This type of playoff run is probably exactly what Bruce Arena had in mind when he took charge for the New England Revolution, but it may have come even sooner than he expected.
Going into his team's Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup with Columbus Crew SC on Sunday (TV & streaming info), the Revs have an argument as the league's hottest team coming off their comprehensive 3-1 road win over Orlando City SC side in Eastern Conference Semifinals that followed up a shocking 2-0 dispatching of the Supporters' Shield-winning Philadelphia Union in Round One.
Throw in their 2-1 Play-In Round victory over the Montreal Impact, and the Revs are riding a wave of confidence and dreaming of MLS Cup heading into what figures to be their toughest test yet in the Eastern Conference Final against Columbus.
"Certainly momentum helps," Arena told reporters on his Tuesday video call. "We’ve won now three games in the playoffs and that’s a real positive. I’m not sure we’ve won three games in a row this year so we certainly have some momentum.
"Are we good enough? I think in a single-elimination, it favors the team that’s the underdog because it’s a one-and-done. If it’s over a series of games, whether it’s two games that the league has had in the past or even three games when I first started in the league where it would be best out of three, I think a one-off can favor the underdog. We’re in a low-scoring sport, it’s not like some other sports where you can make up a deficit in a game a lot easier. Obviously we have to get past Columbus before you can even think about winning a championship, but I think our team can do that.”
Full highlights: New England Revolution 3, Orlando City SC 1
Arena took over a club in flux when we replaced Brad Friedel last season, making it a remarkable turn to see the club back in contention this quickly. Asked about that on Tuesday, Arena said there's still plenty left to prove to proclaim his club has fully arrived, but credited the club's ownership group with giving him the necessary support to point the Revs back in the right direction.
“The pandemic has made it real confusing this whole year, but I think since I’ve come on board in late June of 2019, I’ve seen a great commitment from ownership and it has certainly gotten the attention of our team," Arena said. "We’ve worked real hard and it’s nice to be able to reward ownership for what they’ve done to move the Revolution forward.
"So this postseason success really puts a stamp on that and acknowledges the fact that if we want to make a commitment here with this club that we can do some things in the league. Certainly, the goal is to position our club to win MLS championships and perhaps we’re not there yet, but I think we have a great future. So we appreciate the support from ownership and it’s nice to see we’re showing progress. I think over the last two seasons it’s obvious we’re making progress, so that’s a real positive.”
The Revs' form wasn't always consistent in the 2020 regular season, but the clean bill of health for their Designated Player trio of Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa seems to have sparked the group just in time for the postseason.
Those three were seldom in the starting XI at the same time throughout the year, with Gil's return, in particular, looking to have provided a boon, not just on the field, but for a locker room that Arena described as unified since his arrival despite their previous struggles.
“I think that’s important," Arena said. "You not only look at players for their talent but how they’re going to fit in to the environment we have here in New England. I think Carles is a great example. He came in last year, I obviously wasn’t around when he first came in, but he accepted what the league is and has been a positive influence not only on the field but in the locker room as well. The same with Gustavo and Adam and all our players.
"The leadership of a Scott Caldwell, a Teal Bunbury, an Andrew Farrell, and go down even to Matt Turner who hasn’t been here as long as those guys, they’re really players with great character and I noticed that immediately when I came in last year," he continued.
"I expected it somewhat to be a team that was really divided because of their lack of success but they were nothing but supportive of each other and it’s carried over into this year. And this year has been difficult with pandemic and the injuries we’ve suffered but the guys have hung in there. I’m not the easiest guy to play [for] because I can be critical of the players at times, they get a little bit of tough love, but they’ve hung in there all the way and I think their chemistry and character in the end has been a difference-maker in us having a little bit of success so far.”