Hello and welcome to the L.A. Times soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, the Times’ soccer writer, and we start today with Bruce Arena and the New England Revolution, who made history last week by breaking the MLS single-season points record.
With only Sunday’s home match with Miami remaining on the regular-season schedule, the Revolution are sitting on 73 points, one better than LAFC’s two-year-old record of 72. And with a season mark of 22-4-7, they have a chance at breaking the league’s modern-era mark for wins, one it shares with the 2018 New York Red Bulls.
(D.C. United won 24 games in 1998 and 23 a year later, both under Arena, but the MLS used tie-breaking penalty shootouts then.)
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for a team that suffered through three consecutive losing seasons before firing coach Brad Friedel 12 games into the 2019 season and replacing him with Arena. Under Bruce Almighty, New England has gone 38-14-23 since while earning three consecutive playoffs appearances and a Supporters’ Shield.
“He knows how to build a team in Major League Soccer,” said Dave Sarachan, Arena’s top assistant on four MLS championship teams with D.C. United and the Galaxy. “He has a feel for the talent that’s needed, but more importantly the culture that is needed within a team.”
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When Arena was hired by the Galaxy late in the 2008 season, he inherited a talented team led by Landon Donovan and David Beckham but one riven by a toxic locker room. He got rid of more than 20 players and replaced them with solid citizens such as defenders Todd Dunivant and Gregg Berhalter, forward Mike Magee and midfielder Chris Birchall. He also drafted Maryland teammates Omar Gonzalez and A.J. De la Garza.
“For the first couple of years it was quite tough,” Beckham said, recalling his first two MLS seasons. “There was not much stability on the field. But when Bruce came in, he brought the stability.”
The Galaxy made it to the MLS Cup final in Arena’s first full season, starting a run that saw it play in the championship game four times in six seasons and win three titles.
“He, better than anyone, recognizes winners,” said Magee, who was ready to retire with a knee injury when Arena coaxed him to Los Angeles for a physical, then offered him a uniform. “He surrounds himself with the best people and winners and then kind of lets them do their thing.
“He demands you be a good person, a good teammate and understand your role. It you can’t do that, he shows you the door.”
Arena has pulled off a similarly successful makeover with the Revolution. Of the 27 men who were on the roster in 2019, 15 are gone. Among the replacements are De la Garza and Ema Boateng, both of whom Arena coached with the Galaxy, along with Polish international Adam Buksa, who Arena signed last year.
Boateng, who shuttled between D.C. United and Columbus last season, became a free agent in December and urged his agent to get in touch with Arena, his first MLS coach. He signed two days later.
“There was only one guy I wanted to play for,” said Boateng, who has two goals and four assists in just 357 minutes, making this his most productive season by far. “He gives you the best chance to win. He cares about his players.
“He’s a coach that everybody on the team respects. Guys just tend to do the right thing because he’s in charge.”
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The next step for Arena’s Revolution could be a steep one — and the team’s success is partly to blame for that. Because of its regular-season record, New England will get a first-round playoff bye, meaning it won’t play its first postseason game until at least Thanksgiving. Couple that with the two-week international break, and New England will play just once between Oct. 27 and Nov. 25.
That’s a long break for a team that averaged a game every six days over the last seven months.
If the Revolution get by that hurdle, there could be more trouble ahead since their playoff road probably will include a date with Nashville, the only Eastern Conference team Arena has never beaten. That game would match the league’s highest-scoring team in New England, which is averaging nearly two scores a game, and the Eastern Conference’s stingiest in Nashville, which has given up only 32 goals in 33 games.
If the team survives and brings New England its MLS title — and Arena his sixth at age 70 — that would seem to be the perfect time to walk away, even with a year left on his contract with team owner Robert Kraft. The coach said he hasn’t given the idea much thought.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t talked to the Krafts about it. I think everyone wants me to keep working.”
Everyone in the Revs’ locker room surely does.
MLS teams with most single-season points
The record has been broken in each of the last four full seasons
73: New England Revolution, 2021
72: LAFC, 2019
71: New York Red Bulls, 2018
69: Toronto FC, 2017
68: Galaxy, 1998
67: Galaxy, 2011
Winningest coaches in MLS history
Bruce Arena (DC United, Red Bulls, Galaxy, New England), 240-135-112, .608 winning percentage
Sigi Schmid (Galaxy, Columbus, Seattle), 240-183-125, .552%
Bob Bradley (Chicago, Metro Stars, Chivas USA, LAFC), 182-127-85, .569%
Peter Vermes, Kansas City,172-129-100, .554%
Dominic Kinnear, San Jose, Houston, Galaxy, 170-138-136, .536%
* Regular season only, active coaches in bold. Source: MLS
Help wanted: Galaxy, LAFC may not be able to reach playoffs alone
The Galaxy’s 1-1 draw in Seattle on Monday gave the team its first road point at Lumen Field since 2017. But it wasn’t enough to give them their second playoff berth since then. For that, they may need help.
