The addition of Gustavo Bou brings a talented attacker to New England, but it could mean so much more about the direction of the club.
It’s long been said that the New England Revolution are stuck in MLS 1.0. They don’t have a soccer specific stadium, can’t attract star players, and don’t always make the playoffs.
The club’s most positive moment from the last decade came in 2014 when they made a run to the MLS Cup Final. They ultimately lost, an outcome they’ve experienced a total of five times.
That moment could’ve been a catalyst for change as it largely occurred due to the signing of U.S. Men’s National Team star Jermaine Jones. The hard-nosed, never-say-quit midfielder came to the Revs via a blind draw and fans were both overjoyed and shocked.
Improper Bostonian featured Jones on the cover of one of their magazines with the words “game changer.” Unfortunately the signing of a big name player turned out to be an anomaly as opposed to a newly established norm.
When Brad Friedel became head coach, he spoke about his “obsession with winning.” Many hoped this would bring a change in philosophy concerning how the team operated. In response to the hiring, Revolution legend Taylor Twellman said, “No way that Brad Friedel is taking this job unless he’s given the resources to be successful.”
The team did experience an uptick in spending, as they brought in Gabriel Somi, Luis Caicedo (TAM), Cristian Penilla (TAM), Wilfried Zahibo (TAM), and Michael Mancienne (TAM) during Friedel’s first year. The second year brought Carles Gil (Designated Player) and Juan Fernando Caicedo (TAM). Although the deal never materialized, it was reported that the Revs were prepared to commit a total package of $14 million (transfer fee and salary) for Paul-Jose M’Poku.
Still, the Revs under Friedel experienced many of the same problems that they had under previous coaches.
The roster still lacked depth as players were leaving just as quickly as they were coming. The Revs lost established MLS’ers like Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Kei Kamara, and Krisztian Nemeth and replaced them with outsiders. Of the lot brought in, only Gil has turned out to be elite, though L. Caicedo and Penilla have established themselves as solid contributors.
The most glaring issue with the team was along the back line, which has been a constant area of concern. In his first year, Friedel lost Benjamin Angoua, Donnie Smith, Josh Smith, Je-Vaughn Watson, and London Woodberry and only added Somi, Jalil Anibaba, Nicolas Samayoa, and Brandon Bye.
The Revs tried to remedy this by bringing in Michael Mancienne on Aug. 3. The center back earned a cool $1.28 million in his first year, making him the highest paid defender in the league at that time. He never fully looked the part and has spent much of 2019 injured.
Through it all, Friedel was adamant that he had the resources to compete. Despite this, we were seeing the same issues that had plagued the Revs for years. The roster still lacked depth and transfers were either reactionary or puzzling (remember Machado and Hauche?!).
Now, it’d be foolish to say all of this without recognizing that Friedel was a really bad coach. Besides the beginning of 2018, which is when he blitzed the league with his high press, Friedel was never able to collect consistent wins, a sad reality for a coach who said that good teams don’t lose two games in a row.
The Revs did the right thing when they fired Friedel on May 9, 2019 but he shouldn’t have been hired in the first place. Replacing Jay Heaps, a former Revs players with no experience as a club head coach, with Friedel, Mike Burns’ former roommate with no experience as a club head coach, was an uninspiring move.
The hiring of Friedel and the business conducted during his reign felt routine for the Revs. What came next, however, felt different.
On May 13, the Revs announced that Burns had been dismissed after 14 years with the club. One day later, former USMNT coach Bruce Arena entered as the head coach and sporting director.
In his introductory press conference, Arena spoke about bettering the organization, saying, “I think we can only go in one direction and that’s positive.” He noted that everyone had to be involved, claiming he would “evaluate things, and build the right kind of culture.”
Some fans were disappointed to hear Arena say, “You can be successful without being the top spender in the league.” He later remarked, “I think we can be smart about how we spend and still be positioned to be much more competitive and ultimately one day win an MLS Cup.”
The words spoken were what you’d expect from a new coach. Arena said he wanted to improve the club but didn’t promise too much.
That said, actions are more important than words.
Arena made his first Revs acquisition on Wednesday when he brought in Bou, who has contributed 85 goals and 35 assists in 270 career appearances. The move could be a sign that things are going to be different under Arena.
Consider how quickly the move was made. The summer transfer window opened on Jul. 9 and a Designated Player was brought in one day later. This is not the norm for the Revs, who are usually most active at the end of the transfer window. Arena, who said that his coaching staff had “followed [Bou] for a number of years,” not only knew his target but was able to get him in a timely fashion.
This type of quickness hasn’t been seen since 2012 when the addition of Jerry Bengtson and Dimitry Imbongo were announced eight days after the window opened.
The Bou transaction is also noteworthy because of the money involved. The Revs sent Tijuana a transfer fee of $6-7 million, according to Ives Galarcep. This is significantly more than the $2 million used to acquire Gil at the beginning of the season. It’s rumored that both Designated Players will receive a similar salary of $2 million per year.
The addition of Bou isn’t the only indication that things might be different now that Arena is Foxboro. Rumors are swirling that the Revs will soon have a lower division team. There’s also talk about adding scouts. Issac Angking and Nicholas Firmino appearing on Hartford Athletic’s bench is also a positive. Oh, and Arena loves to talk about a future stadium.
Still, Revs fans have every right to be hesitant in their belief of the team. After all, they’ve heard head coaches and higher ups say the right things before.
This is why I’m encouraging fans to look for actions. Are the Revs filling out their roster? When are they signing players? Is there a clear pipeline between the Academy and first team? Are you sitting in a stadium in downtown Boston?
Remember, these changes won’t happen overnight (especially the stadium), but there will be signs that the team is heading in the right direction. That’s what you need to look for.
The signing of Bou at the start of the summer transfer window is a positive sign, but more data points are needed to determine if the Revolution have truly changed the way they do business.
Arena has accomplished a lot in his brief time with the Revs, which has helped renew confidence in the team. Now we wait to see what comes next.