Bruce Arena is the first American coach to win three MLS Cup titles. His coaching career started at the bottom of MLS, but he took New England Revolution from the bottom to be one of best teams in history.
Bruce Arena is the longest serving head coach in Major League Soccer history. He took New England Revolution from the bottom to the best in MLS history.
Andrew Farrell, a defender with the New England Revolution, believed he had a strong understanding of Major League Soccer after two years. In his debut season, the Revs made the playoffs and progressed to the MLS Cup the following year. Despite the fact that they lost to the LA Galaxy, Farrell had every reason to think that they will have greater success in the future.
He told ESPN, “I thought, ‘Oh, this is what it’s always going to be like.” “But we didn’t keep moving forward. We fell behind in the league, and the league progressed.”
The decline in New England was not unusual. It was one of the league’s initial ten teams, and it had been close previously, coming second in the MLS Cup four times between 2002 and 2007, but had yet to win a championship. The rudderless Revolution missed the playoffs from 2016 through 2018, never placing higher than 14th in the league, while playing in front of sparse crowds at Foxborough’s spacious Gillette Stadium.
Following the firing of manager Jay Heaps in September 2017, the Revolution’s downhill spiral continued under his successor, Brad Friedel, whose 1.04 points per game in 47 games in charge is the lowest among Revolution managers all time. It wouldn’t have been worth thinking that the majority of the club Friedel coached could remain together and rapidly grow into an MLS Cup contender.
But that’s exactly what occurred. Not only that, but the Revolution have evolved into one of the top teams in league history since signing coach Bruce Arena in 2019 and acquiring some vital players along the way.
They defeated Colorado 1-0 on Oct. 27 to break LAFC’s 2-year-old single-season points record of 72, and will lift the Supporters’ Shield on Sunday to commemorate one of the most remarkable comebacks in American professional sports in decades.
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Arena told the reporters on Sunday, “What an s—-show I inherited in May of 2019.” “It’s incredible to consider how far they’ve come.” It is, in fact.
“That demonstrates the character of these individuals — not only the athletes, but also the staff. You go to work every day, and it’s a pleasant place to work. They must have done more than any other squad in the league’s history.”
The path to the top
Arena had been out of coaching for roughly seven months when the chance in New England arose. He is a legend in Major League Soccer and American soccer, having won five MLS Cups. After a nine-year tenure with the Galaxy, during which time the club won three MLS Cups and two Supporters’ Shields, he stepped down in 2016 to try to save the US men’s national team’s 2018 World Cup qualifying bid, only to quit immediately after the process failed.
Arena felt persuaded that the Revolution’s ownership group was willing to invest in the team at a level that would enable it to compete during discussions with them. On May 14, 2019, Arena was appointed coach and sports director of the New England Patriots, who were in last place in the Eastern Conference.
“Like any squad, there were some outstanding players and some awful players,” Arena told ESPN. “I believe it was simply not strategically put together.” It was an unusual cast of characters. DeJuan Jones, Brandon Bye, and Tajon Buchanan were three of the most inexperienced players on the team. Matt Turner is an inexperienced goalkeeper. [Teal] Bunbury and [Scott] Caldwell are two veterans.
“We had Carles Gil — he was without a doubt the best player on the squad — and all we had to do was look at the club to see how we could rebuild or enhance it.”
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Arena’s arrival, though, restored faith in the team before any substantial squad changes were made.
“It was really very simple; [he] placed his faith in us,” Farrell said. “For players, having someone who believes in you and encourages you, particularly someone like Bruce, who has won everything in this league, it feels good and it has energized the squad,” says the coach.
Gustavo Bou, an Argentinian attacker who joined Arena from Tijuana in Liga MX as the club’s second Designated Player alongside Gil, was the club’s first big acquisition. His arrival, along with Arena’s stability, allowed the Revs to climb into the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, but it was the addition of Poland youth international forward Adam Buksa, who filled the Revs’ third DP slot after the season, that completed the foundation for 2021’s record-breaking team.
The development of New England was not a straight line. It took considerable time for Buksa to acclimate to MLS. Due to injuries, Gil only made six appearances. Buchanan had not yet shown. After squeaking into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, the season concluded on a high note with victories over Philadelphia and Orlando to get to the conference championship.
