FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When he took the reins of the New England Revolution in mid-May, Bruce Arena expected to find a roster that required a major overhaul. He admittedly didn’t know much about the players, but the Revs’ 2-8-2 record indicated that the group lacked the talent to compete in MLS.
But as the days passed and the training sessions and games provided context, Arena realized that he didn’t inherit a roster that needed to be gutted. Instead, he’d taken over a group that required an injection of confidence, a bit of direction – and yes, a few more key pieces to raise the overall level.
“When I came in, I would’ve anticipated we’d have to make a lot more changes to the roster than I think we really need to, so that’s encouraging,” Arena said during the Revolution’s end-of-year media availability last week. “I don’t know how you want to describe it – whether it’s a rebuild or a tweak. We’re just trying to get better.”
The roster Arena inherited had enough talent to rattle off an 11-game unbeaten run (7-0-4) from mid-May to early August and parlay a 9-3-10 finish into their first playoff spot since 2015. It already featured the MLS Newcomer of the Year and an MLS Best XI selection in Carles Gil, and an MLS Goalkeeper of the Year candidate in Matt Turner.
In a signal of intent Arena added Gustavo Bou to that core in mid-July, shelling out significant money to bring on the 29-year-old forward who registered nine goals and two assists in 15 appearances. It was the only addition of Arena’s first season, but it was enough to solidify the Revs as a club able to compete with Major League Soccer’s elite.
But while a rebuild isn’t necessary, reinforcements are required. Arena has said publicly that one player has already committed to joining the Revs, while he hopes to add another 3-4 pieces to compete for significant playing time in 2020.
The work to make those additions began in earnest the day Arena arrived in New England and will continue throughout the offseason, even if he said dryly that he doesn’t much enjoy the work of the winter months compared to summer training sessions.
“No,” Arena said when asked if the offseason is fun for him. “Want me to expand on that? No, it is not.
“The fun part is in-season, because that’s what you enjoy doing, and I think the players would say the same thing. But we know what our needs are, and we’ll try to fill those needs.”
Arena has a history of building winners – he took over a last-place LA Galaxy side in 2008 and guided them to a Western Conference title in 2009, then MLS Cup titles in 2011, 2012 and 2014 – and while he’s realistic about the expectations for 2020, he has a vision for the Revs to keep improving year-over-year.
“I think we’ve built a good foundation to get better next year – that’s going to be our goal,” Arena said. “I think the second half of the season was a good starting point in building the club and making the club more competitive, and keep moving up the ladder of MLS.
“We checked that box (by making the playoffs). There’s got to be another box. If we don’t make (expectations) high, I’m sure you guys (in the media) will figure out a way to do that. You’ll be picking us to win MLS Cup next year.
“I’m not here telling you we’re going to win MLS Cup next year, but I’m hopeful that we’re going to be better.”