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Can the Revolution Make a Playoff Run Under Arena?

Under Arena, the New England Revolution look like a new team who has something to prove.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at New England Revolution Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

After a 2-8-2 start under Brad Friedel to begin the season, the New England Revolution looked destined for one of their worst regular seasons ever. Fans grew more frustrated game by game leading to even more people questioning the ambition of the front office and owners alike.

But, everything changed on May 9th. Friedel was fired after a string of four games (three losses, one draw) that saw the Revolution compile a goal differential of –13, including a 6-1 to the Philadelphia Union and a 5-0 to the Chicago Fire.

Then came news that shook up the whole organization. Bruce Arena, the holder of a record five MLS Cups as coach, was announced as the Revolution head coach and sporting director. Almost immediately, the morale around Revolution fans began to shift from negativity to optimism.

Now, the 2-8-2 start seems like a distant memory as the Revolution are undefeated in ten games since Friedel’s firing, racking up six wins and four draws. This current stretch of form has brought the club from last place in the Eastern Conference to a low-level playoff spot, as they currently sit in 7th place.

Although the Revolution have only beat two teams currently in the playoffs (LA Galaxy 2-1; San Jose Earthquakes 3-1), this team has gone through a resurgence and seems poised to make it back to the playoffs with Arena, Carles Gil, and Gustavo Bou leading the way. If you haven’t seen it—or even if you have—you should go watch Bou’s debut goal).

Prior to Arena taking the reigns (with the help of interim coach Mike Lapper taking charge for three games after Friedel was fired), the Revolution had a goal differential of –19 through 12 games; 11 goals for and 30 goals against. In the Revolution’s undefeated stretch under Friedel and Lapper, they’ve amassed a goal differential of +11 through 10 games; 19 goals for and 8 goals against.

This is no coincidence. A change of personnel in the front office or coaching staff can ignite teams to play better but since Arena has taken over, the Revolution have looked much more than that. While they’ve certainly looked more motivated, the most important factor is that they are finally playing like a team again, more so than just a group of individuals.

Under Friedel, the team regularly used the high press to create opportunities. When teams adjusted, the Revs’ only plan B was to create through Gil. This strategy also had a shelf life, as team’s started to closely mark the designated player.

Under Arena, the Revs have been operating as a team. Even though Gil is still a significant part of the attack, the Revolution have many more weapons in the attacking third.

This got even better with the arrival of Bou, as he and Gil are going to create nightmares for defenders. Do you mark Gil out of the game so he can’t operate in space, leaving Bou open through the wings and in behind? Do you mark Bou out of the game so he can’t have license to run at defenders, leaving Gil with space in the middle? Gil and Bou have the potential create one of the league’s most dangerous duos, which, if the Revolution make the playoffs, could cause some upsets.

With 44 goals and 19 assists in 102 appearances with Racing Club in Argentina, per MLS (Bou most recently played for Tijuana in Liga MX), Bou adds a prolific scoring profile to the Revolution that has been desperately needed to bring this club deep into the playoffs.

Outside of Teal Bunbury’s recent form of five goals in seven games, the Revolution often find themselves in a position where they can’t rely on someone for consistent scoring. Gil, who currently leads the Revolution with six goals, is not a proven goal scorer compared to Bou. Although, Gil is an attacking-minded player preferring to create chances for others, racking up seven assists so far. You can only expect this number to rise as Bou and Gil continue to form chemistry down the stretch, which would be a handful for defending teams in the playoffs, if of course the Revolution make it.

Attacking-minded soccer is fun but let’s not forget about the Revolution defense that has struggled in years prior. After a plethora of defensive signings since the MLS Cup Final in 2014, the Revolution are finally looking like they’re starting to improve defensively under Arena. Consider this, the Revs have a goal against average of .8 over the last ten games. In the four games before that, their goal against average was 4.5.

There’s still been cause for concern at times but as the defense returns close to full fitness, the healthy competition will continue to improve this backline. The team will also grow more familiar with Arena’s strategy.

There’s still room for improvement in the early days of Arena’s squad but you have to be impressed with what is happening on the field right now. Although it’s virtually the same team that Friedel had at his disposal (minus Bou); the Revolution have been able to play up to their opponents’ level and have been unlucky not to win at least once out of three games against Philadelphia and DC, the first and second placed teams in the Eastern Conference.

As the Revolution mature under Arena, with the possibility of more arrivals, there’s hope that the team can make the playoffs. From there, anything can happen.

Do you agree? Why or why not? Tell me below in the comments.


Will the Revs make the playoffs?

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