New England's scoring woes during five-game losing streak in part due to lack of quality chances

New England Revolution coach Jay Heaps

Photo Credit: 
USA Today Images

The New England Revolution will be entering their game against the LA Galaxy on Wednesday night (10:30 pm ET, Free Stream of the Week) coming off their fifth consecutive loss. They are still in position to make the playoffs, sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference, but the team has looked nothing like the red-hot side that won five in a row before the World Cup break.

What has happened to the one-time conference leaders?

Namely, the goals have dried up. After scoring 16 during their five-game winning streak, the Revs have scored just two in their last five. The amount of goals they have conceded in that five-game stretch compared to the five games prior has doubled from five to ten, but their scoring drought is the more alarming stat of the two.

One of the first inclinations when studying at a team's goalscoring habits is to see if their shot output has dried up.

It's not the answer to the Revs' woes, as they have actually taken 20 more shots in their last five games as opposed to the previous five. They're not taking shots from worse positions, either – they have taken 36 shots from inside the box in each of their five game spells. When you look at their shot charts from their 5-0 romp over Seattle in May and their 1-0 loss to Chicago last Saturday, there isn’t too much difference.

Revolution shots against Seattle (5/11)

Revolution shots against Chicago (7/12)

So now we have to move on to a more advanced stat, thanks to Opta: expected goals.

This stat has been discussed by soccer writers all across the web but here’s a quick explanation from MLSsoccer.com's Devin Pleuler in his piece about the subject back in March: “Expected Goals is a calculation that is attached to each attempted shot and measures its chance of resulting in a goal.” This calculation takes into account, “a shot’s distance from goal, what phase of play it came from, and even what body part the shot came off.”

This brings us closer to a diagnosis of the Revs' issues. During their winning streak the Revolution would have been expected to score 8.1 goals based on their shot quality. Their expected goals dropped to 6.3 in their last five games. While this is an almost two goal difference, it does not fully explain the 14 goal gap over the two different stretches.

Revolution Streaks
  Goals Expected Goals Difference
Winning Streak 16 8.1 +7.9
Losing Streak 2 6.3 -4.3

Some of the gap could be explained by the amount of “big chances” they have created as a team. These are chances where the player is expected to score, and MLS players finish those chances 53 percent of the time. 

During their winning streak they had eight such chances, and scored five while during their losing streak they have created just two such chances, scoring one. So the fact that they are not creating the golden chances that they were before is at least part of the issue.

One player at the center of all this has been rookie forward Patrick Mullins. The two-time MAC Hermann Trophy winner has started the last nine games for the Revs and has not scored in his last five games after scoring in each of the previous four.

He missed the first win of the Revs’ streak but his minute totals are separated by just 34 minutes over the course of the two five game stretches. Mullins has actually taken the same amount of shots (11) in each of the two streaks but has seen many of his other stats drop off.

Patrick Mullins
  Shooting Accuracy Passing Accuracy Passing Accuracy, Final Third
Winning Streak 66.7% 72.3% 59.5%
Losing Streak 40% 61% 42.9%

We can look at expected goals for individual players as well. Given his chances during the winning streak, Mullins would have been expected to score 1.9 goals. He ended up with four. In the last five games Mullins would have been expected to score .8 goals given the quality of his shots.

Taking all that into account, is Mullins’ inconsistency the Revs’ issue? It's a factor, just like the drop-off in expected goals and big chances created. There is an element of luck to all of this, as there almost always is in soccer, but we can begin to see why New England has been struggling recently, and where they might improve to get back on track.