early in the year, but New England had a miserable summer, netting two draws and six losses in July and August.

Friedel’s first season in charge brought plenty of off-field stories as well, and for much of the season, the players that weren’t playing generated as many headlines as those who did. But after a year of roster changes and an infusion of attackers, this is 100% Friedel’s team, and the Revolution will look to make a statement that their brand of soccer can make an impact in a league that’s become a bit more top heavy than just a few years ago.

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Setting the Table Week 32: Lee Nguyen's new role, the rise of Ebobisse, and Mutch ado about nothing by Eric Walcott

Welcome to Setting the Table. Each week we take some time to focus on the best chance creators in MLS from the last weekend. If you want to see the best chances that were wasted, check out Lowered Expectations. Here we focus on chances that ended with the ball in the back of the net.

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Setting the Table: Week 15 - The World Cup Edition by Eric Walcott

Welcome to Setting the Table. Each week we take some time to focus on the best chance creators in MLS from the last weekend. If you want to see the best chances that were wasted check out Lowered Expectations. Here we focus on chances that ended with the ball in the back of the net.

This week I’m going to do something a bit different. Don’t worry, you’ll still get to see the top assists of the week (based on the quality of chance they create, rather than the awesomeness of the actual pass, a fact that seems extra evident this week), and you’ll still get gifs of fun goals. That said, with it being the beginning of the World Cup, I’m also going to take a look at some of the players MLS is sending to Russia and what stands out about them.

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Lowered Expectations: Week 6 by Harrison Crow

Welcome to Lowered Expectations, the week six edition! Each week, we go about posting chalkboards and GIFs of the weekend’s best open-play shot attempts that did not quite live up to expectations. We look at each one and not only evaluate the results, but also the process that led to them.

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Lowered Expectations: Week Four by Harrison Crow

Welcome to Lowered Expectations, the week four edition! Each week we go about posting chalkboards and GIFs of the weekend’s best open play shot attempts that did not quite live up to expectations. We’ll take each one and not only evaluate the results, but also the process that led to these chances.

#5 - Mason Toye, Minnesota United, 84th minute, 0.225 expected goals
Assisted by: Ethan Finlay (through ball)
Number of passes in possession: 7

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New England Revolution 2018 Season Preview by Ian L.

Before I get started I feel that I need to disclose two very important things for the sake of transparency. The first is that at the time of my writing, the Lee Nguyen situation has not resolved itself, and that’s obviously going to be a huge factor in whatever happens with New England in the forthcoming campaign. The second thing is that while I know it’s incredibly unlikely, I’m wishing with all of my heart and soul that somehow Lee Nguyen winds up at Roma or Torino for no other reason than I could then write something with the headline “Nguyen in Rome”.  Now that you know my qualifications, let’s begin. 

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2015 ASA Preview: New England Revolution by Drew Olsen

*xG = expected goals, xA = expected assists, xGD = expected goal differential. For more information see our xGoals by Team page.

By Drew Olsen (@drewjolsen)

It is not an overstatement to say that New England had the most up and down season in MLS last year. Just take a moment to look at the season progression chart above. Seriously, I’ll wait.

Here’s another way of looking at it, taken from the league results map:

Let’s put that in perspective. After week 12, the Revs had the 2nd best record in MLS. They were on a five game winning streak that included some of the best teams in MLS. In order, they won 2-0 over Kansas City, 2-1 over Toronto FC, 5-0 (!!) over eventual Supporters’ Shield winners Seattle, 3-5 over Philadelphia, and 2-1 over eventual Eastern Conference winners DC United. That is maximum points over one of the most difficult stretches of their schedule. So what did the team do? It responded by losing eight consecutive games, including losses to lowly Montreal and Chicago. Montreal finished the season with 28 points in 34 games. New England had 22 points in week 12. 

But New England also had 22 points after week 21. Matthias wrote about their roller coaster ride while it was happening, and came to the conclusion that giving the Revolution a 60% chance of making the playoffs was probably too high. Presumably, he would have also said the odds of another five game winning streak were even lower than 60%, so that’s what they did. Twice. If you include the playoffs, the Revs went 12-2-3 over their last 17 games, with one of those two losses being in MLS Cup.