For LAFC, meanwhile, the Galaxy’s latest bobble leaves the team in control of its destiny: beat Vancouver on Tuesday at Banc of California and beat Colorado in Sunday’s season finale in suburban Denver and they’re in.
Anything short of that and they’ll need help too.
Here’s the scenario for the Galaxy: a win Sunday would give it 50 points and lift it over Minnesota in the standings with 14 wins. The top seven teams advance to the playoffs and with total victories being the first tiebreaker, the Galaxy would make the cut.
A draw makes things dicey. That would leave the Galaxy on 48 points, one back of Minnesota and in danger of being passed by LAFC, Vancouver and Real Salt Lake as well. Unless one of those teams stumbles, the Galaxy could be out.
“The one point could prove valuable. We don’t know yet,” said Galaxy coach Greg Vanney, whose team got a first-half goal from Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and a game-saving stop in injury time from goalkeeper Jonathan Bond to take its first point in Seattle in four years. “But we know what we have to do when we come home. We’re in front of our fans, and we’re in our stadium and the picture is clear as to what we need to do.”
For that the Galaxy have only themselves to blame since they’ve won just two of their last 14 games. Despite that, they’ve never been below the playoff line this season.
They could find themselves there by kickoff time Sunday however.
“Now we’ve got to play in a really big game, which is essentially a playoff game,” Vanney said. “It’s a knockout game.”
LAFC’s fate can become equally complex and it has little room for error.
If it loses its last two, the season is over. A win and a draw, meanwhile would put LAFC at 48 points with the possibility of grabbing a playoff berth on a tiebreaker if Vancouver and Real Salt Lake cooperate.
One win in its last two games and LAFC would need a complex series of results to remain alive.
“We’ve talked about taking care of our games for a couple of weeks and not counting on anybody else,” coach Bob Bradley said. “We’ve found a way to step up and go after teams in a good way. And we want to try to bring that from the beginning against Vancouver.
“You get to the end of the season, you want a team that has the right mentality, you want a team where so many guys are in a really good frame of mind and where you sense that they are excited to get on the field and take care of a big game.”
If the Galaxy have limped to the finish, LAFC has sprinted there, losing just three of its last 12 games. Newcomer Cristian Arango has fueled that surge with 13 goals in 15 games, equaling the second-best start to an MLS career in two decades. The team is 6-1-2 when he scores.
And now he has some company up front with the return of former league MVP Carlos Vela, who came off the bench for the final 12 minutes of last week’s win over Seattle. Vela, who hadn’t played in more than two months, missed 14 games this season with a quadriceps issue, one of a number of injuries that have plagued LAFC. The team lost center back Eddie Segura to a torn ACL in July and remains without midfielder Eduard Atuesta, who has played in just two of the last nine games. As a result, Bradley has started the same lineup in consecutive games just twice.
Team Pts. W L T GF GA GD
Seattle – x 59 17 8 8 52 32 20
Kansas City – x 58 17 8 7 57 36 21
Colorado – x 55 16 7 10 46 33 13
Portland 49 15 13 4 50 51 -1
Minnesota 48 13 11 9 39 41 -2
Galaxy 47 13 12 8 47 51 -4
Vancouver 47 12 9 11 43 43 0
Real Salt Lake 45 13 13 6 53 51 2
LAFC 44 12 12 8 50 45 5
San Jose – e 40 10 13 10 45 53 -8
Dallas – e 32 7 15 11 46 55 -9
Houston – e 30 6 15 12 36 52 -16
Austin – e 28 8 20 4 32 52 -20
Team Pts. W L T GF GA GD
New England – s, y 73 22 4 7 65 40 25
Philadelphia – x 53 14 8 11 47 34 13
Nashville – x 53 12 4 17 54 32 22
New York City – x 50 14 11 8 55 35 20
Orlando 48 12 9 12 48 48 0
Atlanta 47 12 9 11 43 36 7
Red Bulls 46 13 12 7 38 32 6
D.C. United 44 13 15 5 53 53 0
Columbus 44 12 13 8 44 45 -1
Montreal 43 11 11 10 44 42 2
Miami – e 38 11 17 5 35 53 -16
Chicago – e 34 9 17 7 36 52 -16
Toronto – e 28 6 17 10 38 63 -25
Cincinnati – e 20 4 21 8 36 72 -36
LAFC vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. Houston
Red Bulls vs. Atlanta
Austin vs. Kansas City
Salt Lake vs. Portland
Cincinnati vs. Atlanta
Columbus vs. Chicago
Montreal vs. Orlando
Nashville vs. Red Bulls
New England vs. Miami
New York City vs. Philadelphia
Toronto vs. D.C. United
Colorado vs. LAFC
Kansas City vs. Salt Lake
Galaxy vs. Minnesota
Portland vs. Austin
San Jose vs. Dallas
Vancouver vs. Seattle
s – clinched Supporters’ Shield
y – clinched top conference seed
x – clinched playoff berth
e – eliminated from playoff contention
Tiebreakers: 1. Wins 2. Goal differential 3. Total goals 4. Fewest disciplinary points
NCAA-bound Pepperdine women making waves
Zoe Clevely had a premonition this season would be special for the Pepperdine women’s team before it started.
