MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Djordje Petrović: New England Revolution can be springboard to a "major team"

Djordje Petrovic

As the New England Revolution prepared for life after 2021 Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and US men's national team stalwart Matt Turner, they surveyed their options.

The club was linked with potential intra-league candidates – including Canadian international Dayne St. Clair at Minnesota United FC – and was searching abroad. In the spring, an agent put Djordje Petrović's name forward to the club. Petrović was then a little-known Serbian goalkeeper playing domestically for FK Čukarički.

Sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena looked into some scouting videos. Before long, the Revs were working on a deal to sign the rising talent.

“He was one of the easier players we’ve ever brought in because I couldn't have spent more than 3-5 minutes watching him on tape and thinking he could be a real good one,” Arena told media on Friday. “We proceeded very quickly to try and sign him.”

Petrović, who turns 23 on Saturday, has been an immediate success in MLS. He has seven clean sheets in 20 matches for a leaky Revs defense, with four penalty saves (from 12 attempts), the most in MLS. On Friday, Petrović agreed to a new contract extension through 2025, with a club option for 2026, keeping the star under team control for years to come and strengthening their negotiating position whenever European clubs come asking for the goalkeeper.

Better than Turner?

When the Revs reached a deal in January to transfer Turner to Arsenal this summer, it seemed nearly impossible that they could completely replace his performance – particularly at a very reasonable budget charge on the salary cap. Statistically speaking, Turner’s previous three seasons were perhaps the best extended shot-stopping display a goalkeeper has had all-time in MLS.

Turner routinely outperformed his expected goals against (by a lot). American Soccer Analysis’ goalkeeping statistics go back to the 2013 season, and coming into 2022, Turner held the top two marks for goals against minus expected goals against per 96 minutes (min. 1,100 mins), from his 2019 and 2020 seasons. Turner’s 2021 season had been the 11th-best shot-stopping season in league history.

This year, Petrović set a new mark for GA-xGA in league history.

Best shotstoppers in MLS history
Best shotstoppers in MLS history
GA-xGA per 96 mins
1. Djordje Petrović, New England
2. Matt Turner, New England
3. Matt Turner, New England
4. Tim Melia, Sporting KC
5. Steve Clark, Portland

Petrović was named 2022 team MVP for the Revs, both by the fans and his teammates, despite arriving in April and not becoming the full-time starter until June ahead of Turner's departure.

“I was really delighted and surprised to be named team MVP,” Petrović said via a translator.

Petrović has made one appearance with Serbia's national team, and while he’s unlikely to figure into the team’s discussion for the World Cup roster this year, he should get a chance with the program as they transition forward following Qatar 2022.

“He had a really good season and he’s a goalkeeper with great potential,” Arena said. “We’re real pleased to have him for many years to come.”

Transfer abroad?

The expected timelines may not exactly line up between club and player. Petrović, who said he was happy in New England and focused on their future, admitted he wants to return to Europe one day sooner than later, as long as his development continues.

“My goal is to eventually go back to Europe and sign for a major team. … I'll probably stay here another year or six months,” Petrović said. He added he hopes to play for a UEFA Champions League-level team.

Petrović noted he’s developed a lot in MLS, as it’s at a higher level than he previously was in Europe, adding MLS is a “top six or seven league in the world.”

MLS teams have exported numerous big-money goalkeepers to English Premier League sides in recent years, including Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew to Manchester City), Turner (New England to Arsenal) and a deal worth potentially $15 million for Gaga Slonina (Chicago Fire FC to Chelsea).

Nacho Gil to stay?

After wrapping up contract extensions for Petrović and defensive midfielder Matt Polster in the last six weeks, New England have a few more decisions to make as the offseason kicks off in earnest following Sunday's Decision Day trip to Chicago.

One player out of contract is attacking midfielder Nacho Gil, the brother of Revs superstar and 2021 MVP Carles Gil. Nacho was signed in September as a free agent and has played just 128 minutes, but New England hope to keep him in town for 2023.

“We didn’t have a whole lot of time with him,” Arena said. “You can see his experience, his technical ability. We think he’s a player we’d like to see come back next year.”

New England’s season is ending much sooner than planned. After winning the Supporters’ Shield in 2021, and setting a new league record for points (73) in the process, the club never recaptured that form and will miss the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs this year.

“I’m not going to miss the season, to be honest with you,” Arena said. “I look forward to us rebounding in 2023.”