So how good was this team? Was it the explosive and creative team that started and ended the season, or the smoldering tire fire that played during the summer? The answer is somewhere in the middle. While the summer addition of Jermaine Jones may have coincided with their second winning streak, he was not the only reason for it. Our expected goals model showed New England with a 0.01 xGD and a -0.11xGD when the score is tied and both teams are even on players. In other words, based on where they and their opponents were taking shots from, this was an about average team on the whole for the season. But some other numbers suggest it was no fluke. No team possessed the ball in their opponent’s final third more than the Revs last year, (despite them averaging only 46% possession for the season) and no team in the East averaged more shots on goal per game.

Finishing 2nd in the East and making it to MLS Cup is a great accomplishment, one that will be difficult to repeat in 2015. That said, nearly the same team returns, and improvements have been made. The goal for this season is simple: bring some silverware back to Foxboro.

Defense

It starts in back with Bobby Shuttleworth between the sticks. Our xG for last season show he allowed about four fewer goals than the typical keeper would have expected based on the shots he faced, which was good for 6th best among keepers with at least 20 games played. His backup Brad Knighton saw limited time last season, but was about average in 2013 and doesn't figure to challenge for the starting job.

While Shuttleworth proved capable last season, it is the defense upon which Coach Jay Heaps’ system was built. It all starts with former Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves, who finished 7th in MLS with 219 clearances last season, despite playing in only 27 games. With A.J. Soares, who led the team in appearances last season gone to Norway, 2013 number one overall pick Andrew Farrell will transition from outside back to pair with Goncalves in the center. Still only 22, Farrell is loaded with potential. And while he saw some limited time in the middle last season, Heaps is now making the move permanent, and the ability of his defense to prevent goals may depend on it.

On the left will be Revs institution Chris Tierney, who had a phenomenal 2014 season which culminated with his goal in MLS Cup. On the other side, it looks like a competition between Kevin Alston and Jeremy Hall, who comes over from Toronto. Hall mostly played in the midfield for the last three seasons, but based on the preseason Heaps has him pegged at right back. With only two appearances for Toronto last season, Hall will be relied on to find his form again quickly if he starts. Alston is the more likely candidate, despite only 11 appearances last year as he made his inspirational return from Leukemia.

If Farrell can manage his move to the center and the new right back fits in seamlessly, we can continue to expect a lot from this defensive unit. But the loss of Soares and the question marks hovering over Hall and Alston suggest we’re likely to see a dip in quality on the backline.

Midfield

The center of the field is mostly credited for getting New England to MLS Cup last season, and it is unchanged for 2015. Jermaine Jones, coming of his successful World Cup, provided an important defensive cover when he came to the team towards the end of the season. With fewer than 1000 minutes played it is difficult to judge his quality in MLS, but he will undoubtedly be an important defensive piece in front of Heaps’ newly reformed backline. That said, Jones is 34 and doesn't figure to get any younger. He also didn't appear in the preseason after having sports-hernia surgery last month.

Next to Jones in front of the defense will be homegrown player Scott Caldwell, who nailed down his starting spot in the 2nd half of the season. He was dribbled past more than any other player on the team last season (1.2 times per game), so will need to continue to learn to keep attackers in front of him. Still, he was solid if unspectacular last season, and at 23 will only continue to improve. 

While Jones was the big name signing that got the headlines, it was MVP finalist Lee Nguyen that provided the heart and soul of the Revs. He had 18 goals, nine more than our model suggested he should expect, which was the biggest difference in the league. Did he just get lucky or is he just a better finisher than everyone else? The quality of some of his goals imply the latter, but this season may tell us. Like Jones, he hasn't appeared in preseason, but hopes to play in the season opener. If New England are to make another through the playoffs, Nguyen will need to again be at his best.

Teal Bunbury is back, and will again be the third wheel in the midfield. He’ll streak up the right, and create space for Nguyen to operate in the center. Leaving Kansas City seems to have been a good move for Bunbury, and he’ll hope to continue to improve on last year. Kelyn Rowe, the Revs’ 3rd pick in 2012, will slot in on the left side but has shown to be versatile; he played in every midfield position at some point last year.

Daigo Kobayashi, whose 86% pass completion rate was best on the team last year, and the once-touted Diego Fagundez, are the favorites to be Heaps’ first subs off the bench. Both players have impressed in the preseason, and will see their share of time.

Forwards

While Charlie Davies returns, his three goals last year were a disappointment. Heaps knew he needed an upgrade, and in comes familiar face Juan Agudelo. Still only 22, Agudelo will bring a new threat, and hopes to return to his goalscoring ways after playing only 14 competitive games in the last year. His nine goals in 2013 were 3.4 more than his 5.6 xG, so he will look to convert at a similar clip.

