FOXBOROUGH — The Revolution’s mantra has long been to set a goal of making the MLS playoffs and then “anything can happen.” But the team could be setting its sights higher with the hiring of Bruce Arena as sporting director and head coach.
“I think we can be smart how we spend and still be positioned to be much more competitive and ultimately, one day, win an MLS Cup,” Arena said during a news conference Thursday, two days after his hiring was announced.
As Arena noted, teams he has coached have advanced to the playoffs 13 times in 14 seasons and qualified for the MLS Cup final seven times, capturing five titles — in contrast to the Revolution’s record of reaching five MLS Cup finals and losing all five.
“It’s not going to happen in the next two weeks,” Arena said. “I’m confident over the next couple years we can make very good progress and make this team much more competitive than it is today. Everything will be here to be successful. The new training facility is fabulous.
“We want to have the energy to be the team that can attract free agents out of the league as well as players from abroad. I think there are going to be a lot of the resources here to allow us to make this team much more successful than it is today.”
The Revolution (3-8-2, 11 points) have declined since losing to Arena’s Los Angeles Galaxy in the 2014 MLS Cup and are in last place in the Eastern Conference going into a visit to Montreal Saturday. The team’s standing led to a shakeup that started with the firing of coach Brad Friedel last week and general manager Michael Burns on Monday.
Revolution president Brian Bilello said Arena was the first person he called in a search for replacements, and the hiring was virtually finalized after Arena and team owners Jonathan and Robert Kraft conversed over the weekend.
Arena, who has been residing in the Los Angeles area since coaching the Galaxy (2008-16) and the US national team (through November 2017), said he likely will make his Revolution coaching debut when the team visits the Galaxy June 1.
“I have plenty of experience in doing this, but when you’re on the outside, you really don’t know until you get inside a team,” Arena said. “I’ll be able to evaluate the roster a lot better as I get on the field with them, get to see the players day in and day out, see the kind of mentality they have, the kind of players they are.
“We have until November to make decisions on players. We’re going to take our time, be patient, be smart in evaluating the players that are here, and enable us to make some good decisions as we get towards the end of the year.”
The changes continue an ambitious trend by the Revolution, who set a team record in adding midfielder Carles Gil on a $2 million transfer from Deportivo La Coruna this year and had an even more expensive move rejected for winger Paul-Jose Mpoku from Standard Liege.
Arena likely will receive a multiyear contract, making him the team’s highest-paid coach ever, and he signaled that the team will bring in administrators for the Revolution Academy, to be bolstered by a $35 million investment in a training facility.
“We are confident that he is the right person to lead our soccer organization going forward and bring the Revolution back to an era of continual success on the field year after year after year,” Bilello said. “We’ve asked him to take over soccer operations and make all the decisions and build an organization that can be competitive on an annual basis.”
Arena counts the 1996 MLS Cup as his “fondest memory” of Foxborough. Arena guided D.C. United to a 3-2 golden goal victory over the Galaxy in a torrential downpour. United rallied from a two-goal deficit as Arena’s substitutes (Tony Sanneh and Shawn Medved) both scored, and Eddie Pope headed in the winner in the 94th minute.
The result launched Arena and United into prominence, as the team reached the first four MLS Cup finals, winning three. Arena departed for the US national team after United lost the 1998 final to Chicago, and soon proved himself on the international stage.
Arena won three more MLS Cups with the Galaxy (2011, ’12, ’14), but his return to the national team concluded with elimination from World Cup qualifying in early October 2017 — about the same time the Revolution had been knocked out of MLS playoff contention. The Revolution recruited Arena then, before announcing Friedel’s hiring on Nov. 9, 2017. But those negotiations apparently helped expedite the process this time.
“Bruce was the first person I called,” Bilello said. “We both seemed to be on the same page.”
Though Arena has provided opposition for the Revolution, he seemed aligned with the Krafts, who attended the news conference at Gillette Stadium.
“In all the positions I’ve had in the past in the league, I’ve always wanted to be in an organization that I felt wanted to win,” Arena said. “And in my conversations with the Krafts and Brian, they’re really confident that we can move the team forward. There’s aspirations to build a stadium one day, and we’ll have the resources to make the team better.
“This is such a great sports town and we want to elevate the Revolution on par with all these other great teams in Boston. I feel great about being in a great city with great ownership. I look forward to the challenge of moving the Revolution forward and I can assure you that we’re going to work real hard and make things better.”
There is a feeling that Arena, 67, did not want to leave the coaching ranks on a losing note, following the US loss to Trinidad & Tobago in qualifying. And he appeared as combative as ever talking about his last coaching campaign and the future.
“I was actually proud of the job I did in 2017,” Arena said. “We had a great group of players and they worked real hard and we fell short. That’s life, unfortunately. Sometimes people don’t understand that.
“We played 18 games and lost two of them in 2017, so overall, I think it was a positive experience. Certainly, I’m as disappointed as anybody in that failure. I don’t define that as my legacy, personally. I know others do.
“Sixty-seven years old in a country where the president is in his 70s and his likely competition in the next election is 70-something. So, I’m the young kid on the block.
“So, did I have to do this? No. But I love coaching, I love the sport, I love the challenge of building the game in this country.
“It’s something I’ve done for 40 years and it’s not something that’s easy to walk away from, and that’s why I’m here today.”