Some of us owe Bruce Arena an apology, though he doesn’t seem the type to care either way even as he re-summits Major League Soccer.
Arena has done an absolutely marvelous job at New England this season, and perhaps it’s fitting that one of the co-authors of the most significant failures in U.S. soccer history has been at the wheel for one of the most impressive successes.
In doing so, Arena has also joined the venerable Sigi Schmid with a league-record 240 career wins, ahead of Bob Bradley and Peter Vermes (so far).
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That opening paragraph comes with a certain amount of historical bias against Arena that I would hope adds to the meaning of this post, which posits that what Bruce Arena has done in New England is a monumental achievement on part with anything he’s done in his legendary domestic career.
Regardless of what happens with New England the rest of the way, including a one-and-done in the MLS Cup Playoffs, because to do what he’s done in this era of Major League Soccer is almost unbelievable.
(For context: At some point, I may’ve even taken to calling him “Arenasaur” for what felt like outdated opinions and ideas about the game and that was before what happened to his USMNT in Couva).
Perhaps part of the accomplishment can be that the East is down and maybe that’s helped with the historic nature of his triumph, but putting the Revs back atop the Supporters’ Shield stand is a tremendous accomplishment (even if he’s got some backwards-ass way of thinking about the honor).
The Revs’ 19th-ranked payroll of $10.5 million is closer to the lowest in the league — Colorado, and we should have a word about Robin Fraser later — than it is to the top ten… and that’s including the league’s fifth-highest outlay on forwards.
New England is spending the least on midfielders in all of MLS, the second-least on defenders (by less than $20k), and eighth on goalkeepers.
Having a gaudy record in MLS is more impressive than most leagues, if by nature of our gigantic country (or two) alone.
Only three teams this season will be able to say they won more than half of their home matches, and New England’s won 10 and tied four while only losing thrice. The Revs were co-league leaders in away wins in 2020 too, Arena’s first full season in charge.
Now consider his roster, which is obviously capable of doing great things. The team he suited up for his first match with the Revs in June 2019? Five of the 11 starters from that match are still in the 18, a number that jumps to eight if you include those on the bench.
New England is first in the East goal differential, third in expected goal differential, and first in progressive pass distance (xG fans should note that NYCFC is having a historically hilarious — not to them — hard luck season and should really exist single digits back of New England, not 26).
And the club is atop the league in assists, expected assists, and key passes despite being mid-table in possession. Their goal creating actions per 90 minutes towers above the field, they don’t allow much danger from the opponents, and when they do they just get it the heck out of there (second-highest in the league in clearances and second-lowest in errors that lead to a shot).
All-told, this is a well-drilled team who has followed a very good playbook for success in MLS: Nail your playmaker signings — Carles Gil in MVP caliber and Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou are league prototypes — and count on tough and experienced domestic talent at the back. Andrew Farrell’s been there forever and DeJuan Jones and Brandon Bye are long-time key players too (It helps having a USMNT goalkeeper in Matt Turner, too).
More than most teams, it would seem, the Revs are also spending their money on foreign attack talent and nailing their domestic signings to fill out the roster (Henry Kessler’s drafting was a Godsend, too).
It’s also worth noting for clubs who overlook the MLS SuperDraft — including New England, who “passed” on a pick in what is the most infuriating and dismissive practice in the sport. Just invite a kid to camp. Yeesh. — that college soccer has delivered quality. Check these statuses:
Andrew Farrell – 1st overall pick, 2013 (NE)
Henry Kessler – 6th overall pick, 2019 (NE)
Matt Polster – 7th overall pick, 2015 (Chicago)
Teal Bunbury – 4th overall pick, 2010 (KC)
Brandon Bye – 8th overall pick, 2018 (NE)
Tajon Buchanan – 9th overall pick, 2019 (NE)
Brad Knighton – undrafted (played at UNC Wilmington)
Jonathan Bell – 38th overall pick, 2020 (SJ)
DeJuan Jones – 11th overall pick, 2019 (NE)
Tommy McNamara – 20th overall pick, 2014 (Chivas USA)
AJ DeLaGarza – 19th overall pick, 2009 (Galaxy)
Matt Turner – undrafted (played at Fairfield)
The club also has ex-college players who’ve played less than 500 minutes in Earl Edwards, Collin Verfuth, Scott Caldwell, Emmanuel Boateng, and Justin Rennecks.
Anyway, perhaps this post has plenty to do with a “post when you win, post when you lose” vibe from this writer, who had written off Arena not as a manager but as one of the best in the business.
Respect to the man in the arena… or the Arena in the arena (We’re here all night, Teddy Roosevelt fans).