FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Before Bruce Arena even coached his first game with the New England Revolution, he had Atlanta United FC squarely in his sights. Arena mentioned the Five Stripes during his introductory press conference with the Revolution in May saying that he does not think “any club in the league needs to spend the way Atlanta spends.”
Up next? New England play at Atlanta on Oct. 19 in Round One of the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Atlanta, since entering MLS as an expansion club for the 2017 season, have outspent New England, one of the original MLS teams, by more than $7 million on salaries, according to figures from the MLS Players Association. Arena said recent expansion teams “have an advantage” in his opinion.
“They get more money, they obviously pay for it, it's not like they got it for free, they had to pay a franchise fee and all of that, but if they do it right, they should have an advantage to have more money to spend on their salary cap,” Arena said. “So it allows them to get some better players.”
The true spending difference, however, is on transfer fees. They broke the bank in buying Ezequiel Barco for $15 million ahead of the 2018 season and acquired Pity Martinez for a reported $17 million ahead of this season. The high spending culminated with winning MLS Cup in 2018, as well as the 2019 U.S. Open Cup and 2019 Campeones Cup.
“Atlanta has spent a lot of money on Designated Players, and have done an outstanding job with that,” Arena said. “They've been a little bit unique to the rest of the league because traditionally no one has spent that kind of money to bring in players.”
Arena said he gives Atlanta credit for their approach, which has helped draw more than 50,000 fans on average to MLS matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in each of the last two seasons.
“They’ve been a great attraction in Atlanta,” Arena said. “[Fans] like their team, and they've supported them in great numbers.”
Arena, who has won a record five MLS Cups (1996, 1997, 2011, 2012, 2014), has said that the Revolution will spend money to improve the team. There was a big splash in July with the acquisition of Gustavo Bou as the team’s second Designated Player. The Revs, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2015, are also putting the finishing touches on a $35 million training facility and announced they will field a team in USL League One starting in 2020.
What is the next item on the list? Currently sharing a stadium with their NFL brethren like Atlanta, Arena hopes the next step will one-up the competition.
“The next objective here is to build a soccer stadium,” Arena said of the Revs’ quest to build a soccer-specific stadium. “We do that then we have the facilities in place that we need to attract bigger and better players.”