One of the most decorated coaches in MLS history is back in the league.
The New England Revolution announced that it had hired legendary coach Bruce Arena as its new head coach and sporting director. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but Arena is starting as coach with immediate effect. The news of Arena’s appointment came one day after the Revolution announced it was parting ways with general manager Michael Burns, and less than a week since former coach Brad Friedel was let go with a record of 12-21-13.
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Friedel was appointed ahead of the 2018 season with the hopes of turning around a Revolution side that made a deep run in the MLS playoffs in 2014, but had struggled in the years since. However, with a 3-8-2 record this season, Arena will have his hands full in trying to get this squad to improve through the next five months of the season.
“Bruce is one of the most successful coaches in American soccer history, and we feel his commitment to excellence, track record of winning championships in Major League Soccer, as well as his success at the international level, makes him the best person to bring the Revolution back to MLS Cup contention,” Revolution and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. “We have known Bruce dating back to the advent of MLS, and we have full confidence that he will raise the level of our club to the standard we all expect and demand.”
As most of the world moves to an American sports model, with separate sporting directors/general managers and head coaches working in tandem, it is interesting to see Arena still with the influence and reputational strength to occupy both positions. In the past, Arena and the LA Galaxy’s ownership group with AEG worked in tandem to sign big stars and MLS standouts, and it’s possible that Arena sees that type of relationship happening again.
The move from the Krafts to fire both Burns and Friedel could be a changing of the tides. The Revs, still playing in the cavernous Gillette Stadium, still feel like an MLS 1.0 team, while Atlanta United, the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Sporting KC, to use a few examples, all feel like they’re living in the 2019 version of the league. To this point, the Revs have just one Designated Player signed, former Aston Villa midfielder Carles Gil, and the team relies quite a bit on once-promising prospects that haven’t really panned out as stars; Teal Bunbury, Juan Agudelo and Scott Caldwell all come to mind.
Is the appointment of Arena a sign that the Kraft family is as ambitious as Arthur Blank or Merrit Paulson? That the Revs will start to spend big to keep up with the giants of MLS? Or is it a big signing in name only, with Arena not receiving the funds and support he was likely promised to take a rebuilding job like this. Only time will tell.