Prognosis

The Revolution are the preseason pick by many to return to MLS cup from the East, and it’s not an unreasonable expectation. If the realigned defense works out and this is the same Agudelo that averaged a goal every other game in 2013, then New England will be a force to be reckoned with. Still, they seemed to over-perform their expected goals last season, and a regression to the mean seems likely. The loss of Soares is certain to be felt, and we still don’t know how Farrell will fit into the middle of defense. A playoff spot seems certain, but another top two seed will be difficult to come by.

5 Reasons Why You Should Watch Major League Soccer by Harrison Crow

So you’re excited about the US Men’s National team breaking through the group stage? It may even be that you find yourself liking this whole soccer thing. That’s not surprising; most Americans you talk to that follow soccer, including myself, have had that specific moment that sealed commitment, a moment often from a past World Cup. Whether that be the 2002 World Cup run in South Korea or the 2010 heart break against Ghana that brought you to the “beautiful game," because of the placement that soccer has in the standings of American culture, it’s just common to have these iconic moments associated with the sport. The thing that distinguishes people like us from the rest of the excited US supporters across the nation during this time is that, once the World Cup tournament concludes, we'll still want more.

Well, fear not because there is a serious and thriving league here in the US. If you are or have ever been called a ‘Euro snob’, then you can probably stop reading now. You’re going to argue and just generally disagree with most everything I have to say. So what’s the point? I’m not trolling you and it’s great that you like soccer in Europe. But we’re to talk to these new recruits about soccer in the United States. So here we go. Here are five reasons and examples about soccer in the US, and why you should follow it after the World Cup.

 

1)   Soccer in the United States is actually good.

Once upon a time Major League Soccer was viewed as a retirement league. A place where aged stars came for one last pay day once they were out of their prime. It was viewed as such simply because it was exactly that. It wasn’t that long ago, and because of that there some pretty common misconceptions about MLS.

“It used to be that just CONCACAF [The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football] internationals and retirees came here. In 2014 Brazilians, Spaniards, Englishmen (that just miss out), Australians, Persians (Iran), and Irish all play in MLS, and they also play roles for their home countries in the World Cup, or are of World Cup quality.”

Look, most people that don’t like MLS likely have not watched more than a couple of games; which is silly considering they base all their opinions on those few games. It would be like me basing the entirety of the NBA on a Cleveland and New Orleans games or New Jersey and Phoenix. Neither of which are what we would call riveting match-ups.

The quality of MLS is improving every year. If you believe MLS still to be a ‘retirement league’ or a ‘first division with watered down depth’ you haven’t really invested any time in getting your facts straight. Truth is most people are forming opinions based on a small sample size from years ago.

Looking at numbers produced by Dave Clark and the statistician known by the handle Sidereal, one finds strong indicators that MLS has just continued to improved over the last few years. The league is gaining traction to being near par with some quality European soccer leagues.

2) MLS is on the verge of getting even better and it starts with increased wages.

“Although not often addressed, there's no question that achieving that vision will require increasing MLS player salaries to attract more top players. It's just a question of how fast, and the salaries may need to increase much sooner than 2022.”

“…”

“What could the future MLS look like? Or what would it need to look like for the Don Garber to see his vision meet reality? Let's build the reality. Let's assume by 2022 the MLS will pay their players 50% of total revenues, in line with the current Bundesliga level. MLS won't need to reach revenues of the Bundesliga to be considered a top league in the world, but they will need to be close to be paying quality players closer to market rate. Let's assume that MLS can achieve Don's dream by reaching Ligue 1 revenues but paying Bundesliga salaries. Finally, let's assume that Ligue 1 revenues grow at a modest 4% per year until 2022.”

“…”

“The target MLS revenue growth of 16% is very aggressive but Don Garber has a good amount of low hanging fruit to pick. The new rumored TV deal is for about $100M in 2015 and would increase the 2012 revenues (the basis for these numbers) by nearly 15%. The next TV deal might fetch the same 15% growth or more. MLS has also announced a five-team expansion plan which will bring at least 26% growth as the teams come on. Without doing much, MLS can get almost a third of the way to the goal according to my calculations.”

Okay, I pray that Jared will forgive me for lifting so many of his brilliant words from his article. Go read the whole piece because it’s great. Unfortunately it’s a bit of an involved article, and I just wanted to frame a great thought from his head.

The United States first division is growing, and growing at a substantial rate. That is due to the injection of money and the fact they can start paying players what their worth. This brings in more players from all over the place that can use the league as not just a place to end their career, but really to start it.

