When hired this past winter, New England Revolution head coach Jay Heaps inherited a skeleton squad of players who had just gone through one of the worst seasons in franchise history. It was a team criticized for its lackluster technical ability and dreary defensive style, accused of playing for a draw or playing not to lose more than once in the last few seasons.
Heaps immediately set about to change that culture, and in his first press conference he coined a phrase that the organization has used to spearhead its 2012 marketing campaigns: "We're going to attack."
Thirteen games into 2012, the Revs have certainly done that, at least in comparison to their 2011 numbers. Not only has the team already equaled its win total from the entirety of the 2011 season - New England's 2-0 victory over Chicago two weeks ago was its fifth of the year - but a comparison of statistics through thirteen matches shows that Heaps' Revolution is a far more offensively aggressive animal than the staid and stale Revolution that featured for Steve Nicol last year.
Apart from wins, the most obvious statistic showcasing New England's newfound attacking mentality is goals. This season, the Revs have found the back of the net 18 times for a 1.38 goals per game average. Compare that to last season, where the Revs only scored 10 times in 13 games for a futile 0.77 goals-to-game ratio.
The statistical analysis goes much deeper than that, however. After all, it could just be that the Revs this season are luckier than last season, or that their opponents have dropped in quality, or even that one or two players (Saer Sene, perhaps) just happen to be more clinical than last season's goalscorers. A cursory glance beyond goals and assists proves that this is not the case.
The Revs are a better passing team this season, averaging a 74.9% completion rate compared to last season's 71.9%. They've also attempted more passes (5532 compared to 4302 last season), suggesting a faster-paced match with more ball movement. The fact that opponent's passing attempts have also gone up (5838 from 5379 in 2011) lends further credence to the idea that New England is playing higher-tempo matches with fewer wasteful long balls, creating more touches on the ball and more passing opportunities for both sides.
New England is also taking chances and ripping shots with far more alacrity than in previous seasons, outpacing 2011's total shots numbers by a wide margin, having uncorked 166 total efforts against 134 from last season. More striking, however, is the improvement in shots on target: last season the Revs only put 42 efforts on frame through thirteen games. This season, 78 attempts have been goal-bound, meaning that New England players are beating opposing defenses and testing keepers, which can only result in good things.
Those shooting numbers create good-looking averages for the Revs going forward. In 2011, the team was scoring on 23.8% of their shots on target through thirteen matches, compared to 23.1% this season. That isn't an improvement, but the sample size has nearly doubled from last season. Furthermore, that is compared to an accuracy percentage (SoT/shots) of 31.3% in 2011, which has changed to 46.9% in 2012.
With almost half of their efforts landing on target, this season's overall goals-to-shots percentage of 10.8% seems almost unsustainably low; the figures point to New England probably scoring more goals at a better rate going forward if they can keep up this onslaught on net. In 2011, by the way, the Revs' overall accuracy percentage was 7.5%. That, when coupled with their 31.3% SoT/shots ratio, suggests that most New England goalscorers were more lucky than good last season.
Finally, comparing these shot ratios to the rest of the league, New England appears due for more goals if they maintain their attacking play. Their 23.1% goals-to-shots-on-target ratio is tied for 16th in the league, but in the other two categories (SoT/shots and goals/shots) they are firmly in the top half. In fact, their 46.9% accuracy rating (SoT/shots) is far and away the best in the league, with New York and Chicago tied for 2nd at 38.8%. Overall, the averages for the league in those categories are 30%, 34.8%, and 10.1%, respectively.
The league's top teams tend to perform better in these categories, and indeed the only anomalous category for the Revs is the first, where they are far below the mean. Consider this: if New England was converting on 30% of its shots on target, they would have scored 23-24 goals so far, putting them fourth in the league in that statistic. With the sheer accuracy and number of times the Revs are getting the ball on frame (first in the league, by the way), it isn't far-fetched to expect a deluge of goals for the rest of the season. At the very least, these numbers show that the New England team taking the pitch in Foxboro this year is drastically different from the one that struggled so mightily in 2011.