FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There’s an argument to be made that Bruce Arena is the most successful leader in American soccer history, having guided five squads to MLS Cup titles and the U.S. National Team to the quarterfinals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The sheer weight of those achievements commands a certain level of reverence in the American soccer landscape, but above all, Arena has earned the respect of his players by the way he leads.
“I think Bruce made it pretty easy for us,” Scott Caldwell said of adjusting to Arena’s arrival in May 2019. “He’s someone that comes in with so much one, optimism, but two, pedigree and experience and success. He’s someone that players are immediately drawn to. We know we have to raise our levels to be up to his standards and to the standards of his successes.
“He’s someone that’s easy to really play for, to reach for, and we just try to – whether it be leading by example or through voice – you just try to get everyone on board. But everyone was already on board as soon as Bruce stepped in. It just comes easy when he’s running the team.”
Arena’s leadership qualities are unquestioned, but perhaps his most brilliant bit of strategy is that he doesn’t shoulder the entire weight of leadership within the locker room. Instead, he builds a squad of players flush with leaders and allows them the freedom to guide their teammates in various ways.
One glance around the Revolution locker room reveals a cadre of players who are leaders within the group, whether vocal leaders, emotional leaders, or those who lead by example.
“This is a good group,” said Arena. “I think people lead in different ways, whether it’s the coaching staff or the players. It depends on your personality, it depends on how you’re perceived by the group, but I think since I’ve come in, in May of 2019, the one thing I noticed with the team is that [it has] a lot of character and good people … It’s important that the coaching staff does a good job in that area, as well, but I do think the character and the leadership in the team is very good.
“If you could think about when we started in May of 2019, to have a group of guys turn a corner the way they did from being really, you could argue the weakest team in the league at that point, and then go on and compete in 2019 in good fashion and then having some more success in 2020, it speaks highly about leadership qualities. I think we’re going to see more of that in 2021.”
Arena mentioned longtime Revolution veterans like Caldwell, Andrew Farrell, Teal Bunbury, and Matt Turner as leaders, as well as more recent newcomers like Gustavo Bou and Carles Gil, who both lead by example. A.J. DeLaGarza filled one of those leadership roles on Arena’s Cup-winning LA Galaxy squads before arriving in New England as a free agent this offseason.
Gil wears the captain’s armband but a host of players share leadership responsibilities, and that can only serve to benefit the Revs as they aim to achieve their objectives as a team in 2021.
“I think that between all of us we try to be leaders and lead the team in the best way,” Bou said via translator. “We don’t note that we have one leader. I think we all try to take on that role collectively to guide the team in the best way possible. Between all of us we try to be leaders.”