A new Collective Bargaining Agreement will be negotiated this year after the season is over. I get that most of us sports fan are sick of labor talks and news of player strikes. I read you loud and clear. The thing that makes this different is simply that the league gets better with increase salary caps for clubs and the increase of minimum player wages. I don’t want there to be a work stoppage, but with the increased revenue from the TV deal that MLS just signed, they owe it to the players and fans to further the cause of soccer in this country.

 

3a) It’s not just about overpaying old guys to get eyeballs, MLS is acquiring young and exciting talent…

The main example you could probably point to for young guys coming into the league is Fredy Montero. Montero has transitioned over the last 18 months from one of the MLS top scorers to being a perennial talent in Portugal. Montero, who spent four very good seasons in Seattle, had the opportunity to make mistakes in a league that pushed his abilities enough even four years ago.

Montero’s arrival was followed by an influx of young international talent.

Darlington Nagbe, for example, is an international and former collegiate star at the University of Akron. He has been a critical piece for the Portland Timbers, is one of the most creative and eccentric talents in all of MLS.

Fabian Castillo, the Columbian winger with plenty of technical prowess, passed up opportunities in Europe for a stable playing environment and a chance for consistent playing time in Dallas.

Deshorn Brown is a high-end prototypical speedster from Jamaica. In his first season with the Colorado Rapids, he lead his club in goals scored and took them to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

For every Montero, however, there will always be a player that just doesn’t work out. The examples are many. In spite of that, MLS has begun the reverse transition from retirement league to what many would call a feeder league. While many, if not most, would not purpose to spend the prime of their careers in MLS (see point: 3b), they can still make a fine career for themselves and good wages because of how the league has grown to reward these players.

More and more young players are coming here in the vein of Montero, now viewing the US as an opportunity to get on the radar of European scouts and develop a pathway to launch a more lucrative career while still having stability and having the chance to prove them in a physical league.

“The increased visibility in M.L.S. is attractive to the players, who also benefit from the league’s financial stability compared with some leagues in their home countries.” (Leander Schaerlaeckens, NY Times)

It’s true that MLS still has more players retire at the end of the year from soccer than will transfer out of its league, but the players that are being transferred out are going to better and better clubs.

 

3b) ...and some of that league talent is even in its prime.

As I said, there aren’t many who look at MLS and think “gosh, I could have a good living in the US in the prime of my career." However there are a few where the stars lined up perfectly and they've chosen to play in America rather than going abroad with their talents. Such examples are:

Diego Valeri, the creative midfielder from Argentina, has been a force since arriving in Portland. And teamed with their young budding star, Nagbe, they're a spectacular pair just to watch.

Juninho, the Brazilian, is often glossed over in terms of the whole league, but his consistency in LA and his ability to play both ways centrally is fantastic. He could be earning much more abroad but the allure of being on an iconic franchise and coached by one of the best US coaches in the business, Bruce Arena, keeps him in LA... for now.

Osvaldo Alonso is a unique case. His heroic escape from Cuba and passport situation limit his options abroad, but believe me... he has them. Yet, he loves Seattle and MLS. He's easily a top-3 midfielder in the entire league and still has a couple prime seasons left in the tank.

Matt Besler, the Sporting KC and USMNT centerback has had chances to go abroad, and yet here he is in his prime. This has happened by way of MLS introducing retention funds to pay for... well, people whom they define as worthy of using it. His salary relative to the cap has been kept manageable because of those funds and he loves playing in Kansas City. He's possibly and probably the best defender in MLS.

 

4) It’s not just about foreign talent; we have a thriving league to grow future US national team talent.

Players like Shane O’Neil (Colorado), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Benji Joya (Chicago) and DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle) are just a few names that play significant roles on their MLS clubs, and they still can't drink legally in this country. You could almost have thrown Will Trapp (Columbus) on this list too, but he busted the beer-drinking landmark at the beginning of the year.

All four have been featured in U-23 matches gearing up for the Olympics, just two short years away, and all look to be prominent members of future World Cup teams. There are others worth mentioning also, but the point here is that MLS is starting to become a facilitator of growing US talent. That’s important.

That doesn’t even highlight players such as Gyasi Zardes or Jack McInerney, who are both big-time names in the league and may not qualify as members of the Olympic roster. It also doesn’t include 19-year old striking sensation Diego Fagundez, who just graduated from high school two weeks ago and just entered his fourth season as a member of the New England Revolution. Sadly enough, he is still technically not a US citizen…yet.