“I just had a feeling that this was going to be a historical season for us,” said the senior goalkeeper, who shared that feeling with her teammates at dinner during preseason training camp. “I was like, ‘You guys, the vibes are right in the room right now. This is just going to be the season for us.’
“I think everyone felt that way.”
And they were right. The No. 13 Waves (14-2-1) have climbed as high as third in the national rankings this season and are expected to receive a high seed in the NCAA tournament when pairings are announced next week.
Fifth-ranked UCLA (15-0-3) and No. 10 USC (13-2-2), who meet Friday at UCLA to determine the Pacific-12 title, also will advance to the national tourney.
Clevely is a big reason this has been an unparalleled season in Malibu. Her 10 shutouts are tied for second in Division I and she set a school record with seven consecutive shutouts and 703 scoreless minutes in helping the Waves to their first top-three national ranking since 2011.
Pepperdine never has been ranked higher, nor has it ever gotten past the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, something Clevely and her teammates think will happen this fall. In fact, after last month’s 4-0 loss at defending national champion Santa Clara, on the field where the College Cup will be played in December, Clevely said defender Calista Reyes made a prediction of her own.
“We’re going to be back here, on this field. And this time we’re not going to be embarrassed,” she remembered her teammate saying.
In a city that boasts two of the nation’s top women’s soccer programs in USC and UCLA, Pepperdine often gets overlooked. But this year it stepped into the spotlight in its season opener in August, when it got nine saves from Clevely in a 2-0 win over the Trojans. USC lost a week later to BYU but hasn’t been beaten since.
That Pepperdine win came after a challenging preseason in which the team had to bus to Oxnard to train because their field at school wasn’t ready. But Clevely said that extra burden was a blessing because it gave the players a chance to bond, and the Waves never looked back.
“Sometimes it has felt like we’ve gotten the short end of the stick,” said Clevely, an all-CIF Southern Section selection as a senior at Edison High and a member of three age-group national teams. “Pepperdine has always been an underdog.”
This year it’s running with the big dogs.
“It really does feel like something special,” Clevely said.
And finally there’s this …
Mexico’s first two World Cup qualifiers next year, against Costa Rica on Jan. 30 and Panama on Feb. 2, will be played in an empty stadium, FIFA’s disciplinary committee ruled Monday, costing the federation millions of dollars in lost revenue. The Mexican federation also was fined $110,000 for charges of “discriminatory behavior by supporters” over fans’ continued use of an anti-gay chant. Mexico played its first home qualifier in September behind closed doors as punishment for fans’ use of the chant, which was heard again when the stadium reopened for games with Canada and Honduras in October … Former LAFC striker Christian Ramirez has six goals, one off the league lead, in 11 games for Aberdeen of the Scottish Premiership. Ramirez joined Aberdeen in June after playing just 89 minutes for Houston during the first half of the MLS season. Ramirez has three times as many goals as former LAFC teammate Diego Rossi scored in the first eight games of his loan to Fenerbahce of the Turkish Super Lig… Global soccer’s international technical and football advisory panels have recommended the allowance of five substitutes per game be made permanent. The number of substitutes was increased from three to five in response to the congested match schedule following a suspension in play due to COVID-19. Teams will be restricted to three opportunities to make the five substitutions in a match.
“It’s kind of remarkable. I said that to the team, ‘What a s—show I inherited in May of 2019.’ To think how far they’ve come is kind of remarkable. It really is.”
New England Revolution coach Bruce Arena after the team broke the MLS single-season record for points