Some of the Revolution’s weaknesses were exposed against Atlanta United in defeats by scores of 3-1 in the final game of the regular season and a 1-0 in the playoffs Saturday. But sporting director/head coach Bruce Arena already has started reinforcing the team for next season.
The first Revolution addition is set to be Dutch left back Alex Buttner, who played for Vitesse Arnhem last season, according to multiple sources. Buttner, 30, is left-footed and has experience with Manchester United, Dynamo Moscow, and Anderlecht.
The Revolution struggled at left back this season, using four players at the position. Edgar Castillo was set to fill the position, but missed the final 11 games of the season with a rib injury.
Arena led the Revolution on a remarkable run, escaping the Eastern Conference cellar near the halfway point in the season and advancing to the postseason for the first time since 2015. But the Revolution met their match with Atlanta United and, in fact, had only two victories over Eastern Conference playoff teams during the season.
Arena said the Revolution had exceeded expectations and he would not have considered the season a failure had they fallen short of playoff contention. The Revolution’s rally following their worst-ever start to a season indicated Arena will not have to do a complete rebuild.
Revolution owners Jonathan and Robert Kraft opened the checkbook for designated players Gustavo Bou and Carles Gil, and will likely add a third DP next year. The Revolution will also soon open a $30 million-plus training facility behind Gillette Stadium and field a USL League One team, which should help develop players.
This is Arena’s third time taking over a team in the course of the regular season. He guided the New York Red Bulls to the playoffs in 2006 and the Los Angeles Galaxy to the playoffs in ’08, then to the MLS Cup final in ’09.
“They’re all different, there are a lot of similarities but every environment is different,” Arena said. “LA was an environment where they believe they’re a big club and will do big things, and here we’re going to try to build ourselves into a big club.
“All 2008 was about was to try to figure out what to do with the roster in 2009. Here there’s some similarities, but I’ve had more time. We didn’t think we’d move the team to where they’d be in a position to be in the playoffs. But they responded so well and earned it.”
The Revolution seemed destined to miss the postseason for what would have been a team record fourth successive year as they had compiled a 2-8-2 record in early May. Coach Brad Friedel was fired after a 5-0 loss to the Chicago Fire on May 8, and the Revolution recovery began as they went 1-0-2 under interim coach Mike Lapper. Arena guided the Revolution to an 8-3-8 mark, qualifying for the playoffs with one game remaining.
But the season concluded as Atlanta right back Franco Escobar’s 70th-minute goal made the difference before a crowd of 66,114 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday.
“There was really one play that separated the two teams,” Revolution president Brian Bilello said. “We could’ve just as easily have won this game. So I think these guys have shown what they’re capable of and we know there’s good things ahead in the future of the club and we’re really excited about 2020.
“You always want a team that can compete for the championship, that has the ability at the very minimum to make the playoffs, and then you have a shot to win it all. But by digging ourselves in a hole we had to go on the road in the playoffs. We know how good we can be at Gillette. I don’t think that we’re a bad road team and this game shows it. But, obviously, you’d rather have this game at home and to do that you have to win more games, take more points in the table. I’m proud of what the guys were able to do in terms of turning it around but all of us want a lot more for the club than a seventh-place finish and a road playoff loss in the future.”
In 24 seasons, the Revolution reached the MLS Cup final four times under Steve Nicol and once under Jay Heaps. Arena, who has won five MLS Cups, is expected to make the difference.
“I guess that’s why I’m here, right?” Arena said of the Revolution’s decline following 2015. “I think the league has been upgraded and I think the Revolution have not kept up with the Joneses, and now we’re trying to do that. We’re trying to get better, and this is a project that is not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a little bit of time. I think making the playoffs allowed us to walk away from this year being successful, given the circumstances they faced early this year.”
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.