Bruce Arena’s tenure on the Revolution sideline begins on Sunday in a familiar place as New England faces a tough road test against the LA Galaxy.
Arena, who coached the Galaxy from 2008-16, won three MLS Cups during his time in Los Angeles and is now looking to bring his winning mentality to the Eastern Conference team his Galaxy vanquished in the 2014 Cup final.
While the Revolution were in turmoil at the time of Arena’s hiring, the results on the field improved dramatically under interim coach Mike Lapper. The Revolution are unbeaten in their last three games (1-0-2) and have allowed only two goals in that span after conceding 30 in the opening 12 matches.
There are signs of brighter times ahead for the Revolution, whose struggles began with a 3-2 loss at home to the Galaxy last July 14. From that day until Arena’s hiring, New England went 5-17-6. With a fresh start on the Revolution players’ minds, here’s how they can conquer the Galaxy:
Tame the Zlatan
One of the most dangerous strikers in MLS, Zlatan Ibrahimovic poses a challenge because of his finishing ability. Ibrahimovic, 37, has 31 goals in 37 games for the Galaxy. His size, speed, and strength make him a tremendous threat all over the field.
The Revolution have not yet dealt with Ibrahimovic, as the Swede did not make the trip to Foxborough last season. So with this new challenge, the New England defense must rise to the occasion again, as it has over the past three matches.
“If everybody is focued on what they need to do individually and collectively, we’ll be fine,” said Revolution defender Jalil Anibaba.
Learn on the fly
Arena has admitted he’s only “1 percent” there when it comes to being fully acquainted with his new team. For the players, their job will be to adjust on the fly when it comes to implementing and executing a new tactical system.
Arena’s pedigree has commanded the respect of the team, and it feels like the Revolution have been not only reinvigorated, but are playing with more freedom and confidence in all aspects. Now they must adapt quickly to another new coach. Arena is keeping things simple to start.
“It’s going to take some time,” he said. “Things turned over real quick. I can confuse them by giving them too much information, so go slowly in the process.”
On the counter
The Galaxy are extremely aggressive in the attack and throw a lot of misdirection into their offensive game. However, for all the flare they have up top they are vulnerable to counterattacks. If not for keeper David Bingham, this season could be a lot different for LA.
There is often chaos in the Galaxy defensive third, even when opponents aren’t on the counter, but Bingham is usually there. If the Revolution can find space between the Galaxy defenders — and there’s usually a fair amount — their speed advantage up top can exploit LA’s biggest weakness.
Dan Shulman can be reached at email@example.com.