FOXBOROUGH — Should the Revolution make a smooth transition to the post-Bruce Arena era, it will be because some of Arena’s hand-picked ex-players are with the organization. That became apparent Wednesday as practice was conducted by interim coach Clint Peay and the team held a virtual press conference involving president Brian Bilello and technical director Curt Onalfo.
Peay replaced Richie Williams, who guided the Revolution for six games after Arena was placed on administrative leave by MLS in July. Williams has been “offered some time off,” according to Bilello. “Richie Williams is a valuable member of our organization and he remains with the organization.”
When Arena was hired as Revolution sporting director/head coach in 2019, he made Onalfo his first hire. At first, Onalfo joined Arena on the sideline, then moved to administration to make room for Williams, taking charge of the development programs and helping negotiate transfers of players such as Gustavo Bou.
Onalfo, Peay, and Williams played for Arena at the University of Virginia, and at the national team and professional levels before going on to coaching careers. They share Arena’s coaching philosophy: heavy on attacking play, allowing players freedom to create, expecting disciplined conduct. And that will likely be the team’s style under Peay, starting with a visit to the Colorado Rapids on Saturday.
The question, though, is can Arena’s successors duplicate his winning touch?
Peay has guided the Revolution II team for four years and joined the first-team staff for the final six weeks of last season.
“That makes him, really, a seamless person to lead this group moving forward, and the players are really excited to play for him,” Onalfo said.
As for Peay’s possibilities of taking over full time, Onalfo said, “Our focus is on the short term — the last seven games of the season — making sure that we get better each day, that we compete and continue to get points, and position ourselves to make a nice run in the playoffs and hopefully an MLS Cup.
“We have an incredible group of players in our locker room, and they are 100 percent focused on Colorado, which is the No. 1 focus — playing a game and winning.
“This has all been a distraction for everybody. Nobody asked for this. We’ve pushed through it in a positive way and our goal is to thrive, and that’s what we’re doing. That’s the focus that our staff has and that’s the focus that our players have. We’re getting ready to go to Colorado to try to get 3 points. End of story.”
Revolution players seemed good with the move-on message, going through a one-hour practice Wednesday, their first since Arena announced his resignation Saturday. The Revolution called off Tuesday’s practice because of long meetings and some players questioning Williams’s role leading to Arena’s resignation. Management appeared to back Williams by firing assistants Shalrie Joseph and Dave van den Bergh on Tuesday night.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Onalfo said. “I have a lot of experience in Major League Soccer. I have a lot of experience with building dynamics, especially team dynamics. And it became very clear to me that the best path to move forward for our group to be successful was to make changes and have a fresh start. And that’s what we did.”
Arena is the most successful coach in MLS and US national team history, and part of the reason is that he surrounded himself with talented help. But with all that’s happened, can those former role-playing assistants pick up the Revolution (13-5-9, 48 points) where they left off and continue to contend among the top three teams in MLS?
“Adversity is an opportunity to make the most of the situation,” Onalfo said. “We are making the most of our situation right now. So, to answer your question, yeah, we will continue to attract great players to this organization because we have great owners, we have an excellent president who sits right next to me, and we have great people in this building that will continue to thrive.
“Our focus is to get through this and focus. No more distractions. We move forward, and it starts with Colorado on Saturday.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.