You say you want a revolution? Well, you got one. With Bruce Arena. In Foxboro. It started when the New England Revolution hired him as sporting director and head coach back in May. At the time, no other MLS team was in a worse position. The Revs had the league's worst record (2W-8L-2D, 8 points), the league's worst goal differential (minus-19), and they were below an expansion side, FC Cincinnati, in the standings. In its first year in the league this season, FC Cincinnati broke the MLS record for most goals given up in a single season. Things were bad, bad, bad. The club didn't want to see if it got worse. Enter Bruce Arena to save the day, well the season.
Five months later, the Revs are preparing for an improbable MLS Cup Playoff appearance. Their first-round matchup next Saturday, Oct. 19, won't be easy as they visit Atlanta United FC, defending MLS Cup Champions. It'll be a tough team to play in a difficult environment. Playing against defending MLS Cup Champions in front of 70,000-plus fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a challenge, to say the least. Still, regardless of the outcome, the Revs have already won. Their playoff berth marks an amazing turnaround for this team.
What happened in between their league-worst start/the hiring Arena, and their playoff-clinching win vs New York City FC on Sept. 29 is nothing short of remarkable. The team went 9-2-10 in their next 21 games, including an 11-game unbeaten streak this summer. In that span, they collected 37 points, behind only LAFC (42 points) and NYC FC (41 points). They earned impressive points on the road against LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and Portland Timbers. They showed they can play with the top teams in the east (NYC, Philadelphia, D.C. United, and Toronto). They dominated the teams they were supposed to beat up (Vancouver and FC Cincinnati).
The two losses in that 21-game stretch under Arena need some context. I've excluded the regular-season finale loss because it really was a meaningless match. The Eastern Conference playoff field was already set on Decision Day with just seedings left to be decided. The 2-0 defeat to LAFC in August came against the league's best team who set the single-season record for points in a season (72). There is no shame in losing to LAFC. The Revs joined a long list of teams - 19 of 23 - who couldn't beat Los Angeles Football Club in 2019.
The other loss was a bitter one to swallow. It goes down as a 2-1 defeat to New York City FC on paper but doesn't seem like a defeat to me. Toni Delamea, who was originally issued a yellow card for a challenge 9 minutes into the match, was sent off after VAR changed it to a red card. The league's Independent Review panel rescinded the red card four days later and wiped it completely away. But the damage was done. The Revs, leading for most of the game, played 80-plus minutes down a man and gave up two second-half goals. The game-winning goal was a 96th-minute penalty.
The "Bruce Bump" is real and spectacular and it goes beyond the standings, record and points. What he's done with the roster is impressive. The group of players he inherited back in the spring is almost identical to what he has now. Of course, they added Gustavo Bou this summer. La Pantera has been a game-changer since coming to the Revs in a reported club-record signing on July 17. In the past 14 games, he's buried nine goals, fourth-most in MLS in that span.
Bou's strike rate (0.64 goals/game) is sixth-best this season. But Arena started New England's revolution before Bou arrived. He's gotten the most out of Teal Bunbury and Cristian Penilla while helping Carles Gil and Matt Turner elevate their games and name around the league. Gil was already making an impact as a dynamic player in their attack but now he's in the conversation for MLS Best XI and a finalist for MLS Newcomer of the Year. Gil is one of two MLS players with at least 10 goals and 10 primary assists this season. Turner, who showed flashes of National Team material before Arena arrived, has pushed his name into the conversation for Goalkeeper of the Year. Before that regular-season finale, the Revs goalkeeper ranked third in save percentage. Arena has gotten the absolute most out of this roster.
Off the field, the club has made significant investments this season. They are set to open up a new state-of-the-art $35 million training facility. Just this week, the club announced they'll field a USL League One Team, Revolution II, in 2020.
It's wasn't just a change for the Revs. It's a revolution for the Revolution and you can count me in.
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