 

5)  There is parity, and possibly more so here than in any other relevant league in the world.

“The three factors above were weighted equally and assigned a standard deviation (either + or -) for each league and each metric. Add them up and MLS is indeed the most competitive league in this 15-league sample. Interestingly, Brazil was not far behind. Of course, there are multiple ways one can measure parity and competitiveness, and this is just one of many approaches.”  - Alex Olshansky

 

“This consistency, when combined with MLS’s overall lower variation, results in a lower proportion of the MLS’s points variation resulting from actual talent differences. The overall impact is that MLS table results are nearly a 50/50 split between talent and luck.” - Zach Slaton

Everyone hates the Yankees and yet wants to be them. It’s one of the greatest catch-22’s in sports. We all hate the winner---unless, of course, it’s us. MLS has developed a single entity program that just doesn’t lend itself to helping clubs that win, but it helps those that do not. In fact it’s worse to finish middle of the pack in the league than to finish at the back.

The league subsidies the salary cap of certain teams based on the order in which the teams finished. Teams towards the bottom get certain stipend (called allocation money) that assists in pay down contracts for cap purposes. Teams at the top also are awarded this money as a means of deepening the team for international competition in CONCACAF Champions League. This enables them to compete against the Mexican League teams that often tend to be superior in talent depth.

This all creates an environment on a yearly basis that creates volatility in casting predictions and makes the whole process rather difficult. A team can be good and have bad luck (see: LA Galaxy) or it can be mediocre with good luck (see: Real Salt Lake, according to Matthias), or it can have best of both worlds (see: Seattle Sounders). The beauty is that teams are never that far out of it, and never that far ahead.

The team that serve as the best example of this anything-can-happen league is DC United. Our readers had predicted prior to the season that they would miss the play-offs and would be generally sit near the bottom. In fact 15% thought they would end up dead last, opposed to the less than 1% that thought they would win the conference. Currently sitting nearly halfway through the season, they are in good position to fight for that very chance. And last year, this is the same club that nearly set all types of records for being anemic and generally pathetic in their overall performance.

There are few, if any, instances in which you can point to a club going from worst to best in a single season. The 1990 Atlanta Braves come to mind for me, but thinking abroad in the world of soccer, that seems improbable if not all together impossible. In MLS, it's a yearly event.

-------

These are just a few reasons on why you should turn your attention to Major League Soccer after the World Cup. I'm sure others could add to this list, and generally speaking I know I missed things that others would include. But in talking with so many people down here in the South, I felt compelled to at least try to provide a this motivation to get involved in a dynamic league right here in the United States.

Top 50 Total Shots Created: MLS Week 13 by Matthias Kullowatz

I've been terrible with trying to keep up with this quantitative metric, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to throw out an updated version in a vain attempt to try to play catch up with the status quo, being that the league is crawling towards the World Cup break. Really, the point of this exercise is to try and capture how often players are creating shots--not just for themselves, but for teammates. It's still pretty simplistic, and by no means the definitive answer to who the most valuable attackers are, but it's a start in moving away from basing value judgements on goal totals.

To be as clear as possible this is not a metric that measures quality or success of the shot. It's purely about opportunities to score. Either by way of putting mates* in position to score through passes that lead to shots--key passes--or to create a shot by himself--assisted or not--are the ways I count shots created.

*Editor loves word choice.

One thing I did do to include the best available and least luck-influenced player was to set a threshold of 700 minutes played. That limit was arbitrary and selected merely based upon the results of compiling the list. For that reason, and no other, you won't see individuals such as Michael Bradley, Gilberto, Brad Davis, Joao Plata, Marco Di Vaio and Kekuta Manneh on this list even though their shot creation rates merited a position in the top 50. I am very high on both Plata and Manneh, and I would love to see both surpass the 600-minute mark and really fly beyond 2,000 minutes this season so we can see what their stable versions look like.

