Voices: Joseph Lowery

Djordje Petrovic: Why New England's Matt Turner upgrade will make it big


Back in February 2022, it was announced Matt Turner was leaving the New England Revolution, heading across the Atlantic to sign for Arsenal in the Premier League. Whoever replaced Turner, one of the best shot-stoppers in MLS history, was going to have huge shoes to fill in net for the Revolution. Frankly, it didn’t seem possible that the Revs would find a goalkeeper who was anywhere near Turner’s level.

And yet, enter Djordje Petrovic from stage left.

Two months after Turner’s move was announced, Petrovic signed with New England. With Turner not moving to – editors, I’m begging you to leave this in – Old England until the summer window, the young Serbian goalkeeper didn’t enter the fray right away. But once June 2022 hit, Petrovic started to show out.

Ever since making his MLS debut against Sporting Kansas City last year, Petrovic has been the league’s best goalkeeper. He made headlines by saving a penalty kick against FC Cincinnati over the weekend, and in doing so made some league history:

Petrovic is a star. He’s been linked to multiple elite European clubs. He’s also helped the Revs move on from the Turner era, which seemed like an almost impossible task less than a year ago. So what makes the 23-year-old so special? Let’s break it down.

Highlight-reel saves

When we talk about Petrovic, the first place to start has to be his shot-stopping ability.

At 6-foot-4, Petrovic is a phenomenal athlete. He has the length, speed and quickness to make acrobatic saves. Still, despite being relatively young for a goalkeeper, he also has top-level positioning, awareness and patience between the posts. We’ll get to some crazy numbers in just a second, but let’s start with the tape.

This save from the Revs’ 1-1 draw with the Columbus Crew earlier this year shows Petrovic’s patience. As the ball comes to Columbus attacker Alexandru Matan in the box, Petrovic stays light on his feet. He doesn’t overextend, even as Matan attempts a shot fake. Instead, Petrovic waits, shading towards the near post to discourage a shot to that part of the goal before extending towards the far post to parry Matan’s shot wide.

Here’s another example of Petrovic biding his time with smart positioning before making a top-level reaction save. Up against FC Cincinnati last weekend, Petrovic stood strong against a quick Sergio Santos strike to keep things level heading into the second half.

New England’s No. 1 is happy to bide his time, but he also understands when to come out to close down opponents. In this clip against Toronto FC from last year, Petrovic rushes toward a free Lorenzo Insigne in the box to limit his time, space and shooting angle. He makes big plays look routine.

What the numbers say

Petrovic’s tape is impressive. His numbers, though, might be even more impressive.

Last year, he was first in the league in goals saved per 90 minutes above the expected rate. He saved almost two-thirds of a goal (0.62) more than expected per 90 minutes, which is an absolutely insane figure. That 0.62 number was more than double any goalkeeper in the league, including Jamaican international and Philadelphia Union star Andre Blake, the only three-time Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. Zooming out to look at last year’s top five shot-stoppers, Petrovic was not only the best shot-stopper…he was also the youngest goalkeeper in the top five.

Petrovic’s 2022 numbers made him look good relative to his peers and relative to every goalkeeper in the MLS data era.

According to American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric, which measures the value of a player’s on-ball contributions, Petrovic’s 2022 season was the best shot-stopping season for a regular starter since Opta started collecting MLS data in 2013. Petrovic added 0.54 goals per game, which put him just above the man he came to New England to replace: Matt Turner. Turner added 0.48 goals per game in 2019 and was top of the charts until Petrovic came along.

This year, Petrovic’s numbers have leveled off slightly, but he’s still been excellent. He’s adding 0.37 goals per game, according to ASA, which puts him second in the league behind Austin FC’s Brad Stuver. Per FBref, Petrovic has been the fourth-best pure shot-stopper in MLS this year based on post-shot xG. He’s currently saving almost a third of a goal (0.32) over the expected figure per 90 minutes. Petrovic is also the youngest goalkeeper in the top five shot-stoppers so far this season by more than seven years.

Whether it’s in open play or on penalty kicks, opposing attackers have real difficulty sneaking the ball past New England’s ‘keeper.

In 2022, Petrovic saved four of the 12 penalty kicks he faced, finishing with the joint-best save percentage among goalkeepers who faced more than three penalty kicks. This year, 25 MLS goalkeepers have faced a penalty kick, but only three have made a save. With his acrobatic, but controlled, save against FC Cincinnati on Saturday, Petrovic is one of those three.

When will he move to Europe?

Soon. The answer is soon.

Turner shined in MLS. Then he moved to the Premier League. What’s stopping Petrovic from doing the exact same thing?

Sure, the Revolution will want to be fairly compensated for any potential outgoing transfer, and the timing has to be right. But under Bruce Arena, the Revs have matured into a club willing to move players for the right price. Turner, Tajon Buchanan and Adam Buksa can all speak to that.

For Petrovic, all that’s left is for the right bid to come along.

We haven’t seen the Serbian shine with the ball at his feet, not least because Arena doesn’t ask his goalkeepers to play a meaningful role in the buildup. But with his long frame and athleticism, it’s easy to make shot-stopping comparisons between Petrovic and someone like Thibaut Courtois. The 31-year-old Real Madrid and Belgium goalkeeper has been at the top level of the game for years. He stands a couple of inches taller than Petrovic, but has great instincts to make smart saves and great explosiveness to make powerful ones.

Whenever a big European club comes calling, Petrovic will be ready. If that’s this season, the Revolution will be eight figures richer. If that’s next season, Petrovic might just have an Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award in his trophy cabinet.

Either way, Petrovic is as close as there is to a must-see goalkeeper in the world right now.