How the Revolution are setting a new championship standard where the Patriots once ruled

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Every time the New England Revolution step on the field at Gillette Stadium, they’re reminded of one thing: greatness. 

Six Super Bowl championship banners stand tall above the video screen as an ode to the decades-long dominance of the New England Patriots. They created a dynasty, made Foxboro, Massachusetts a fortress and reigned over the NFL. Those days are now in the rearview with Tom Brady’s departure.

But now a different type of futbol is bringing joy to a region so passionate for sports greatness.

Head coach Bruce Arena and the Revs have gotten extremely comfortable this year being atop Major League Soccer standings and making history along the way. With 49 points in 22 games, not only are they running away with the Eastern Conference’s top seed, but they’re also in the driver’s seat to win the Supporters’ Shield, annually awarded to the team with the most regular season points. 

That mark is tied for the most in MLS history at stage point of the season, replicating the success LAFC's total from their historic 2019 campaign. It isn’t bold to think New England can take a crack at the 72-point record set by the Black and Gold.

So why are they in position to do it?

Carles Gil makes MVP case, while Tajon Buchanan and others shine

Carles Gil has been in MVP-level form for the Revs this season. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Carles Gil has been in MVP-level form for the Revs this season. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

An integral part of the Revs’ fast start is midfielder Carles Gil, who before picking up a muscle tissue injury that sent him back to his home country of Spain for rehab was the runaway choice for MVP. He'll reportedly be back in time for the season's stretch run.

New England impressed weekly due to his class and ease on the pitch, orchestrating the attack and even scoring a few gems himself. He quickly racked up 10 assists in 10 games and currently has an MLS-best 15 helpers, five shy of joining the elite 20-assist club which only counts three players in league history among its members.

“We’ve always known his quality as a player and what he can do on the ball,” said Revs forward Teal Bunbury. “But for me it’s the type of captain, guy that he is that is paramount — his character. I can never talk enough about how much we love Carles and how personally I think he’s one of the best players we’ve had and just one of the best people as well.”

His form was extremely beneficial for one player in particular: Gustavo Bou, who is among the top scorers in the league with 12 goals. While Gil took home MLS Player of the Month honors in June, his partner in crime “La Pantera” followed it up with the accolade in July. The coaching staff challenged Bou to play more of a No. 9 role closer to goal this season, and implementing different types of movements in the penalty area has enhanced Bou's efficiency and made the Revs that much more lethal in the final third.

But the two breakout players this year for New England are young internationals who really showcased their potential during the Gold Cup. Canadian midfielder Tajon Buchanan received the tournament's Young Player Award, and the USMNT’s Matt Turner was named Goalkeeper of the Tournament.

Buchanan, the ninth overall pick in the 2019 MLS Super Draft, has a dynamic game, with threatening speed and a chip on his shoulder that doesn’t reflect the typical demeanor of a 22-year-old. He skipped this week's All-Star festivities in Los Angeles to head overseas and finalize his Revs-record deal with Belgian side Club Brugge. Reportedly worth around $7 million, the agreement will allow him to finish the season in New England, where he has become a fan favorite. 

What have Arena and the coaching staff taught him?

“To be myself, play to my strengths,” Buchanan said. “They’re always telling me go 1v1, take guys with confidence, and I think that’s been a huge factor for me taking a step forward.”

His fellow breakout star, Turner, also has those aspirations but is traveling a much different route. Just a couple years ago he was buried as the No. 3 keeper on the Revs' depth chart and nowhere close to being a thought for the United States roster pool. Fast forward to this season, and he's blossomed as not only one of the best keepers in MLS, but someone sparking a debate over whether he should start for the USMNT ahead of Manchester City’s Zack Steffen.

Goalkeeper Matt Turner has been great for both the Revs and the USMNT this summer. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Goalkeeper Matt Turner has been great for both the Revs and the USMNT this summer. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

And the case is not without evidence, including five clean sheets in six Gold Cup games en route to the trophy.

“Playing on the international stage is a huge part of my development to where I wanna go as a player,” Turner told Yahoo Sports. “I understand that I was late to this game, a late bloomer, so I have a lot of work cut out for me. Every chance I can play on that international stage is helpful for me to bring experiences back [to New England], hold myself to a higher standard.”

That standard is quickly rising in Foxboro. A recent 3-2 win over D.C. United is the perfect example.

“There was a lot of disappointed faces in the locker room, myself included, after that game,” Turner said. “Whereas in the past we might’ve just been happy to get the three points, now we expect the three points but also to have good performances because we understand that that’s important as you build toward the end of the season. 

“Just to have that accountability amongst ourselves, not even the coaching staff, and to hold each other to a certain standard is the biggest change I’ve seen this year to previous years.”

That’s where Arena comes in.

Bruce Arena bringing DCU, Galaxy culture to New England

The resume is extensive and speaks for itself, but those five MLS Cups and three Supporters’ Shields that Arena has won in the past are a culmination of smarts and character. He runs the Revs in an all-too-fitting Bill Belichick-esque manner and is able to grind out success because of it. 

Arena built a winning culture with D.C. United and the Los Angeles Galaxy. Now he’s replicating the formula in New England.

“This environment, this club is completely different than anything I've been in,” Arena said. “We have a different type of roster than I've seen before. I would say that the only thing you lean back on is your years of experience in coaching and understanding the league. But this team is different than teams I've had in the past.”

While Gil, Bou, Buchanan and Turner are All-Stars, the depth of Arena's squad is crucial. There are veterans like Emmanuel Boateng and A. J. DeLaGarza, who both played for Arena in Los Angeles, and Tommy McNamara. Longtime Revs staples like Bunbury and Andrew Farrell are complemented by young players trying to make a mark.

“Bruce knows this league like no other. He’s been around it so long and he has a good understanding of what works within the league,” said Cobi Jones, former USMNT and LA Galaxy midfielder. “Even in my time as an assistant coach under him, you could see he knew all the minutiae of the league — how to deal with the offices, various players.”

Revs still aren't getting ahead of themselves

Highest scoring team in MLS. Most points. Most assists. Best goal difference. The Revs have separated themselves from the league this regular season. The argument is still out there that the Western Conference-leading Seattle Sounders might be a better overall team, but that conversation isn’t New England's business yet.

“We're on top of the table in the league, and if you'd asked me in preseason about that I would not have told you that that was one of my expectations,” Arena admitted.

Internally, nobody really wants to talk about the accolades. The goals are clear: make the playoffs, secure home field advantage, then think about winning the franchise’s first ever Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup.

Earlier this season Turner referred to an old soccer phrase and joked about opponents being able to do it on a cold rainy night in Foxboro, where the Revs are 9-1-1 at home.

As the season progresses, it seems more likely that the road to the championship will go through Gillette Stadium, and in late November/early December it might be more than just a rainy night on Route 1 in Massachusetts.

Just like football used to be in New England.