Breaking down the Revs’ recent turnaround

Special thanks to our friends at Match Analysis for the graphs and statistics used in the following feature.

After the New England Revolution suffered a humbling 5-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on July 2 – unsurprisingly one of the heaviest defeats in club history – you’d have been hard-pressed to find anyone willing to put money on the Revs not only winning their next four matches, but shutting out their opponents for 365 consecutive minutes.

But, of course, that’s exactly what has happened, as the form shown in a confidence-boosting 2-0 win over the league-leading LA Galaxy on July 10 rolled right into the group stage of SuperLiga, in which the Revolution claimed 1-0 victories over Pumas UNAM, the Chicago Fire and Monarcas Morelia.

The sudden turnaround has raised one burning question among Revolution fans and media members alike: What have the Revs been doing differently in their last four games?

As the Revolution’s Staff Writer & Online Host, I’ve been asking myself the same question. Sure, we can all see some noticeable differences in the level of play by simply watching with our own eyes – players are making smarter decisions, the simple execution has been better and the defensive organization has been fantastic. But as someone who is fascinated by statistics (blame it on three years of writing game notes for use in television broadcasts), I wanted to dig a little deeper to see what some of the stats revealed about these recent games.

Luckily, we have access to an incredible program called Match Analysis, which breaks down each Revolution game into the most minute of details. Want to know which Revs player had the most touches last game? Or in what region of the field the Revs spent the most time? What about how many times did the Revs string together five-plus passes? Check, check and check.

The only unfortunate part of this process is that I only have access to the Revolution’s regular-season games, so the last three SuperLiga matches won’t be part of today’s analysis. What I do have access to is the 5-0 loss to RSL on July 2 and the 2-0 win over the LA Galaxy on July 10, so I’ll be comparing those two games to see why the Revs found defensive success against the Galaxy when they didn’t against RSL.

What we’ll be looking at today are the possession statistics for both Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy, or more accurately, how well the Revs were able to limit their opponent’s possession.

The graph above shows how Real Salt Lake performed in possession in the 5-0 victory over the Revs on July 2. The “Team Possession” segment shows what percentage of the time Salt Lake’s possession resulted in a completed pass, a shot, a lost pass or a loss on the dribble. The “Possessions” segment shows how well RSL strung together passes for an extended period, showing how many times they completed one pass, two passes, etc., all the way up to seven-plus passes. For our purposes, you can ignore the “Possession by Position” segment, although it’s relatively straightforward if you understand the graphs on the left.

First, I want to focus on the “Team Possession” segment, which provides us with the following statistics:

  • 67.1 % of the time, RSL possession resulted in a completed pass
  • 4.1 % of the time, RSL possession resulted in a shot
  • 20.0 % of the time, RSL possession resulted in a lost pass
  • 8.8 % of the time, RSL possession resulted in a loss of possession on the dribble

Second, on the “Possessions” segment, we see that Salt Lake had 17 passing sequences of seven or more passes.

Now, let’s take a look at the same graphs from the LA Galaxy game.

Instantly you should notice some remarkable differences between the Galaxy’s possession graph and RSL’s possession graph. Here are the statistics from the “Team Possession” segment.

  • 52.8 % of the time, LA possession resulted in a completed pass
  • 3.3 % of the time, LA possession resulted in a shot
  • 34.6 % of the time, LA possession resulted in a lost pass
  • 9.3 % of the time, LA possession resulted in a loss of possession on the dribble

Meanwhile, on the “Possessions” segment, we see that the Galaxy had three passing sequences of seven or more passes.

ANALYSIS OF THE DATA

The two areas I want to focus on in the “Team Possession” segment are the possession resulting in a completed pass and possession resulting in a lost pass. Whereas RSL completed a pass 67.1 % of the time and lost a pass only 20.0 % of the time, LA completed a pass only 52.8 % of the time and lost a pass 34.6 % of the time.

On top of that, RSL had 17 (SEVENTEEN!) passing sequences of seven or more passes, whereas LA only had three passing sequences of seven or more passes.

Looking at those statistics, it’s not difficult to figure out in which game the Revs conceded five goals and in which they secured a shutout.

CONCLUSION

Depending on your point of view, you could reach a number of different conclusions based on these statistics, but here are my own personal beliefs.

For me, the key statistic is the percentage of lost passes, which is an indicator of how well the Revs were closing down the passing lanes and taking up the right spots defensively. RSL only lost possession on a pass 20.0 % of the time, while the Galaxy lost possession on a pass 34.6 % of the time, meaning the Revs were much more organized defensively against the Galaxy. You could try to argue that RSL is simply a better team than the Galaxy, but the fact that LA has the best record in the league and had only lost once prior to meeting the Revs would seem to indicate that the Revolution’s performance had quite a bit to do with the results.

The other fascinating statistic is the extended passing sequences, with RSL combining for seven-plus passes 17 times and the Galaxy doing so only three times. This is another indicator of the Revs’ defensive organization – they allowed RSL to dictate the game and build a rhythm and flow in their possession, while they prevented the Galaxy from ever maintaining possession for an extended period. The longer a team has possession, the longer they have to open up a defense – and the longer the defenders are chasing and getting tired – so it’s no surprise that the difference between RSL and LA amounted to five goals.

Of course, there’s also the fact that less possession for the opponent means more possession for the Revs, which could help explain why New England was shut out against RSL yet became the first team to score twice against the Galaxy. But I think that’s a discussion for another day …