Armchair Analyst: Revs rebuild at the back | #MLSIsBack in 13 Days

The analytics movement has been, in my opinion, a godsend for the game. Collecting and analyzing data has made it easier to get a clearer picture of how teams play, where they play, what kind of danger they create and how they go about doing it. It's made it easier to understand what makes certain players such effective passers of the ball, and what makes certain strikers so deadly.

On a bigger scale, it's helped in the way we talk about teams. Think of Real Salt Lake in 2016 – a bad team that got out to an inexplicably hot start (5-1-2 through eight games), but never really looked the part. The underlying numbers said they'd regress to the mean, and they did, going 7-11-8 the rest of the way before getting blown up in the Knockout Round of the playoffs. The eye test eventually matched up with the underlying numbers.

But that doesn't always happen. The 2017 New England Revolution almost(*) never went out and looked like an objectively bad team, and when they were on they were on, scoring wins over the likes of Toronto and NYCFC. They had talent and often used it, and the eye test said it should eventually come together.

(*) Those trips to Atlanta and Orlando account for the "almost."

It just never did. Instead it came apart:

As with any team that misses the playoffs, it takes a cascade of failures. The Revs had a knack for unforced errors in midfield and outright catastrophes at the back, they hit the post a ton and they pretty frequently played guys out of position. At no point did they have an adequate-or-above defensive midfielder to lock things down and lend some stability to the proceedings.

But a lot of that stuff can be papered over if you have an above-average goalkeeper, and Cody Cropper was not that in 2017. The eye test said he let in a lot of soft goals, and the underlying stats agree. He was suspect.

With a new coach, a half-new backline and, for the first time in a long time, the sense that there's real organizational pressure for this team to perform on the field, he can't be suspect again. The Revs need to match production to potential, and in 2018 that has to start at the back.


Stay connected: Get access to breaking news, videos, and analysis from North America's best soccer reporters via "This Week in MLS" newsletter or using our FREE mobile app.

New England Revolution gear |

Shop for 2018 Revs jerseys, hats, hoodies, shirts and more.