FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Heading into the 2018 season, it loomed large as to how a Brad Friedel-led New England Revolution team would look. The first-year manager, after all, had previously only coached in Tottenham Hotspur’s academy and with the U-19 US national team, never mind a game of top-flight soccer.
Now, as the Revs near their third game of the campaign, answers are starting to surface. That’s at least how Teal Bunbury, a nine-year veteran of Major League Soccer, sees it.
“I think one of the biggest things we’re stressing is — and it’s the phrase coach uses — is being brave on the ball and confident playing out of the back even if we’re getting pressure on us,” Bunbury told MLSsoccer.com. “Having confidence on the ball is going to be a major part of our identity.”
So far, those principles have manifested in 4-2-3-1 system, one that Friedel stresses isn’t British in nature, despite naming past and present Premier League managers Mauricio Pochettino, Mark Hughes, Graham Souness and Martin O’Neill as influences.
It’s a point that right back Andrew Farrell, now in his sixth year with the Revs, agrees with. From his vantage point, the Revs’ ethos is centered around building from the back, combining through midfield and making incisive decisions in the attacking third.
The linking piece, Friedel said, is a version of a high press.
“There aren’t too many goals that are scored from when your goalkeeper gets the ball and you make 75 passes through the opposition and then you score,” Friedel told MLSsoccer.com. “The majority of goals are scored off transitions and mistakes by the opposition. My theory is if you can win the ball as high up the field as possible, then you have a higher percentage chance of creating chances.”
Aside from the tactical philosophy, forward Juan Agudelo can’t help but notice a different vibe as compared to Jay Heaps’ six-year tenure, which ended in Sept. 2017. Namely, Agudelo said training sessions feel more European, an entirely positive quality in his eyes.
“It keeps us sharp and professional,” Agudelo told MLSsoccer.com. “I feel like I’m actually coming into a workplace and a job. It’s demanding.”
Antonio Delamea, who’s part of the Slovenian national team, agreed with Agudelo on the European aspect: “There’s a lot of discipline, tactics and technique. Without those three things you can’t play serious soccer.”
The off-field components were also harped on by Bunbury. He pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.
“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”
Further, the Revs have made nine signings in Friedel’s first four months. The hope, therefore, is that each component — tactical and off the field — instills a new culture in and around Gillette Stadium.
“We wanted to embed a mentality in our players from day one that no matter what the score is, no matter what’s happening in the game, no matter what’s happening with the referees, you’re still in the game and can compete to win,” Friedel said.