Ahead of the New York Red Bulls’ away game against New England Revolution on Saturday, we asked Jake Catanese (@JCatanese43) of SB Nation sibling site The Bent Musket a few questions about the club Bruce Arena has turned into an Eastern Conference contender.
OaM: Not traditionally the most attention-grabbing club in the league, the Revs have quietly become the early frontrunners in the Eastern Conference. What magic has Bruce Arena spun this time to turn a club towards contender status?
Honestly, pretty much what Bruce does at every stop he’s had in MLS - he just builds good rosters and keeps things simple. Jay Heaps was never given the financial support (outside of Jermaine Jones) to get the roster to the next level and Brad Friedel tried too hard to implement a strict Euro style locker room that eventually backfired spectacularly for him.
As far as the Revs as a contender, it’s been a slow build up derailed last year by the pandemic. A full year of Carles Gil and three big DPs in Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou were supposed to show a lot more improvement in 2020 but New England only saw the payoff and potential with a long playoff run before losing to the eventual champion Crew in the Eastern Conference Final. Carles Gil (the only positive element from Friedel’s tenure) is a legitimate MVP candidate, and if the Revs can improve their lackluster finishing, they should be at or near the top of the East for most of the year.
OaM: The Revs have four straight wins at Gillette Stadium - what about the stadium has helped it become a relative fortress in these strange times? The climate? The turf? The long bus ride from the airport?
Yes, all of the above. The Revs have never been a dominant road team, so they need to pile on the points at Gillette as often as possible. Last year the Revs had a meh home record of 2W-3L-5T and if New England is going to be a top team in the East this year, Fortress Foxboro needs to be a thing. In years past, the Revs’ late winner against Columbus last week might have stayed a 0-0 draw. I’m not sure you can have a smash and grab at home, but Buska’s late winner off the bench felt really good for a team that has struggled to close out results in years past.
OaM: While it might be hard to find much to complain about in a season off to such a good start, what’s an area where Bruce Arena or Revs fans would want to see improvement heading into the Red Bulls game and remainder of the season?
Finishing. The Revs have been just wasteful in front of the net for well over a year. The good news is that the New Egland has been creating chances, but they either aren’t generating enough big chances or they just aren’t finishing them. If the Revs can find their scoring boots they can probably change those numbers around. It also helps that Matt Turner is in net and saves like 7 more goals a year than he should.
A personal thing for me is Bruce Arena’s substitution patterns. I think he needs to utilize his bench a lot earlier in games. New England is practically two deep at every position and should be able to really change the game off the bench by rotating the starting lineup and putting regulars in and getting his starters off to keep them rested for the long haul. Adam Buksa was the hero off the bench last week but it could easily be Bou or Bunbury or Buchanan depending on the starting lineup.