50-33:  The Above Average

RankNameClubPositionMinutesKey PassesAssistsShotsShCShC/90

50Blas PerezDallasFWD8996224323.20

49Nick DeLeonDCMF102612223373.25

48Vincent NogueiraPhiladelphiaMF134817230493.27

47JuninhoLAMF9629323353.27

46Benny FeilhaberKCMF126026317463.29

45Erick TorresChivasFWD11868137463.49

44Jack McInerneryMontrealFWD84411121333.52

43Baggio HusidićLAMF76113116303.55

42Dillion PowersColoradoMF8252139333.60

41Lamar NeagleSeattleMF98710228403.65

40Teal BunburyNEFWD117015330483.69

39Felipe MartinsMontrealMF99615224413.70

38Jairo ArrietaColumbusFWD8189025343.74

37Max UrrutiPortlandFWD7445026313.75

36Justin MappMontrealMF94917419403.79

35Travis IshizakiLAMF73520110313.80

34Andrew WengerPhiladelphiaFWD101211131433.82

33Diego FagundezNEMF10868237473.90

I'll admit there is quite a bit of disparity between Diego Fagundez (#33) and Nick DeLeon (#49). This group does however hold a few names seems that, to my mind, seem to fit together. Blas Perez (#50), Erick Torres (#45), Jack McInerney (#44) and Andrew Wenger (#34) all are viewed a bit differently in terms of success, but, again, this isn't about results-based productivity so much as process-based productivity. We're merely looking at how much they're involved in creating goal scoring chances, regardless of the quality of those chances or where they are located. In that context it makes more sense.

The lone surprise for me in this tier is Justin Mapp. I would have assumed he'd be much higher on this list being that he's been on the few bright spots for Montreal a long with JackMac.

 

32-10:  The Good.

RankNameClubPositionMinutesKey PassesAssistsShotsShCShC/90

32Chris WondolowskiSan JoseFWD8106030364.00

31Obafemi MartinsSeattleFWD124619631564.04

30MichelDallasMF74014218344.14

29Lee NguyenNEMF103224024484.19

28B. Wright-PhillipsNYRBFWD10518041494.20

27Edson BuddleColoradoFWD70710122334.20

26Shea SalinasSan JoseMF9163247434.22

25Sabastian FernandezVancouverFWD65410021314.27

24Will BruinHoustonFWD122120137584.28

23Graham ZusiKCFWD79424311384.31

22Alvaro SaborioReal Salt LakeFWD8695235424.35

21Leonardo FernandezPhiladelphiaFWD70113120344.37

20Giles BarnesHoustonFWD133512251654.38

19Gaston FernandezPortlandFWD75719018374.40

18Mike MageeChicagoFWD7149224354.41

17Harry ShippChicagoFWD89423417444.43

16Marco PappaSeattleMF75112124374.43

15Mauro DiazDallasMF64616214324.46

14Bernando AnorColumbusMF71811025364.51

13Cristian MaidanaPhiladelphiaMF87123220454.65

12Quincy AmarikwaChicagoFWD88015428474.81

11Dom DwyerKCFWD10507050574.89

10Deshorn BrownColoradoFWD9026043494.89

Two other names that are notable here. Edson Buddle (#27)--whom everyone thought was done two years ago when he was traded to Colorado--and Marco Pappa (#16), who was kind of a last minute signing before the start of the season, and who was a serious question mark considering his lack of playing time in the Netherlands.  Now both of these individuals that were stamped as likely non-essentials are two of most involved in the creation of their clubs attack. Lee Nguyen (29) coming in higher than Obafemi Martins (31) makes me laugh, simply because Martins is second in the league in assists and most people still hold that to being the truest or, perhaps, the most obvious sign of team goal contributions. Yet Nguyen has been a catalyst for New England and is simply their most valuable player when it comes to finding the ability to create chances. This is the meat and potatoes of the list.

9-4: The Elite.

RankNameClubPositionMinutesKey PassesAssistsShotsShCShC/90

9Javier MoralesReal Salt LakeMF115441521675.23

8Fabian EspindolaDCFWD108630430645.30

7Diego ValeriPortlandMF111728537705.64

6Landon DonovanLAMF80224225515.72

5Thierry HenryNYRBFWD117023449765.85

4Federico HiguainColumbusFWD108039527715.92

So there that is. There shouldn't be any argument here with any of these names. Fabian Espindola (#8) is the sole reason DC even has a shot at the playoffs. He is going to get every opportunity to be 'the man' in black and red. Landon Donovan (#6) despite his uncanny snubbery from the US National Team is still clearly a major factor for the Galaxy and their attack. Sticking with the theme of decline in skills, Thierry Henry (#5) is still one of the greatest to ever play in MLS.

Oh, and I'm just biding my time for Higuian to get past this "slump" and jet into the MVP Candidate category... because that's simply where he belongs. More on that down the road.

3-1:  The MVP Candidates.

