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The Bruce Arena Era: How To Get Revolution Fans To Believe Again

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Five season ago, the New England Revolution lost an MLS Cup Final in Los Angeles, and it’s been downhill ever since. The climb back up begins today, back where it all started.

United States v Jamaica: Final - 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Alright, let’s get this part out of the way first.

A lot of New Englanders might still mad at Bruce Arena. Yes, the 2018 World Cup qualifiying campaign with the United States is probably part of that, but some of that wasn’t his own doing. No, I’m talking about something else:

I hate this photo. I hate the LA Galaxy, especially that 2014 team. I think to immediately get in the good graces of the Revolution fans, which shouldn’t be hard, we’re a fairly ecstatic and excited bunch right now, would be to recreate this photo with a regional beer. Sam Adams, Narragansett, just about anything should do the trick. It would have been one of the most epic introductory press conferences ever, but I digress.

Let’s begin rationalizing the last several weeks in New England Revolution history. First, I was stunned the Revs actually sacked Brad Friedel and GM Michael Burns. Not that it wasn’t deserved, because it was, but because the Krafts actually realized their soccer team was going backwards.

And make no mistake, even when ownership does the right thing, they still screw it up. Mike Burns may tout his tenure with the Revs as a success, and there are things he should be proud of, but it will be remembered for the abysmal 7 minute presser he had after organization let Friedel go. A situation that should have been avoided if the Revs had properly set up the post-Friedel staff before firing him. If we assume Arena was the first call the Krafts made, sacking Burns days after his USMNT roommate he hired as head coach is a fitting end to dismal era in team history.

Mike Burns didn’t deserve to be trotted out in front of to answer questions about his job status. But let the circumstances surrounding those firings be a lesson to how far this organization has fallen. The Revolution simply do not fire people in the middle of the season, let alone in May. Additional signings were needed to improve this team in the offseason and before the deadline and despite promises, those signings never materialized and things kept getting worse. It was clear to everyone that Brad Friedel needed to go, and the move was made.

After Friedel was let go and interim head coach Mike Lapper took over, I said all it would take to improve the team was to stop losing by 4 goals, and to the surprise of no one, the Revolution are fully capable of doing that. I refuse to believe this roster is one of the two or three worst in MLS, but that doesn’t mean they’re a playoff team with with a first rate coaching staff.

Ownership could have handed the reigns to Arena back in 2018, after the USMNT’s failed WCQ campaign with Arena unable to salvage a spot in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Maybe that’s for the the best, maybe this team needed to sink a little lower than they already had at the end of Jay Heaps’ tenure. Let us not forget that Heaps and Burns did rebuild a fairly solid core from 2012-13, and the Revs 3rd place finish in 2013 remains one of the most impressive seasons in team history. But it’s been all downhill since 2014 and that blame does rest solely on the coaching staffs shoulders.

The Revs organization took several years to replace centerback AJ Soares and the backline has been unsettled ever since. Every day Andrew Farrell plays centerback is testament to their inability to find a suitable replacement at that position, though not for lack of trying or spending in recent years. This organization cast aside players like Jose Goncalves, Lee Nguyen, Jermaine Jones, Kelyn Rowe, Kei Kamara, and Kriztian Nemeth instead of building and adding talent around them.

Regardless of how fans feel about the individual situations around those players, the fact is the team never added enough talent to replace most of those players. They still haven’t had a holding mid tandem as good as Jones and Scott Caldwell in the last five years, they still haven’t figured out who their best striker/winger combination is, and they still have one of the most unsettled backlines in the league.

Carles Gil looks like he’s good at soccer, but Cristian Penilla has all but disappeared in 2019. For every addition or subtraction the Revs make, nothing seems to work on the field consistently. The only constant the past few years has been the front office and “The Patriot Way” which everyone knows I can not stand. You are not the Patriots despite the fact you share a stadium with them. You have five MLS Cup losses, not six Super Bowl wins. You are not a team where players will take pay cuts to try and win a championship, you are an MLS 1.0 team that is on national television maybe twice a year in a Top 10 US media market.

Which is why the hiring of Bruce Arena makes far more sense than it should and why Arena taking over today in Los Angeles is beyond perfect. Bruce Arena helped reshaped the LA Galaxy in the beginning of the DP era and in a little over a year, starting in 2009, the Galaxy were back to being a force in MLS. I’m not going to bring up 2014 again, but Arena’s resume in LA speaks for itself: 4 MLS Cup Finals, 3 Championships, 3 Western Conference regular season titles, and two Supporter’s Shields. Four of the last five times the Galaxy missed the playoffs, were years that Arena didn’t coach the team. The other year (2008) was his first season.