“I think the playoff run was crucial in that it provided us a little springboard,” Turner told ESPN. “I think traditionally we’ve begun seasons extremely slowly.” “So we knew going into the offseason that we’d be bringing back pretty much everyone from the playoff starting 11.”
Because of the way MLS is set up, it’s nearly essential for a team’s Designated Players to produce at a high level if it wants to contend for the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup.
“We didn’t come up with that notion,” Arena said, adding that he hopes to beat Sigi Schmid’s MLS coach regular-season victories record of 240 on Sunday. “It’s quite self-evident.”
The Revolution completed a perfect trifecta in Gil, who is the clear frontrunner for league MVP, Buksa, and Bou. Only two teams (Cincinnati and Columbus) have gotten more combined minutes. Their 66 combined goals and assists are twice those of the league’s next-closest DP trios (Atlanta and Nashville). Buksa (16) and Bou (15) are both among the league’s top six goal scorers, while Gil leads the league in assists (18).
New England’s offensive depth is the envy of the league when you consider Buchanan (8 goals, 8 assists), a Canada international and one of the most intriguing young strikers in CONCACAF, and experienced Bunbury (3 goals). After the season, the team decided to send Buchanan, the No. 9 overall selection in the 2019 SuperDraft out of Syracuse, to Club Brugge in Belgium, which is a regular participant in the UEFA Champions League.
“I believe we’re all aware that we have a lot of difference-makers and vital guys up top,” Gil remarked via a translator to ESPN. “We can score at any time, in any circumstance, and at the end of the day, this is the complete team — every player, even some of the players who haven’t played as many minutes, have stepped in and helped us out in critical occasions.”
Turner, who went undrafted out of Fairfield University in 2015 and has gone to the top of the USMNT depth chart, is the epitome of New England’s surge. Apart from Bou, Buksa, and Gil, the rest of the team’s first-choice starting 11 played collegiate soccer, according to him.
“It’s a fantastic little work, in my opinion. It’s incredible to be able to accomplish it with so many American players that took the ‘old conventional road,’ as I’ll call it “Turner said. “I believe it shows that the college approach can still pay off, and that players who go to college aren’t necessarily doomed to fail in the MLS and elsewhere.”
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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 7TH • Orlando vs. Montreal (3:30 p.m. ET) • Chicago vs. Columbus (3:30 p.m. ET) • Atlanta vs. Cincinnati (3:30 p.m. ET) • Red Bulls vs. Nashville (3:30 p.m. ET) • Miami vs. New England (3:30 p.m. ET) • New York City FC vs. Philadelphia Eagles (3:30 p.m. ET) • D.C. United vs. Toronto (3:30 p.m. ET) • Colorado vs. Los Angeles FC (6 p.m. ET) • Austin vs. Portland (6 p.m. ET) • Dallas vs. San Jose (6 p.m. ET) • Salt Lake City vs. Kansas City (6 p.m. ET) • Seattle vs. Vancouver (6 p.m. ET)
In the last year, Buksa and Buchanan have both established themselves as regulars on their national teams, which is relevant to the Revolution’s point total since they had to account for their absences at inconvenient times. That problem hasn’t been addressed yet.
After the regular-season finale, the MLS Cup playoffs will begin on Nov. 20 after another international break for World Cup qualification. With a first-round bye, the Patriots will have waited at least 16 days between their regular-season finale on Sunday and their first playoff game.
“With the international calendar, it’s such an uncomfortable year when you get into September, October, and November.” “It’s so embarrassing,” Arena expressed his displeasure. “It throws everyone off, and then there’s these breaks.” The league as a whole is out of sync. At the end, we’ve had our fill of these games. Because it’s tough to have a coordinated team with all the tiny difficulties that come in the way, it’s impossible to discern whether anybody is happy with anyone.
“With the break and the time between our final regular-season game and our first playoff game, I’m still trying to figure out how we’re going to make our squad better.”
This year’s New England squad will always have a special position in history after more than two decades without a trophy, but although Arena can enjoy and respect that, he’s also quick to change gears back to offer a critical lesson.
“What you do in the end is how you’re remembered in this league,” he remarked.
In that regard, the season is just just getting started.
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