FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Brian Bilello’s search for the next sporting director and head coach of the New England Revolution began and ended with a single phone call.
“Bruce (Arena) is the first person I called,” Bilello said during Thursday morning’s introductory press conference for the five-time MLS Cup winner. “It moved relatively quickly.”
The entire search process – which began late last week, shortly after Brad Friedel was relieved of head coaching duties – lasted only a few days and concluded with Arena taking charge of the Revolution’s entire soccer operation this past Tuesday morning.
In New England, Arena will be tasked with returning the Revs to the MLS elite following a string of frustrating seasons, and after his conversations with investor/operators Robert and Jonathan Kraft last weekend, he’s convinced that this club has an opportunity to be something special moving forward.
“In all the positions I’ve had in the past in the league, I’ve always wanted to be in an organization that I’ve felt wanted to win,” said Arena. “In my conversations with the Krafts and Brian, they’re really confident that we can move the team forward.
“This is such a great sports town. We want to try to elevate the Revolution on par with these other great championship teams in Boston. It’s a big challenge. I feel great about being in a great city with great ownership and great potential.”
If anyone has the pedigree to lift the Revolution into the upper echelon of both MLS and Boston sports, it’s Arena. His five MLS Cup titles are a league record, and he also has three Supporters’ Shields, one U.S. Open Cup, and one Concacaf Champions’ Cup in his trophy cabinet. And that’s not to mention his two separate stints with the U.S. National Team, totaling three Gold Cup titles and a run to the quarterfinals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
That track record made Arena an obvious candidate to Bilello, both in the short term as the Revs aim to climb off the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings through this season’s final 21 games, and in the long term as the club completes construction on a brand new training facility in Foxborough and continues to explore options for an urban stadium in Boston.
“At a high level, it’s not that hard of a decision to bring Bruce into your organization,” said Bilello, who noted that he’d had conversations with Arena during the Revs’ previous coaching search in 2017. “When you’re looking at the results of your club over the short term and the long term, you’re trying to figure out how to make your club as competitive as it can be.
“I feel fortunate that (Bruce and I) had an alignment in terms of the vision of the club and what we want to do.”
Similar to his role with the LA Galaxy – where he was general manager and head coach – Arena will have the role of sporting director and head coach with the Revolution, although in the short team he’ll focus more on high-level duties as sporting director, leaving day-to-day coaching duties to interim head coach Mike Lapper.
In the coming weeks Arena will work to build out a staff and analyze the soccer operations from top to bottom, before determining next steps in the process. After that initial settling phase he’ll take over head coaching duties, as he eyes the June 2 visit to the Galaxy or the June 26 home match against Philadelphia as his first game on the sidelines.
When Arena does step into that role he’ll be working to not only build a competitive roster, but also a winning culture within the entire organization, beginning with the locker room.
“That’s why I’m here,” Arena said. “It’s not going to happen in the next two weeks, but I’m confident that over the next couple of years that we can make very good progress, and make this team much more competitive than it is today.
“Everything will be here to be successful. The new training facility that will come on board at some point this year is fabulous. We want to have the energy to be a team that can attract free agents out of the league, as well as players from abroad. There are going to be a lot of resources here to allow us to make this team much more successful than it is today.”
That work now begins in earnest, and for an organization – and fan base – that’s hungry for a winner, a return to Major League Soccer’s top tier can’t come soon enough.
“We need to find the right formula inside this group and organization to make everything work, and it’s not going to be easy,” said Arena. “When you fail, I don’t attribute failure to one person – there are a lot of reasons why teams aren’t successful. It’s not because of the coach, or the owner, or the players – it’s a lot of things.
“We have to look inside the team, evaluate things, and build the right kind of culture that I think is appropriate here, and the kind of culture that I’ve been successful with in MLS. I’ve coached in MLS (for 14) years, and I’ve been to seven MLS Cup finals and won five of them. I have a feel for that, and I think I can bring it here in this organization, as well.”