RankNameClubPositionMinutesKey PassesAssistsShotsShCShC/90

3Robbie KeaneLAFWD99019245666.00

2Clint DempseySeattleMF75114243597.07

1Pedro MoralesWhitecapsMF82131438738.00

Clint Dempsey (#2) has had the kind of year that is simply bananas. It's been so crazy that it's somehow eclipsed the Pedro Morales (#1) show that is going on just a few short hours north of him. Sure, these guys take penalty kicks, but that's only a small fraction of their shots generated. If these two take this same show into the later stages of the season I can't think there would be much reason to consider anyone else for MVP.

Oh, I guess you could probably throw Robbie Keane's (#3) name in that list, too. People forget about ol' faithful, but even without his P.I.C. (read: 'Partner in Crime' for those that aren't as hip as I am) for a game or two here and there, he's still been incredible. Currently he ranks third in individual expected goals, proving that he also finds dangerous places to take his shots and doesn't hesitate to pull the trigger. Oh, and despite the angry looks and words AND finger wags, he gets his teammates those same opportunities.

And here's the Excel File for the top 50.

Season Preview: New England Revolution by Drew Olsen

A franchise empathetic to the Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Braves, and every team that chased the Chicago Bulls in the 90's, the Revs have shown over their 16-year history in the league that they are perpetual contenders and forever runners-up---a key member of the 'almost was there' club. That was harsh, but I don't mean to be. The club, with just a little bit of support from Robert Kraft, could have been---and still could be---a super power in MLS. The trio of Clint Dempsey, Shalrie Joseph, and Steve Ralston, and then the often forgotten (outside of New England) prowess of Taylor Twellman dominated the mid 00's period of MLS, and New England reached the MLS Cup finals on four different occasions between 2002 and 2007. Now, after a couple of down years, the franchise has reloaded and found itself a new era of young up-and-comers a decade later. 2013 Review: 51 Points, 3rd in the Eastern Conference, lost to Sporting Kansas City in Conference Semis

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Player Added Position Acquired from: Player Lost Position To
Paulo DelPiccolo M Waiver Draft  Chad Barrett F Option Declined
Brad Knighton GK Trade (Vancouver) Ryan Guy M Option Declined
Charlie Davies F Free (Randers) Tyler Polak D Option Declined
Steve Neumann M/F SuperDraft Matt Reis GK Retired
Patrick Mullins F SuperDraft Clyde Simms M Option Declined
Teal Bunbury F Trade (Kansas City) Juan Toja M Option Declined
Jossimar Sanchez D Supplemental Draft Bilal Duckett D Waived
Daigo Kobayashi M Trade (Vancouver) Matt Horth F Waived
Alec Sundly M SuperDraft Gabe Latigue M Waived
      Juan Agudelo F Out of Contract

2013 opened for the Revs with expectations of justhoping to make the Wildcard round. Really, anything better than finishing above Toronto was the end goal, and while maybe I'm slightly exaggerating the situation a bit, I don't think many thought they would finish 3rd in the East. Jay Heaps definitely sat upon a seat of growing embers, and fans were gradually getting more and more anxious to see progression from their second-year manager after replacing long-term icon Steve Nicol.

2013 will be remembered for many things across MLS, but Revs fans will, perhaps paradoxically, be hard-pressed to think of many good things outside the breakout year of teenager Diego Fagundez---who is being heralded as the foundation of many great, wonderful scoring-type things for the Revs in the future, and one of the future stars of MLS --- and the addition of Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves. Let me be one of the first to throw that "it may be a bit premature" out there. Fagundez is a great talent, but it's probably a bit unfair to place such expectations on an 18-year-old at this point. Scoring 13 goals at that age is going to get you attention, but doesn't guarantee stardom.

NEINFOWhile it's been pointed out that his goal tally was impressive--- partly because it was fifth in the league and not inflated by penalty kicks---I'm not yet convinced that he's bound for all the glory people think. In fact, I'd wager that he won't likely equal his tally from last season for a couple of reasons.

A) An observance I've made over the last few days suggests that he creates many of his own shots at the goal off the dribble. I'm not sure that if he continues this trend he can be as successful.

B)  He creates below-average shots-per-90 minutes rates. Among the top 50 goal scorers, the average shots-per-90 is roughly 2.6. Fagundez averages a paltry 2.0 in comparison.

C) Over half those chances (52%) he fired off hit the target (29 of his 55 shots). While that is above-average, it may be a less-stable metric year-to-year, as is finishing rate. He needs to continue to create a high volume of chances before I'm ready to get on the bandwagon.

Now, there is some hope. The addition of Teal Bunbury gives the Revs someone who is going to take shots at a better-than-league-average clip. This could take some of the pressure off Fagundez, allowing him to be slippery with his electric speed, getting into dangerous locations, and keeping his finishing rate high.

