New England Revolution

For first-place Revolution, reasons behind their success run deep

“I’ve said since preseason, I think we’ve got the deepest team that I’ve ever been a part of here at the Revolution.”

Mary Schwalm
As they near the halfway point of the regular season, the Revolution sit in first-place. Mary Schwalm / The Boston Globe


With the Revolution nearing the halfway point of Major League Soccer’s regular season, Bruce Arena’s team remains perched atop the Eastern Conference.

It’s unfamiliar territory for New England in the club’s recent history. Even the successful playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2020 emerged out of a forgettable regular season that culminated with an eighth-place finish.

So far, 2021 has gone much more to plan. A major part of that has been the health of midfield playmaker Carles Gil. The 28-year-old Spaniard played in only a handful of games a year ago, hampered by an Achilles’ injury.

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This season has been a different story, with Gil fit and playing regularly. The stats speak for themselves: Gil leads MLS in assists with 13, more than double the next closest player. He also tops the league in key passes with 72 (his closest competitor sits at 42).

Yet explaining the Revolution’s sustained success through the first 16 games of the season goes beyond just Gil’s contributions, immense as they have been.

Immersed in a busy schedule the last eight days in which New England played three games, Arena also had to cobble together a lineup without the services of starting goalkeeper Matt Turner and winger Tajon Buchanan. Both have been with national teams for the CONCACAF Gold Cup (Turner for the United States, Buchanan for Canada). On top of that, center back Henry Kessler was called into the US squad midweek because of an injury to Walker Zimmerman.

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Despite these challenges — Turner, like Gil, has statistically proved to be one of the best at his position in the league this season — the Revolution managed to win all three games.

Part of the reason is the built-in depth that Arena has been cultivating all season.

“We’ve done that all year,” Arena said of the constant lineup rotation. “It’s important. That’s the purpose of doing it early in the year, is for the months of July, August, September, when there are a lot of games and a lot of challenges. So, I think it’s paying dividends.”

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Filling in for Turner has arguably been the most difficult aspect. The 27-year-old goalkeeper, who made several crucial saves in the United States’ 1-0 win over Jamaica in the Gold Cup quarterfinal Sunday, was one of only a handful of players to start every Revolution game before his departure for the national team.

In his place, 36-year-old Brad Knighton has grown into the challenge. Following a tough start in a 3-2 loss to Toronto FC earlier this month, Knighton has backstopped three consecutive New England wins.

“I’ve said since preseason, I think we’ve got the deepest team that I’ve ever been a part of here at the Revolution,” Knighton said after the 2-1 victory over Montreal on Sunday. “For us to go through the stretches where we’ve got three games in a week, we’ve got international call-ups, we’ve got injuries, guys are going to have to step up when their name is called. This week, guys have done that.”

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