FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Bruce Arena was named sporting director and head coach of the New England Revolution on May 14, 2019, taking over a last-place club with a 2-8-2 record and back-to-back losses by scores of 6-1 and 5-0.
On October 27, 2021 – just 898 days later – the Revolution set a new Major League Soccer record for points in a single season (73), surpassing the previous mark of 72 set by Los Angeles FC in 2019 and capping their first-ever Supporters’ Shield triumph with the best regular season record in MLS history.
It’s a turnaround that even Arena struggles to comprehend.
“Kind of remarkable,” Arena said after Wednesday night’s record-breaking, 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids. “I said that to the team. Man, what a sh#tshow I inherited in May of 2019. To think how far they’ve come is kind of remarkable. It really is. That shows the character of these people – not only the players, but the staff. You know, we come to work every day, it’s a pretty good work environment.
“I guess they accomplished more than any team in the history of the league. That’s a heck of a story. So you guys all have something to write. You don’t have to write about formations and all the other stuff. You can write about it. It could be a history essay.”
It was fitting that the record-clinching victory was a gutsy, 1-0 win on a windy, rain-soaked evening in Foxborough. As they have all season the Revs simply found a way to get the job done on Wednesday night against the Rapids, using Tajon Buchanan’s 74th-minute goal and a four-save shutout effort from Matt Turner to secure their 18th one-goal victory of the season.
The celebrations at the final whistle – and in the locker room, as the music blaring through the walls during the nearby press conference would indicate – highlighted just how important this achievement was to Revolution players and staff, even if it’s not something they had ever set out to accomplish.
“I definitely don’t think it’s a goal you set prior to the season,” said Matt Polster, who joined the Revs midway through the 2020 campaign. “It was a goal of ours to come out strong and start the season really well. We did that, and to be in the position we’re in, a lot of the boys and staff should be really proud of the effort and work they put into this, and fans and the front office. It’s really incredible. I’m happy for everybody that’s been a part of it.”
“There was some chatter [about the points record] with about 10 games left,” admitted DeJuan Jones, a rookie in 2019 when Arena took over. “I think when we started getting a good lead in the East, but it was never our main focus. Again, we really just focused on one game at a time, home or away, just a winning mentality. We wanted to get three points every single game.”
The Revs didn’t get three points every single game, but they came pretty damn close. They finished the year 10-3-4 away from home – the second-best road record in MLS history – and they’ve gone 12-1-3 in Foxborough with a chance to add three more points to their record-breaking total on November 7 at Gillette Stadium against Inter Miami CF, on the day they’ll officially lift the Supporters’ Shield for the first time.
Players and staff will allow themselves the day to celebrate that accomplishment and soak in this season’s laundry list of achievements, but beneath it all there’s an underlying message that despite records falling left and right, this team has yet to realize their ultimate goal.
“We haven’t won anything,” said Arena. “We won a Supporters’ Shield and all, and I guess, the way you’re judged in this league is what you do at the end, and there’s still a lot ahead.”
“The boys have worked really hard all season and (lifting the Supporters’ Shield) is a moment that I think we’re going to enjoy quite a bit,” said Polster. “After that, I think the mindset really needs to shift, because it’s three games from an MLS Cup and that’s what’s most important. Winning the Supporters’ Shield is nice, but winning an MLS Cup is better.”