There is also the case that New England has quite the creative midfield core, which only got deeper this week with the addition of Daigo Kobayashi. Adding him to the grouping of Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen is rather intimidating and could help the young attacking midfielder, as he may not have to create so many shots for himself.

I'm not trying to be a wet blanket and 'poo poo' everyone that is drinking the Fagundez Kool-Aid. The youngster is an incredible talent, both on and off the ball, and he'll probably be a large contributing factor to why I watch so many Rev games this year. I do think there could be some undue pressure on him at this stage in his career, and it's crazy to think this club is going to live and die with him.

Outside of Fagundez, the Revs have been stock piling young and exciting talents, such as the aforementioned Rowe, with Andrew FarrellScott Caldwell  and even Dimitry Imbongo. They're a young team that has a lot of helium at this stage. Add to it the top-scoring collegiate talents of Patrick Mullins and lesser heralded (yet equally exciting) Steve Neumann, with the recently acquired Bunbury, and maybe the long-awaited break out season of Jerry Bengston--who seems to save all his goals for the Honduras national team---and you realize 'holy crap' they've got weapons in abundance. Truth is, they shouldn't struggle to find the back of the net this year.

A good indicator for their offensive success last year was, of course, Chris Gluck's Possession with Purpose (PWP Index) stat that ranks them in the upper half (9th) in MLS and 4th among their Eastern conference foes. The loss of Juan Agudelo is a bit disappointing to some of their supporters and certainly with their front office that seemed pretty determined to keep him around against all odds. But with the quality and quantity of the youth available, as well as the off-season additions, this club could very well take a step forward in the attack.

The real question for me is going to be the defense. Jose Goncalves came out of pretty much nowhere to have a lights out season and win defensive player of year honors for MLS. It's not so much a question of whether he'll regress so much as I wonder what the likelihood of the defense as a whole regressing.

The backline should remain, for all intents and purposes, intact from last year. The big question is whether we'll see Bobby Shuttleworth or Brad Knighton between the pipes as a goal keeper. This is an entirely different conversation, and I want to set it aside of the time being. The defense wasn't necessarily great so much as it was a bit lucky in some cases. Sure their PDO as a whole is under the 100 mark, indicating that they have actually gotten a bit unlucky as a whole, but they earned just 95 percent of the shot totals of their opponents, and their overall xGD was negative, which both imply that they not only surrendered more shots than they created but also surrendered shots in more advantageous locations for the opposition. Neither are good things, and both are critical points for the defense. Now those numbers don't tell us that New England will regress or that they will certainly allow more goals than what they last year, but simply what they did produce was not as we expected and that they played above what they likely should have.

Now, as for the Shuttleworth vs. Knighton---WWE Royal Rumble face off---I'm a bit torn. Personally, I know Matt Reis had been there for a decade, but Shuttleworth was---in my opinion---a good keeper, and there was an argument for letting him stay in the net after Reis returned from injury. Now with Reis retired and the Revolution acquiring Knighton, it becomes an interesting battle. Our early advanced indications point to the fact that Brad Knighton, despite only seeing 540 minutes, was a better keeper. Now those numbers are only indicators, and they do come with a clear set of caveats. Neither keeper has enough empirical evidence that one is necessarily better than the other. That said, I expect that Brad Knighton will win the job, and his performances will stick right in and around what we thought of Matt Reis.

Overall I could see really two vastly different scenarios playing out with New England. The first is that they come out like gangbusters. Their defense holds, the youngsters take another step forward, and they overtake New York, who I believe may be somewhat overrated, and possibly even Sporting Kansas City (don't tell Matthias I said that), staying in contention for a supporters shield for most of the year.

The other side is that, with all the significant improvements that other clubs  have made compounded with some struggles by the a young core, it could leave the team in an early hole. Early disappointing results could very well culminate in them missing the playoffs entirely.

The East going to be a dog fight, more so than what the Western Conference is thought to be. Because of that, clubs such as Toronto FC, Chicago, Houston, D.C. United and New England are all fighting for the last three spots, assuming that New York and Sporting play up to their potential. Though, given the strange inconsistencies of both of those franchises, anything remains possible. Youth lends itself to variability, making New England's projection hard to pin down.

Crowdsourcing Results

New England received a wide range of votes, earning at least 10% of all votes for every placement between 4th and 10th in the Eastern conference. Overall, just 34.4% of voters felt that New England was a playoff team.