Dec. 8—The New England Revolution have historically been something of a red-headed stepchild in Boston.
The clear No. 5 among the region's major professional sports teams, the Revolution have long struggled to compete for attention with their better-established peers.
Yet something funny happened over the past couple of months, something that never happened even in past years where the club made deep runs to the MLS Cup Finals. The Revolution became the talk of the town.
Last week marked an extraordinary high point for the club as well as a tremendous missed opportunity. The Revolution completed the greatest regular season in MLS history, finishing with a historic 22 wins, seven ties and five losses to win the club's first-ever Supporter's Shield trophy.
Then, after a lengthy 23-day layoff between their regular season finale and playoff opener, the Revolution were clearly off their game but still came from behind twice against New York City FC, including a dramatic late goal by Tajon Buchanan in extra time to force a penalty kick shootout.
"That was one of the first actual games I've been to in a stadium in a while, so honestly going in I didn't expect it to be as electric as it was," said Newburyport's Brady O'Donnell, who won MVP of the Cape Ann League and led Newburyport High to the Division 3 state quarterfinals this fall. "They scored in like the 119th minute, literally the last second, and it was like nothing I've ever experienced."
The story ultimately wouldn't have a happy ending, as the Revolution lost in the shootout and saw their historic season come to an abrupt end. But when Buchanan's goal went in, social media lit up like you'd normally see after a Red Sox walk-off home run or a Celtics buzzer-beater.
While the Revolution won't be able to ride that momentum deeper into the playoffs, the club clearly moved the needle in the wider Boston sports consciousness in a way they never have before.
Momentum buildingFor most of the club's history, the Revolution have been the definition of mediocrity.
But that began to change when head coach Bruce Arena was hired in 2019.
Arena is widely regarded as the greatest coach in American soccer history and as a Bill Belichick-type figure within the sport. He has won five NCAA titles at Virginia and five MLS Cup titles with DC United and the LA Galaxy.
Meanwhile, the club also recently opened a new, state-of-the-art training facility adjacent to Gillette Stadium, and the Kraft Family — who own the Revolution in addition to the New England Patriots — began investing more heavily in the team's roster.
It all came together this year. By summer, word started to get out.
"They had the best regular season of all time, that's going to turn heads no matter what because if you love sports and love competition, you have to tune in to the best," said Brooks School Hall of Famer Charlie Davies, a former Revolution star who now serves as the team's color commentator.
Carles Gil, who is expected to earn MLS MVP honors, has played most of his career in Spain's La Liga and in the English Premier League. Matt Turner, who was named MLS Goalie of the Year, plays on the U.S. Men's National Team and is more than capable of competing overseas. Buchanan is a Canadian National Team standout who is expected to play for a Champions League club next year. All told, four of the league's Best 11 selections were Revolution players.
"When I went to see them back in August, I was so impressed by how they played," said Pentucket Regional boys soccer coach Christian Langlois. "The last time I went to Gillette to watch them might have been 10 years ago, and the level they were playing at, it almost wasn't worth comparing. They looked like a legitimate professional team and they kept that up the whole year."
The other key factor working in the Revolution's favor was social media. As time went on, there was an element of "Do you realize how good the Revolution are?"
That drove interest, and between the club's own social media content and the push it got from the Patriots and Boston's other pro teams, a lot of casual fans got on board who might not have otherwise.
What comes next?Having a roster as talent-rich as the Revolution in MLS can be both a blessing and a curse. It's obviously great to win, but sooner or later your best players are going to start moving on to bigger leagues.
Buchanan is all but gone, and key players like Adam Buska could draw plenty of interest too. Whether or not the Revolution remain championship contenders will depend on who they can retain and who they can bring in to replace the key players that leave.
"Can the Revs go out and invest in the squad and bring some key pieces in? I hope so," said Davies. "That's what you want from this team. They were so ambitious to go out and get Carles Gil and Adam Buska, but if you lose Tajon Buchanan you have to replace him. So that's what I'm looking for."
Even if this season might have been the club's best shot, there is still plenty of reason for excitement going forward. Just prior to the playoffs the Revolution announced a rebrand for next season, which will feature a fresh new logo and accompanying artwork to replace the club's dated "crayon flag" design.
But even with a great coach like Arena, a brand new training facility, a fresh rebrand and the momentum from the best season in team history, the Revolution still have one major anchor keeping them from reaching their true potential — their stadium.
Gillette Stadium, located 30 minutes southwest of Boston, is not a good MLS venue, and even on an epic night like Tuesday the cavernous building was still only half full.
"If the Revs are able to secure a downtown spot, it will be absolutely bananas. It will be the ticket in town," Davies said.
Until that day comes, the Revolution will continue trying to compete for championships. If this past season is any indication, they've already won over quite a few new fans, and if things keep up there could be plenty more jumping on board.
"Definitely, based on what I saw the other day," O'Donnell said. "It was good to see how they played and they're obviously a very good team and going forward it'll be something I should pay more attention to."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @MacCerullo.
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