FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The return of playmaker Carles Gil and the emergence of a fully fit Gustavo Bou have no doubt helped spark the New England Revolution’s electrifying run to the Eastern Conference Final – set for Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET on ABC – but there’s much more behind the club’s seemingly sudden rise from No. 8 seed in the East to MLS Cup contenders.
For one, players like Gil, Bou, and fellow Designated Player Adam Buksa don’t just contribute on the field – where they’ve had a hand in all seven of the club’s goals this postseason – but they’re also integral pieces of the Revolution’s locker room culture, which has thrived on a sense of togetherness and close-knit bonds forged by the fires of a challenging 2020 season.
“I think that’s important,” sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena said about bringing in DPs who help strengthen team chemistry. “You not only look at players for their talent, but how they’re going to fit in the environment we have here in New England. I think Carles is a great example. He came in last year – obviously I wasn’t around when he first came in – but he accepted what the league is and has been a positive influence not only on the field, but in the locker room, as well. The same with Gustavo, and Adam, and all our players.”
Arena also pointed to veterans like Scott Caldwell, Teal Bunbury, and Andrew Farrell – all three of whom were on the field the last time the Revs won an Eastern Conference title in 2014 – along with goalkeeper Matt Turner as players who’ve helped build a familial atmosphere within the group, even as they navigated the highs and lows of the past few years.
Upon his arrival last May, as the Revs slumped to a 2-8-2 start and suffered back-to-back heavy losses to Philadelphia and Chicago, Arena expected to find a locker room in tumult. What he found instead was a group of players more willing than ever to fight for each other, and now 20 months later, that commitment to the cause is paying dividends on the field.
“They’re really players with great character, and I noticed that immediately when I came in last year,” Arena said of the Revs’ veterans. “I expected it somewhat to be a team that was really divided because of their lack of success, but they were nothing but supportive of each other, and it’s carried over into this year.
“And this year has been difficult with the pandemic and the injuries we’ve suffered, but the guys have hung in there. I’m not the easiest guy to play with because I can be critical of the players at times – they get a little bit of tough love – but they’ve hung in there all the way and I think their chemistry and character in the end has been a difference maker in us having a little bit of success so far.”
Caldwell, now in his eighth season and lauded by Arena for his abilities as a communicator and midfield general, agreed that the bonds within the Revolution locker room have built the foundation for much of their success this postseason. Players have performed on the field, of course, but the underlying force driving those performances has been a desire to fight for a cause greater than oneself.
“I’d say one thing is that we’ve been able to draw on previous experiences, both positive and negative, to get closer as a team and to work together on the field, and that’s huge when it comes to winning games at this time of year,” said Caldwell. “That togetherness has been really strong.
“There’s obviously a lot of different players, a lot of different skillsets on the field, so we adapt to that, but there’s definitely a togetherness, a desire, and will to win, all of that is there – a lot of the characteristics of a winning team – and that’s something that’s been pushing us lately.”
That togetherness has made a formidable team out of international additions like Gil, Bou, and Buksa, MLS veterans like Caldwell, Bunbury, Farrell, Turner, and Matt Polster, as well as youngsters like Henry Kessler, Tajon Buchanan, and DeJuan Jones, all of whom will have key roles to play on Sunday as the Revs try to claim a sixth Eastern Conference title and book their spot in the MLS Cup final.
And with Arena leading the charge, there’s a quiet confidence that the pieces are in place for the Revolution to reach the mountaintop for the first time in club history.
“We know [coach Arena] has that championship pedigree, and we’re not happy yet,” said Jones, who has started the Revs’ first three playoff games at left back. “We’re happy with how far we’ve gone, but we know we have more games to win. We’re not satisfied. We’re looking to push on and win MLS Cup this year.”