The most successful coach in MLS history has arguably the biggest challenge he has ever faced.
Bruce Arena will be on the sidelines guiding the New England Revolution for the first time Saturday when they take on the Montreal Impact.
Arena, a five-time MLS Cup winner with D.C. United and the Galaxy, was named head coach and sporting director of the Revolution (3-2-8) on Tuesday, capping a whirlwind five days in which the club fired coach Brad Friedel on Thursday and general manager Mike Burns on Monday.
“In all the positions I’ve had in the league, I’ve wanted to be in an organization that wanted to win,” Arena said in his Thursday introductory press conference. “In my conversations with the Krafts (owners Robert and Jonathan) and Brian (team president Bilello), they are really confident we can move the team forward. This is a great sports town and we want to try and elevate the Revolution on par with the other championship teams in Boston. I look forward to the challenge of moving the Revolution forward.”
While Arena is best known for guiding the United States to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals – still the country’s high-water mark in the modern era of international soccer – his rescue mission to get the U.S. to the 2018 edition after replacing Jurgen Klinsmann ended in a spectacular flameout and elimination in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying with a loss in the final match at Trinidad and Tobago.
That ended a run of six consecutive World Cup appearances for the U.S., though Arena defiantly said at his introductory press conference he “felt good about what we did” while conceding he and the club “came up short.”
Arena takes over a Revolution side at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, trailing expansion club FC Cincinnati on goal difference. New England matched a dubious MLS record in a 5-0 loss May 8 to Chicago in which they conceded 18 goals in a four-match span, but some of the negativity around the club went away with Friedel’s firing. Last Saturday’s 3-1 win over San Jose snapped a four-match winless streak (0-1-3).
Arena’s task will be two-fold, to stabilize a club on the pitch that has allowed an MLS-worst 31 goals while also having an eye on the future with personnel evaluation to figure out how much change needs to take place. He watched the Revolution’s 3-0 charity match defeat Wednesday night to Premier League side Chelsea from the owner’s box and insisted he is in for the long haul of rebuilding the club.
“The Krafts have indicated to me that they want to try to move the franchise forward,” he told The Athletic. “They have ambitions, not only competitively, but also to build a stadium in the city, so I think it’s a great opportunity for me to try to help them in that goal of uplifting the franchise and being part of help moving the stadium from Foxboro into downtown Boston at some point.”
For the Impact (6-2-5), the drama continues to consist of waiting for Ignacio Piatti to be available. The winger has missed the last 10 matches with a knee injury, but he did return to practice this week, raising hopes he may be available for this match.
Piatti scored three goals in his three matches – which is still enough to share the team lead in scoring – but Montreal has been able to grind out points despite the occasional slip-up like last Saturday’s 2-1 loss at FC Cincinnati.
The Impact fell behind inside 10 minutes for the second time in three matches, and Maxi Urruti’s equalizer was wiped off due to offside. They conceded a second shortly after halftime, and substitute Orji Okwonkwo grabbed a consolation marker in the 75th minute.
“We could’ve done better and gotten something out of this game,” coach Remi Garde said. “The way we finished was very good. I didn’t see the opposing team cause (goalkeeper) Evan (Bush) any problems in the second, or in the first for that matter, other than the two goals we conceded.”
The good news for Montreal is this match kicks off a stretch in which it plays five of six at home. The Impact played 10 of their first 13 matches on the road and are 2-0-1 at Stade Saputo.
They left it late in beating New England 3-0 on the road April 24. Shamit Shome snapped a scoreless deadlock in the 79th minute, and substitute Anthony Jackson-Hamel added a brace in the 85th and 93rd minutes. The teams have split 20 all-time meetings with nine wins apiece and two draws.
(Brian Bilello/Bruce Arena/Robert Kraft photo courtesy New England Revolution official Twitter account)
(Ignacio Piatti photo courtesy Impact de Montreal official Twitter account)