I’m not saying that Arena is going to have that type of immediate turn-arond or success with New England, because there are still significant obstacles. Arena is going to have to convince the Krafts to start writing some checks to bring in new players or extend current ones. The question of player development is still an issue compared to the rest of the league, as the Revs still have no official USL affiliate or team. Obviously the new Foxboro training facility is going to be wonderful and so is that SSS if/when it happens, but right now there’s no better person to lead the Revs out of MLS 1.0.

Because Bruce Arena has already done this once. He’s navigated all the roster rules, draft classes, and international signings into one of the most dominant runs in MLS history. Even if Arena doesn’t have the same winning success as he did in LA with multiple trophies, the Arena era in New England will hopefully be remembered as the stretch where the Revolution joined the modern DP era of MLS. The fact that Arena needs to do this a decade after he did it with the Galaxy remains a detriment to the Revs organization and especially its owners.

So many people deserved better from this organization, and there are still a lot of people the team did dive chances too like Heaps. Taylor Twellman’s number should be officially retired by the team since no one will ever wear it again. Matt Reis should have a statue somewhere on the grounds let alone his name in the ring of honor, if not for his decade of play with the team, than for his efforts saving the live of his father in law at the Boston Marathon Bombings. Pat Noonan, Steve Ralston and Shalrie Joseph have been successful coaches in MLS and elsewhere but not New England. Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz should be remembered as two of the greats in New England, not Atlanta. So many greats from the Steve Nicol and Paul Mariner era, including that iconic coaching duo, deserved better.

JoGo deserved better, Lee deserved better, Kelyn deserved better, Jermaine deserved better, Diego deserved better. They deserved an organization that not only were stingy with them individually, but stingy with their teammates around them. Rather than making signings and improving teams that they could have starred on, this organization failed them by keeping the status quo.

Then there are the team employees who have dedicated their careers to this organization. Brad Feldman and Jeff Lemieux who have been with the team for 15 and 10 years respectively, deserve to cover a championship winning team. The sales department who has to put up with the very vocal fanbase every time an SSS rumor pops up and find ways to sell tickets to a city 45 minutes away deserve medals and raises.

In order to begin fixing the team in the present, this organization needs to correct the mistakes of it’s past. And it’s fitting that we go back to the place where the Revs downward trend began, being led by the man who was on the other sideline. The soccer gods can indeed write good scripts.

Over the last five years this team has slowly descended into the depths of the MLS basement. As talent has left or been traded away, simply not enough of it has been signed in return and it shows. The Patriot Way of promoting from within, both on the sidelines and in the starting lineup, can no longer compete in MLS. You can’t let guys like Soares and Nguyen go, replace them with Farrell and Fagundez, and not improve the roster around them to fill the holes the replacements are leaving behind.

Which is a shame, because a lot of those replacements are some of my favorite players. Today is the six year anniversary of one of my favorite goals ever - Chad Barrett “Against his former club!”

I will always love that goal, and Jalil Anibaba celebrating blocked shots, and Daigo “Player X” Kobayashi, JeVaughn Watson, and Andy Dorman for just being around because those players can be the backbone of a tremendous roster. That you can combine a ragtag team of youngsters with a few veteran players can absolutely take on Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane (who was absent from that above 5-0 drubbing six years ago). For all the slights about the roster the bast few years, those type of veteran signings will always be great in my book.

But sadly, those kind of players will not catch the national attention that this team needs. We will always be slighted when the national MLS TV schedule comes out. We will always be slighted when the Boston media forgets to include the Revs finals appearances in the “Boston Big 4” sports graphics. We will always be slighted when everyone refers to us as “the Buffalo Bills of MLS” lest everyone forgets how near impossible it is to get to three or four straight title games. I will always be slighted when the Revs 2008 SuperLiga title is not included in the team’s accomplishments or finals appearances by everyone else.

And yet it won’t take much to turn these slights around.

This fanbase believed once that goals do not need to come from a multi-million dollar DP up front. That you can beat a Champions League, EPL and La Liga winning striker on a cold day in New Jersey with a little Stanky Leg, some Swag, some Go, and something not blue, not green, but somewhere in between. We believed that when you need a goal down 1-0 in an MLS Cup final, it’s not your MVP candidate or DP that will save the day - but your converted left back selected a supplemental and basically 5th round draft pick from nearby Wellesley.

This fanbase believed once that MVP candidates can be signed off the waiver wire. That a starting lineup can be anchored by not just several first round draft picks but draft picks in general. That a montage of shielding the ball out of bounds for 30 yards at a time is more glorious that all the highlights of every 30 yard goal ever. That the real bulldog of the midfield is not the USMNT World Cup hero DP you got in a blind draw, but the 5’9’’ homegrown from down the road in Braintree.

We believed this all once because five years ago that was the organization and team we fell in love with all over again. We believed that money isn’t the only thing that goes into a championship but it does help you get over the top.

We believed in all that once. Make us believe it again.

In Bruce We Trust.