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Revolution

Hungry for an MLS Cup, Bruce Arena has Revolution poised to be a contender

Hired as sporting director/coach in 2019, the Revolution believe Bruce Arena can position the team for long-term success in Major League Soccer.
Hired as sporting director/coach in 2019, the Revolution believe Bruce Arena can position the team for long-term success in Major League Soccer.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

When the Revolution opened their first training camp on an icy March day in 1996, they worked out in the inflated bubble behind Foxboro Stadium. These days, the home of the Revolution includes a $35 million training complex, complete with three well-groomed grass fields. But when the team started workouts Monday, it was back where it all started.

Of course, the bubble has been replaced by a field house, which offers less claustrophobic conditions and sports a sponsor’s name — but is still often referred to as “The Bubble.”

Nearly everything Revolution-related has improved since MLS kicked off in its initial season. The Revolution have produced inspiring teams — last year’s version advanced to the Eastern Conference finals — but they have yet to win an MLS Cup.

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And that is where Bruce Arena comes in.

In 1996, Arena won the first of his five MLS Cup titles, the game played at Foxboro Stadium, which has gone the way of the original bubble. The Revolution hired Arena as sporting director/head coach in 2019, hoping he could win No. 6 with them, and last year he took them within a game of their sixth finals appearance.

The Revolution now have nearly everything in place to make a run at a championship. Besides hiring the league’s most accomplished coach, the team maxed out with three Designated Players, shelling out $12.7 million in transfer fees for Gustavo Bou, Adam Buksa, and Carles Gil. All that’s missing is a soccer-specific stadium in Boston, leaving the Revolution to make do with Gillette Stadium when the season opens April 17.

Bruce Arena gives direction during a workout in Foxborough last year.
Bruce Arena gives direction during a workout in Foxborough last year.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

While the Revolution might desire more suitable digs, they would settle for an extended post-season stay at Gillette via a regular-season record good enough to guarantee home-field advantage. Last season, the Revolution won twice on the road in the post-season — remarkably, they have a winning record away from home since Arena took over in May 2019 — but it would have been difficult to capture two more victories, in Columbus and Seattle, to capture the MLS Cup.

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Arena is hoping the Revolution can avoid their habitual sluggish start. The Revolution have won only five season-openers in 25 years, and have an 0-4-2 in lid-lifters since 2013. Arena, meanwhile, guided the Los Angeles Galaxy to five campaign-opening victories in eight seasons. Along the way, the Galaxy compiled early-season 10- and 12-game unbeaten runs, and that was while Arena juggled Champions League commitments.

“I think one thing that’s a big difference with our team this year, and I told them that in our team meeting today, we have not had a full year with this team,” Arena said during a conference call Monday. “So this year, hopefully, is the year we’re going to be together for a full season. The positive part is that we know each other now. I think we’ve built a roster that is stronger than we’ve had in previous years. Hopefully, that adds up to some more success during the regular season.”

The Revolution have gone to great lengths to prepare in the preseason, traveling to Europe (Italy, Portugal), Latin America (Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico), the North Atlantic (Azores, Bermuda), as well as several southern US cities, including pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans. Arena plans to spend three weeks at home before bringing the Revolution to Los Angeles for three weeks during the preseason.

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“A number of players have been here some weeks now working hard and you can see that the fitness level was pretty good for the start of preseason,” Arena said. “That’s something that’s a real positive and we hope we can move them along a lot quicker.”

Bruce Arena and Robert Kraft talk during a game against Montreal last September.
Bruce Arena and Robert Kraft talk during a game against Montreal last September.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Arena transformed the Revolution when he took over two years ago, after the team got off to a 2-8-2 start, its worst ever. And the Revolution seemed set to carry momentum into last season, before Gil went down with an ankle injury and play was halted due to pandemic protocols.

The Revolution rallied to compile their first winning record (8-7-8, 32 points) since 2015, before falling short in the playoffs.

It could be a long shot for a team that has never won the Supporters Shield, but if Arena can get the Revolution to take a couple strides forward, he could be contending for an MLS Cup steps away from where his professional championship days started.