CARSON, Calif. – The scene at the final whistle of Sunday night’s emotional 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy said everything about what it meant to the New England Revolution.
After surviving a frantic final 10 minutes to secure their first road win of the season and make it a triumphant start in Bruce Arena’s first game on the sidelines, several Revolution players huddled at the edge of the 18-yard box, arms locked around each other’s shoulders, to soak in the moment.
“It was a group coming together collectively,” said goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who picked up his first win of the season in place of the suspended Matt Turner. “We put a ton of work into this week of training to get this first road win of the season, and it was a little bit of a relief at the end of the game.”
“There’s been a lot of things happening the past few weeks,” added Teal Bunbury, whose first goal of the season was the game winner at Dignity Health Sports Park. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs in the season – maybe a little bit more downs than ups – so coming out here and getting a result like that after everyone put in all the work for 90-plus minutes, it’s a special feeling.”
Although there were nervy moments as Diego Polenta’s potential equalizer slammed off the crossbar in the final seconds, New England – who also hit the woodwork twice and put seven shots on target compared to the Galaxy’s two – were fully deserving of the three points.
Cristian Penilla opened the scoring on the stroke of halftime to give the visitors a lead at the break, and that forced the Galaxy to open up in the second half, when the Revs were relentless on the counter and likely should’ve had a third and fourth goal after Bunbury found the second.
“Cristian had a bunch of chances in the first half – it was good to see him convert one at the end of the half,” said Arena, who picked up career regular-season win 203 more than two-and-a-half years after win 202 with the Galaxy. “The second half, for Teal to get a goal I think is going to be big for his confidence.
“Obviously it wasn’t perfect – the last 10, 15 minutes was sloppy. But having said that, I think to get a result here and walk away with three points is pretty good.”
The victory capped a whirlwind week for Arena, who took over head coaching duties on Tuesday but largely worked in concert with assistant Mike Lapper, who led the Revs to a 1-0-2 record on an interim basis. In fact, Arena didn’t fully commit to coaching Sunday night’s game until late in the week.
Even in that limited time, however, Arena made a significant impact with the players, both in the way they approached things on the field, and the mentality they carried into LA.
“We worked on how we wanted to play out of the back, the movement in the midfield, guys getting open, and guys running in behind defenders,” said Andrew Farrell. “One thing he said, he’s like, ‘You know where the goal is. The goal’s in behind the defenders. You’ve just got to go that way. Attack it. Be aggressive.’ I think that was a big thing, telling the guys up top to be aggressive.”
“I think he’s trying to get us to break our mold and start playing a little bit more aggressive, moving the ball forward a lot more, being composed on the ball,” added Bunbury. “It’s alright if we make mistakes. He wants us to just keep going. He’s all about team-first, and I think we showed that tonight.”
In truth the Revs have been showing that for a few weeks now – and Bunbury noted that much of that credit goes to Lapper, as well – as they’ll head into a three-and-a-half week break from league play unbeaten in four (2-0-2) and just two points back of the playoff places in the East.
While there are no illusions about the work that lies ahead, there’s a belief permeating through the New England Revolution locker room – through the entire organization, really – and Sunday night’s win in LA was the perfect example of what this group is capable of when in top form.
“Under coach Arena, getting our first win, as well, I think it’s huge for the organization, for the club – I think it’s huge for the fans, too, that have stuck by our side,” said Bunbury. “It hasn’t been easy, but I think we have to build off this now.”