That comeback mentality shaped their Week 32 closer Sunday evening, a rain-soaked 2-2 draw at Orlando City SC that occurred one day after the MLS original won their first-ever Supporters’ Shield without even kicking a ball. When SKC winger Johnny Russell's late goal capped a 38-pass sequence in a 2-1 win Saturday afternoon at Seattle, New England had earned their second major domestic trophy and first since the 2007 U.S. Open Cup.
Now, they’re on 70 points and two away from tying LAFC’s 2019 record-setting pace of 72. If they win their impending Wednesday home matchup with the Colorado Rapids (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) or Decision Day (Nov. 7) game against Inter Miami CF, also at Gillette Stadium, another major box will get checked.
But head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena wasn’t too celebratory during his postgame press conference, indicative of the standard he’s instilled in New England and perhaps why they’ve reached these benchmarks.
“Not many teams would have walked off that field with a point tonight, so I’ll give them a lot of credit,” Arena said. “Having said that, we need to be disappointed with our performance in the first 45 minutes. I think we could’ve been better.”
The Revolution made nine changes to their starting lineup, only going with first-choice center back Andrew Farrell and goalkeeper Matt Turner from the jump. And they sunk into a 2-0 hole by the 50th minute through Nani’s header and Daryl Dike’s penalty kick, creating a result that seemed set to boost Orlando’s quest for the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed.
But Arena deployed the cavalry, having already brought on two Designated Players – forward Adam Buksa and midfielder Carles Gil – at halftime. Their third DP, forward Gustavo Bou, then entered in the 64th minute alongside left back DeJuan Jones and winger Tajon Buchanan, the latter a rising Canada star and soon-to-be Club Brugge (Belgium) attacker.
It was a calculated risk, one New England are afforded by their 21-point cushion atop the East, one of many reasons why they’ll be playing Concacaf Champions League soccer in 2022.
“Now we’re in better shape to play against Colorado on Wednesday,” Arena said. “I think if we had played our full team today, it would be real difficult to recover and be ready on Wednesday. It’s obviously a risk. We gambled on it a little bit and we’re fortunate to walk away with a point.”
The spark arrived when Bou and Buksa connected in the 81st minute, then the Polish international completed his brace in the 93rd minute upon heading home Jones’ cross – giving him 16 goals on the year. That vaulted the No. 9 into a three-way tie for the Golden Boot presented by Audi, trailing only D.C. United’s Ola Kamara (17).
It was a case of special players making special plays, pushing New England to nine games unbeaten. And very quietly, Gil added his league-leading 18th assist of the year.
“We have a fantastic team with players that have huge quality,” Buksa said. “And it doesn't matter if it's the Starting XI or the players that start on the bench. So, this just proved my opinion of that team, because the first half was a little bit sloppy on our side, we weren't sharp enough.
“The second half, Bruce made some changes and even though we conceded the second goal, we were still able to bounce back and get the result here in Orlando. I think one point is a good result. So, I would say that we don't only have four or five good players on the team, we have 25 great players.”
During a condensed schedule, one that’s only further constricted by international windows making up for lost time from COVID-19 pandemic delays, the Revolution have largely stayed fresh. Their stars make the difference, but the roster's middle portion can prove formidable too – a testament to the project Arena's steered from May 2019 onwards.
Now, they’ll close with two regular-season games before a rest period building into the Conference Semifinals. Come the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, they’ll be just two wins away from battling for MLS Cup on December 11 on home soil. And that desire burns bright.
“I think we fully deserved to win the title, win the Shield, but it's not enough because we're hungry for more,” Buksa said. “We want to win MLS Cup and our focus goes on the MLS Cup for now. Obviously, we have two more regular-season games. We want to end this season in the right way, then get ready for the most important part of the season.”