New England Revolution

‘It’s been a mess’: After a record-setting 2021 season, the Revolution face an early crisis in 2022

New England has battled a difficult schedule, injuries, and even the elements, but it’s still too early to count out Bruce Arena’s team.

Revolution Red Bulls loss
Revolution players react with disbelief after conceding an own goal in a 1-0 loss to the Red Bulls on April 2, 2022. Photo by: Barry Chin/Globe Staff

As it turned out, Saturday’s demoralizing 1-0 home loss to the Red Bulls — the product of an unlucky stoppage time own-goal from New England midfielder Matt Polster — was a fairly accurate microcosm of the Revolution’s 2022 season through the first seven games.

Bruce Arena’s team, possessing a wealth of talent across the field (including reigning MLS MVP Carles Gil), appeared to be methodically wearing down the New York visitors. Though the Red Bulls committed 23 fouls by game’s end — somehow exceeding their league-leading per game average of 22.25 — the Revolution had the advantage. Red Bulls midfielder Frankie Amaya received a second yellow card in the 73rd minute and was sent off.

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Up a player following Amaya’s dismissal, New England further monopolized possession and hunted for a winning goal. And while it wasn’t the home team’s sharpest performance, stats afterward showed that the Revolution had been the better side.

Of course, that fact proved little consolation after Revolution center back Andrew Farrell’s attempted clearance of New York forward Ashley Fletcher’s speculative cross deflected off of Polster and into his own net.

It was, as Revolution play-by-play announcer Brad Feldman accurately described it, “the wackiest, most improbable own-goal that we’ve seen in years.”

Arena, speaking in an expansive postgame press conference, began by noting the unlucky result.

“I don’t think we should’ve lost that game, but I’m not sure we deserved to win,” he acknowledged, noting that a draw would’ve been a fair result.

“You know, what can you say? That’s the sport of soccer, if you haven’t seen any of these games before,” Arena dryly added.

New England’s coach, who has more regular-season wins than anyone else in league history, has seen more than enough games in his career to recognize a run of bad luck.

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It’s already been a stark difference to a year ago, when the Revolution marched through the MLS regular season at a historic rate, setting a record for points and winning the Supporters’ Shield.

With Saturday’s defeat, New England has three league losses in just five games. In 2021, the Revolution didn’t suffer a third loss until the team’s 13th game.

And in games decided by a margin of one goal, the Revolution are now just 1-2 after building a 19-3 record in the same criteria last season.

The bad luck has mostly had to do with a plethora of early-season injuries (another reversal from 2021, when New England largely escaped any major issues). Defending MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Matt Turner has yet to feature after suffering a hairline fracture in his right foot during a preseason game. Starting center backs Farrell and Henry Kessler have both missed time as well.

It was naturally little surprise that New England had trouble defending when the trio missed time. Up 2-0 at home against Real Salt Lake on March 12 in one of multiple early-season games at Gillette Stadium played amid a snowstorm, the backup defensive unit surrendered a trio of goals in the final 15 minutes in a shocking defeat.

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While the aftermath of the game was notable for Gil’s fiery television interview (in which he bluntly criticized the decision to play in the snowstorm), the more ominous takeaway was the struggle defensively.

That became apparent days later, when New England’s brief foray into the CONCACAF Champions League utterly collapsed with a 3-0 defeat to Pumas UNAM in Mexico City (a complete reversal of the team’s 3-0 win in New England in the first leg of the matchup). Final defeat in a penalty kick shootout sent Arena’s team crashing out of the once-promising Champions League campaign.

In all competitions, the Revolution have now lost four in a row, the worst run since Arena took over in 2019.

Still, it’s only April. And with 29 games remaining, Arena — who once notably asserted that “In MLS, the second half of the season is the season” — isn’t panicking. Pointing out that MLS teams competing in the Champions League are usually at a disadvantage because of the early-season timing, he pointed to other factors that have hampered New England out of the gate in 2022.

“We in particular had a disastrous start of the season with the logistics and the weather and all of those things. So, it’s been a mess,” he admitted. “I’m hopeful now as we get into the season and the weather now cooperates and we can train on a regular basis outside [that] we’ll get better and you leave it at that.

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“It’s not an excuse, but we certainly did not step up to what we needed to do to deal with the kind of schedule we had in the early going,” Arena added.

Plenty of questions remain. Turner, whenever he returns from injury, will only feature for the Revolution until June, when he moves to English club Arsenal at the start of the European transfer window as part of a deal agreed to in January. His departure only underlines the team’s current question marks at the goalkeeper position.

And with Polish striker Adam Buksa also potentially set to depart in the summer, the Revolution could face uncertainties on both ends of the field.

But immersed in an early crisis, Arena remains unfazed.

“What are you going to do? It’s all part of the exercise. We have to move forward,” he concluded. “Tonight, we didn’t perform poorly. We got a little bit unlucky, but we probably should’ve just had a point and [left] it at that.”

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