Bruce Arena has led a terrific turnaround for the New England Revolution during the 2019 MLS regular season, but the job is not done.
The Revs have four games left in the campaign, beginning with Saturday's clash against Real Salt Lake at Gillette Stadium (7:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info). Arena, speaking on Boston sports talk radio program Zolak & Bertrand on 98.5 this week, didn't mince words in admitting the importance of the match.
"It's a big game for us and I never like saying it, but this is a must-win for us," Arena explained. "We have to win this game."
New England are above the playoff line in the Eastern Conference, but only just, sitting in 7th place, three points ahead of nearest challengers Montreal and Chicago. While the Revolution looked unlikely to contend for a spot in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs when Arena took over for Brad Friedel during the season, the manager's challenge now is to commend the team for improving while also not letting up with the playoffs within reach.
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"Real simple: We have two home games left, if we win both of them we're in the playoffs. They're not going to be easy so obviously this game is critically important on Saturday.
"Since I've arrived we've only lost two games in three and a half months, so it's not like we've been terrible. But we could be better," Arena noted.
"One thing we don't have is we have a team that is fairly aggressive going forward and they're not that comfortable sitting back. And there are times you have to sit back and protect a lead and we have not done that well, and that's something I can probably attribute to me, as well. I've got to be much clearer with the message to the team when we're trying to hold onto a lead late in a game," he explained.
And when asked if the playoffs are a fair expectation for the team, Arena included a trademark quip while also saying it was in fact fair.
"I think that's fair. I think if you had asked me that question three months ago, I would have said you're an absolute lunatic. I think we have to give the team some credit where they've gotten themselves now. And I think that's tremendous credit to the team. But now we're at a point where we have to get in the playoffs."