First, Brad Friedel, a goalkeeping legend with the US Men’s National Team, was dismissed from his role as the team’s head coach, and six days later General Manager Mike Burns followed him out the door. It was sweeping change, and not a moment too soon with the team bottom of the Eastern Conference with a minus 17 goal difference.
While Friedel’s departure was no great surprise, the departure of Burns was. It ended an 18-year association between the Revs and Burns and promised a new direction for the club. No sooner had New England fans had a chance to adjust to the endless potential futures that lay before them than news broke of who would be their new king: Bruce Arena.
If Freidel arrived with little coaching experience, his successor is the antithesis. The 67-year-old has five MLS Cups and three Supporters Shields on his resume.
As head coach of the United States Men’s National Team, he collected a trio of Gold Cups and only once has his win ratio as a coach dipped below 48%.
You will find few, if any, willing to argue Arena’s standing in the game, and yet, that didn’t stop a murmur of doubt spreading across social media upon confirmation of his appointment. A second spell in charge of the National Team in 2016 began with Arena cast as the hero ready to take over from a struggling Jurgen Klinsmann and guide the country towards qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
It ended in disaster; a 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago confirming the U.S. would be absent from the World Cup for the first time since 1986. A laundry list of excuses followed from Arena, and his decision to release a book in the wake of the situation was also heavily criticised.
It was a situation far removed from the reputation Arena had cultivated in MLS as a strong man-motivator. That period of his career saw him lead D.C. United and LA Galaxy to multiple MLS Cups.
While with the Galaxy, he not only got the most out of star names like David Beckham and Robbie Keane but also developed domestic players like Mike Magee, Omar Gonzalez, and AJ De La Garza. The club’s subsequent slide in the wake of his departure also suggests it was his influence that engineered that success.
In the two seasons after Arena left, the Galaxy missed the playoffs for the first times since 2008. It is, however, a different time in MLS, and the current MLS Cup holders, Atlanta United, are a prime example of that.
At the top end of the league, clubs have industrialized operations, which in turn has seen their level of resources evolve. Teams have begun to develop youth academies, USL affiliates, and the process in which they scout internationally. There are now more ways for teams to find success in MLS and it has bred a more competitive league.
There is less reliance on the domestic players that Arena used so effectively with the Galaxy, and the market for foreign players eager to come to MLS has grown. With that, there is greater scope for failure (something the Revolution have been guilty of in recent years).
Of course, not all of the uncertainty surrounding the appointment relates to Arena. The Revs have been notoriously parsimonious in recent years. That would not be such an issue if they had a youth development pathway to speak of (akin to FC Dallas or the New York Red Bulls), but they do not.
The notion Arena can swing in and fix things with a few coaching drills is misguided. He will need to be backed with both time and money.
“Boston is a great sports town with a history of championship teams, and I am looking forward to working with the staff and players to make the Revolution a club that our supporters can be proud of and that can be part of the tradition of success in New England,” Arena said.
One must assume that he would not have taken the job unless he was promised both. His appointment as head coach and sporting director, while rare in MLS, indicates he will be given the chance to shape the club as he sees fit. With that power, he will have to reform an entire organisation. Fans will only accept a rebuild, this cannot be a case of simply replacing the front door.
Some will say the departure of Burns is the first major step towards that goal.
The last time the New England Revolution came close to winning MLS Cup was 2014. The man that stopped them that day? Bruce Arena. The hope now is that his methods -- once tried and tested in MLS -- will deliver success for both the club and Arena himself.