Cover the Pitch
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Cover the Pitch

Bruce Arena is all in favor of MLS being back

New England Revolution head coach/sporting director Bruce Arena has no time for complaints.

Bruce Arena
New England Revolution head coach Bruce Arena | Photo credit: Kari Heistad

If Bruce Arena’s demeanor is any indication, the New England Revolution are moving full speed ahead with competing in the MLS is Back Tournament.

Arena, New England’s sporting director and head coach, spoke to media on a Zoom call Wednesday, the eve of his team’s tournament opener against the Montreal Impact, and said he is in favor of the league resuming play despite misgivings from some players, team staff and fans about MLS’ preparedness while in the middle of a pandemic.

Numerous players have tested positive for coronavirus since arriving in the MLS “bubble” at the Wide World of Sports Complex on the Disney Campus in Orlando, Fla., including as many as 10 from FC Dallas, which withdrew from the tournament completely July 6. Meanwhile, from inside the bubble, a Twitter account named @MLSCovidCup has been cataloging player concerns, which range from public health unease and food complaints to leaks about positive cases.

“Resuming league play is a good idea,” Arena said. “You can argue whether this is an appropriate way to do it or not, but I think it’s fantastic that the league is starting again. Everyone involved in the sport wanted to get back to competing. With a pandemic, it’s not easy, but we’re all well aware of that.

“A large majority of people want to be here and want to get back to competition. We’re isolated. We’re in a safe environment. We’re in a bubble.”

The remaining 25 teams will play in a group stage, which commences with Wednesday night’s MLS is Back tournament opener between Orlando City SC and Inter Miami CF. Sixteen teams can advance to the knockout stage.

New England is in Group C with Montreal, Toronto FC, and D.C. United.

Reports came out Wednesday that Toronto’s team doctor fought until the last minute to withdraw the club from the competition, citing health risks. Arena said he had no such conversation with Jonathan and Robert Kraft, who own the Revolution.

He also said he disagreed with accounts about the accommodations at the Wide World of Sports Complex not being up to par.

“The food is very good, the fields are very good, and a hotel is a hotel…It’s going to be challenging as the tournament continues to go on, but I’ve got no complaints.

“There are going to be issues along the way. Testing, getting on buses, and all that. There’s going to be wear and tear mentally. But for the most part, our guys have had a good approach to the whole thing. We’d rather do this than sit in quarantine in a house or an apartment in Boston. I don’t know why anyone would be complaining.”

Is Arena not reading the room?

Maybe.

But Revolution forward Justin Rennicks struck a similar tone last week when asked about his and his teammates’ concerns about playing soccer in one of the states hit worst by the pandemic.

Arena, now in his first full year with New England since coming on board midway through last season, says he’s gotten to know his players better and has been attentive to their needs and the challenges posed by the MLS is Back Tournament.

In New England, Arena had a mostly laid back tone, win, lose or draw, and he kept things light with media, sometimes by sparring and other times by laughing off loaded questions. Arena was himself on Wednesday’s Zoom call, too, even with a dead feed briefly interrupting proceedings (“this press conference would be useless if you couldn’t see my pretty face”).

What Arena’s perspective really seems to boil down to is that, rightly or wrong, a tournament title is on the line.

Based on what’s coming out of the bubble, both anonymously and publicly, clubs have plenty of distractions. New England seems to want none of it.

Besides, MLS isn’t the only professional North American sports league instituting a bubble environment to resume play. The NBA, NHL, and NWSL are following similar procedures.

“These are things you do every day with teams, bubble or not, or a long road trip. It’s the same thing,” Arena added. “If the team is a real team, and they want to play, and they want to be successful, they will find ways to overcome these issues in life. Maybe there’s a day when the meal isn’t good, or the bus is late, or we have a thunderstorm.

“Come on. Let’s get on with it. There’s no excuses. I don’t find anything here to be so difficult that we can’t deal with it.”

Some additional notes from Arena’s press conference:

  • New England players and coaches are being tested again Wednesday night.
  • Arena is expecting a competitive, if different game against Montreal than the one the Revolution played in the season opener, a 2–1 loss. “We played them in February, traveled there through snow, then played on a piece of cement indoors. This game is entirely different.”
  • Starters Carles Gil, Antonio Delamea, and Alexander Buttner, who were out at the start of the season, are fully fit.
  • Andrew Farrell is on the injury list but trained Tuesday and Wednesday and is expected to play in the tournament.
  • Arena likes the ability to use five substitutions per game in the tournament says he thinks the days of three substitutions are numbered.

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