Carles Gil Shield

If the New England Revolution have their way, Sunday will mark the first of two trophy-raising ceremonies from their 2021 season.

The MLS original lifted the Supporters’ Shield after an anticlimatic 1-0 loss to Inter Miami CF on Decision Day, a spoiler to an otherwise joyous occasion at Gillette Stadium. They had mathematically won the Shield several weekends ago before playing at Orlando City SC, but festivities arrived on the regular season’s final day.

Head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena, during his postgame press conference, recognized the significance for New England – a benchmark of their rapid transformation since he took over in May 2019, a club that was reeling after Brad Friedel’s midseason departure.

“I’ve been part of this before, with other teams and I’ve never celebrated,” Arena said. “We’ve never had a ceremony for Supporters’ Shield. So, this was a little bit new to me, but I think they’ve had a fabulous regular season. It’s historical, right? … It’s the most points in the history of the league. So, a great year. I’m happy for the players. I’m happy for the fans, especially the ones that have been here for 26 years, if there are any. So, that’s a nice moment. We need to now get ourselves prepared for the playoffs.”

As Arena referenced, this is his fourth Shield since the league’s inception in 1996 – translating into roughly 15% of those awarded. He previously managed victorious groups at D.C. United (1997) and the LA Galaxy (2010, 2011), reaffirming his status as someone who wins wherever he goes.

And it also reinforces why Arena often vocalizes he feels what matters most is lifting MLS Cup, which the Revs could accomplish Dec. 11. Their Shield victory gives them hosting priority as long as they’re in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, holding the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed and booking a 2022 Concacaf Champions League spot as well.

New England will have a few weeks off before their Conference Semifinal, putting them two games away from what’d be a sixth MLS Cup trip. The club’s fallen agonizingly short of the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy five times prior, and naturally they hope 2021 produces a different story.

“There's not too many moments that guys get to win trophies, so it's a special moment for the club, for the supporters, to win the Supporters’ Shield for the first time in our history,” midfielder Tommy McNamara said. “It's a disappointing result and game, but we’ve got to look at the overall season and be very happy with what we did. We'll celebrate it tonight and then tomorrow, we need to shift our mindset and start getting ready for the playoffs.”

Along the way, New England set a single-season points record (73), one-upping the mark LAFC’s 2019 group set (72) as led by then-MVP Carlos Vela and his video game-like campaign of 34 goals and 15 assists across 31 games. The Revs could have their own MVP talisman, with midfielder and captain Carles Gil posting a league-leading 18 assists (alongside four goals) and 118 key passes, among other pace-setting stats.

They’ll face either New York City FC (No. 4 seed) or Atlanta United (No. 5 seed) in the Conference Semifinals, two clubs that present unique challenges. And in the interim, Arena has previously noted they’ll look to schedule a scrimmage(s) to stay sharp, with the multi-week break elongated by November’s international break for World Cup Qualifiers.

When that date arrives, the Revs will have plenty of motivation after this Miami setback. They’ll also look to buck the trend of Shield winners not necessarily becoming MLS Cup victors, with only seven of the 25 teams doing the double. The last was Toronto FC’s 2017 group, as led by now-Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney and stars like Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley.

“It's kind of a little bittersweet because we didn't get the result that we wanted,” center back Henry Kessler said. “Something Bruce said afterward is, ‘Don't let that take away from the season you had, best season in MLS history pointwise, so that shouldn't be forgotten because of today's result.’ So, obviously disappointed with today's result, but kind of need to look back at how the whole season went, which was really well.”