New England Revolution

Just noticed the Revolution are really good? We got you. Here’s what you need to know as they pursue the MLS Cup

Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Coach Bruce Arena has turned around the Revolution, who earned the top seed in the MLS Cup playoffs after a record-breaking regular season.


Having already played the greatest regular season in Major League Soccer history, the Revolution now take aim at another prize that so far has eluded the club throughout its history: the MLS Cup.

New England will host New York City FC in Tuesday’s Eastern Conference semifinal (7:30 p.m., FS1, Fox Deportes) at Gillette Stadium, having earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Bruce Arena’s team has been truly dominant in 2021, but will be tested after a lengthy pre-playoff gap between games, not to mention a difficult opponent on a six-game unbeaten run.

Here’s a quick playoff overview:

The Revolution have already won a trophy this season

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In MLS, the best team in the regular season wins a trophy called the Supporters’ Shield. It’s an almost entirely unique prize across American sports in that it literally belongs to the supporters.

As a result, when New England closed out the regular season with the most points in the league (setting a record with 73), the presidents of two Revolution supporters’ groups (the Midnight Riders and the Rebellion) officially presented the team with the shield.

The regular-season title was the culmination of a two-year journey from rock bottom in the Eastern Conference. Sitting last in the league in May 2019, then-coach Brad Friedel was fired.

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Arena, a five-time MLS Cup winner and former US national team coach, was hired to replace Friedel. Since taking charge, Arena has orchestrated a dramatic turnaround, including three consecutive playoff appearances.

In 2021, all of the pieces clicked for New England. After embarking on several unbeaten runs, the team easily clinched its first Supporters’ Shield in October with several games to spare.

How MLS Cup playoffs work, and why New England had such a long layoff

Though New England has a piece of 2021 silverware, the real prize is still up for grabs. A single-elimination playoff format will decide which team emerges with the MLS Cup (set to be played Dec. 11 at 3 p.m).

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Because the Revolution finished atop the Eastern Conference, Arena’s team qualified for a first-round playoff bye. Normally, this would be viewed as a major advantage, allowing the players some timely rest.

While the bye did allow the Revolution to automatically advance one round in the postseason (New England now only has to win three games to become champion instead of four), the unique timing of MLS playoffs meant the team has had an unusually long 23 days between the final regular-season game and Tuesday’s matchup.

An international break — a designated period in the world soccer schedule when national teams play each other — occurred between the end of the regular season and the start of MLS Cup playoffs. The result is the Revolution has had to hold closed-door scrimmages to try to maintain sharpness.

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A quick overview of the team’s style, and players to watch

Whatever else might be said about the Revolution in 2021, the team certainly has not been boring.

Of the Revolution’s 22 regular-season wins, 18 came by a one-goal margin. In addition, New England also managed six wins by a 3-2 scoreline, indicative of an attacking style (and occasional defensive vulnerability).

Spearheaded by forwards Adam Buksa (16 goals) and Gustavo Bou (15 goals), the Revolution have utilized a free-flowing offensive style. At the literal center of the attack is midfield playmaker Carles Gil, whose 18 assists led MLS.

One of the team’s strongest characteristics has also been its depth. Aside from Buksa, Bou, and Gil (New England’s three designated players), Arena has cultivated other talented players who have made major contributions.

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Winger Tajon Buchanan has emerged as one of the dynamic young players in MLS, notching 8 goals and 5 assists. The 22-year-old Canadian’s game-changing speed and dribbling has already earned him a move to join Belgian side Club Brugge following the 2021 season.

Behind Gil in the midfield, Matt Polster — who joined New England from Scottish powerhouse Rangers in 2020 — has become one of the league’s most effective players in the middle of the field, constantly working to regain possession or close down opposing counterattacks.

On defense, New England is anchored by 2021 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Matt Turner. The 27-year-old — who wasn’t picked in the MLS SuperDraft coming out of college — has experienced a meteoric rise that now includes regular duty with the national team.

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Turner’s shot-stopping and demonstrated history of delivering big saves against penalty kicks (as he did in the 2020 playoffs) could prove to be the difference in the finite margins of the postseason.

What are the Revolution’s MLS Cup chances?

Normally, the overall top seed in the playoffs might automatically be expected to be a clear favorite to eventually hoist the trophy, but that’s not necessarily the case in MLS.

While playoff results have so far been more predictable in the Eastern Conference, New England’s top-seeded counterpart in the Western Conference (the Colorado Rapids) lost, 1-0, at home on Thanksgiving Day. The defending champion Seattle Sounders also lost at home.

The long layoff between games might be an issue, especially because New York enters the matchup having already played. That the visitors will also start 2021 MLS Golden Boot winner Taty Castellanos will be an additional difficulty.

Despite all of that, Arena’s team is arguably the most well-rounded in the league. Possessing the best collection of attacking talent (along with Turner backstopping the defense), the Revolution are seemingly well equipped for the inevitable drama of the postseason.

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