3 takeaways from Bruce Arena’s Revolution coaching debut

The Revolution overcame Zlatan Ibrahimovic's bicycle kick to beat the Galaxy, 2-1.

New England Revolution 2-1 Galaxy
Juan Agudelo and Cristian Penilla celebrate Penilla's goal during the first half against the Los Angeles Galaxy. –Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

The Revolution scored a road win on Sunday night in Los Angeles, defeating the Galaxy 2-1 in a game that came down to virtually the last kick of the ball.

It was the first game in which new head coach (and sporting director) Bruce Arena was on the sidelines for New England. Given that Arena coached the Galaxy from 2008-2016 — winning multiple MLS Cups, including in 2014 against the Revolution — his first game in his new role carried significance.

“I have nothing but great memories,” Arena said of being back in his former home stadium. “It’s never going to be an environment that I don’t feel comfortable in.”

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Luckily for the Revolution, Arena’s comfort in the Dignity Health Sports Park seemed to translate in the team’s result. The first road victory of the season bodes well as a formal starting point for the Arena era in New England.

The dawn of a new day?

The Revolution played effectively on the counter for periods of the game on Sunday. Despite the Galaxy dominating overall possession (62.5-37.5), it was the away team that managed more shots on goal. Midfield playmaker Carles Gil was once again New England’s attacking fulcrum, hitting the post once and providing the assist on Teal Bunbury’s second half goal (which proved to be the difference).

“I’m pretty proud of this group,” Arena told reporters after the game. “They’ve had a tough run this year, and they’re beginning to become a team. So that was a positive.”

The difficulties Arena alluded to are obvious: New England has spent much of the season near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, having allowed 33 goals (most of any MLS team aside from the Colorado Rapids). Away games have proven particularly tricky, with lopsided losses in May including a 6-1 defeat to the Philadelphia Union and a 5-0 meltdown against the Chicago Fire.

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The loss to the Fire on May 8 triggered the end of Brad Friedel’s 18-month tenure as Revolution head coach. General manager Michael Burns was also fired several days later, clearing the way for Arena’s arrival.

It’s clear that Arena intends to overhaul at least a portion of the team’s roster, though exactly when and where changes are made isn’t known.

“I have a pretty good idea,” Arena told reporters of possibles moves. “I’m probably not going to make it public to you.”

“We’ll look to try to make the team better,” Arena continued. “It’s challenging mid-year to do that, but we have our eyes on some people. We’ll attempt to make the team a little bit stronger in the transfer window as well.”

MLS clubs can begin adding players in the transfer market on July 7 (running until August 7).

In the meantime, the current group of players appear to be buying into Arena’s adjustments after a week on the training round.

“One thing [Arena] said, he was like, ‘You know where the goal is. The goal’s in behind the defenders. You’ve just got to go that way, attack it, be aggressive.’ I think that was a big thing,” said Revolution defender Andrew Farrell.“Telling guys up top to be aggressive and don’t have a fear to go at a guy one-on-one.”

The postgame excitement in the locker room on Sunday was in stark contrast to earlier in the season.

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Zlatan didn’t think too highly of losing to the Revs.

The most recognizable face in MLS at the moment is Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The 6’5″ Swede has never been afraid to speak his mind, and wasn’t pleased to lose to the Revolution (a team he perceives to be a lesser challenge).

“It’s very disappointing,” Ibrahimovic said of the loss, “and very irritating, because it was not a difficult game. I think everybody was under-performing, and when you do that it’s difficult to get the outcome we want.”

“They got goals,” Ibrahimovic said of New England, “not difficult goals to score, but they scored and we lost the game.”

He continued his tough critique of the Revolution, comparing them to a previous Galaxy opponent.

“I mean [on] opponents, I felt Kansas City is a better team, but it’s a different game.”

His contribution to Sunday’s game was one of the best goals scored in MLS this season:

The Revolution social media team was ready with a humorous summary:

Yet Ibrahimovic — no stranger to highlight goals — made it clear that he wasn’t going to dwell the bicycle kick.

“This [game] is one to forget as soon as possible, even if you score goal of the year,” Ibrahimovic explained. “This is [one] to forget, very fast.”

Bruce Arena is already the most quotable coach in New England.

“People are nice [here],” Arena said of the Los Angeles fans. “Some lady was nice enough to come up to me and apologize for her husband yelling at me. I think I was yelled at more when I was coaching here than tonight, so that was good.”

It was a characteristic quote from Arena, comparing his time as a visiting coach to when he was in charge of the Galaxy.

His dry sense of humor was on full display later in the interview, when — having deflected a reporter’s lofty comparison of him as the “Alex Ferguson of American soccer” — he agreed with the analysis that the Revolution haven’t been a success in 2019.

“This team has not been great. That’s probably why I have this job and I’m not relaxing in Manhattan Beach right now.”