Bruce Arena debuted as head coach of the New England Revolution on Sunday night and led his new team a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy. The result marked New England’s first road win of the season and extended its unbeaten run in league play to four games.
Here are three takeaways from New England’s perspective:
Revolution are in a fine spot ahead of the Gold Cup break
The Eastern Conference is wide open, no thanks to teams like the Revolution, who started the season poorly but are within striking distance of a playoff position.
With Sunday night’s win in LA, the Revolution now are just two points out of the conference’s seventh and final playoff spot with half the season remaining.
Much attention has been paid to the supposed “new coach bumps” the Revs might have received from firing Brad Friedel, using Mike Lapper in the interim and then hiring Arena. But both Lapper and Arena have been insisting that there’s more to the Revolution’s newfound form than a change in demeanor.
On Sunday night, the players proved both Lapper and Arena right by looking sharp on the ball, creating chances and defending resolutely. Whether this style of play sticks remains to be seen, but Revs will have plenty of time to improve on how Arena wants them to play during the three-week Gold Cup break.
Aside from a U.S. Open Cup game away at the New York Red Bulls, the Revolution can build on the foundation they’ve established so far with Arena.
Despite wild finale, Revolution found a way to win
In recent seasons, the Revolution have found ways to play well and drop points, so it’s a positive sign that they were able to control most of Sunday’s game against the Galaxy and escape California with the full three points even though the hosts put up a late-game rally.
New England didn’t panic when Zlatan Ibrahimović put away a stunning bicycle kick to cut its two-goal lead in half. There were some nervy moments, for sure, but the team did what was necessary to win.
However, Sunday night’s proceedings were almost hallmarked by missed chances. Before Cristian Penilla opened the scoring, DeJuan Jones missed an open Diego Fagúndez right in front of net, and Teal Bunbury shot over the bar on an open goal. New England out-shot LA 10-5 in the first half, then Carles Gil hit the post before Bunbury finally made it 2-0.
After the match, defender Andrew Farrell noted the Revolution’s missed chances, but also praised his teammates for working hard on both sides of the ball to stymie the Galaxy’s second-half rally.
“They are a great team, but to be honest I thought we should’ve put two or three more [in the net],” Farrell said. “We had chances in the game and we knew Zlatan was going to Zlatan and do his stuff, and we just tried to contain him as much as possible.
“Obviously he got that goal — I think there were four or five minutes left, plus stoppage time — so we knew we just had to withstand it. They are going to put balls in the box to try and find him, so just get a body on him and make it tough. The guys who came in put in a shift, just so proud of the effort to get the three points.”
Even in new roles, players stick with skills
Juan Agudelo is good with his feet. Gil has flair and can dissect opposing defenders in the attacking third. Farrell and Jalil Anibaba are blockers and ball-winners on the back line. Bunbury makes excellent runs. Penilla is a speedster.
The Revolution were unable to turn this array of talents, and those of other players, into a cohesive identity at the start of the season, but the team’s current four-game unbeaten run — especially Sunday’s result in LA — seems to suggest a roster that once looked like it was full of misfits could now contain a competitive unit.
Lapper said last week that he wanted to instill a “do you” mentality in players, whereby they would embrace their individual skills for the betterment of the team. Arena continued that on Sunday night, though he asked some of the players to transfer their skills into new roles on the field.
Most notably, Agudelo dropped deep and became a ball-winner and transition midfielder, which allowed Gil to advance into the attack and pick apart Los Angeles’ back line. Jones, a natural striker, also looked credible at left back, though nearly every attacking player assisted in defense in some way.
“I have to start out with coach [Mike] Lapper, “He has done an unbelievable job, and he really instilled a lot of confidence in a lot of players and I have nothing but love and respect for him,” Bunbury said.
“With coach Arena as well coming on board the past week, getting training in with him, he is trying to get us to break our mold and start playing a little bit more aggressive, moving the ball forward a lot more, being composed on the ball. It’s alright if we make mistakes; he wants us to keep going. He is all about team first and I think we showed that tonight.”