New England leads MLS going into final 2 months

The New England Revolution are the surprising, or maybe not so surprising, leaders in Major League Soccer heading into the post-All-Star Game stretch run.

The once-struggling Revs have won 15 games, more than any other team, and lead the Supporters’ Shield race by seven points. They’re currently riding a nine-game unbeaten streak.

New England also leads the league in goals with 44 — including 11 in the last four games — and assists with 46.

It’s quite an improvement after years of finishing in the bottom half of the standings. The Revs haven’t finished better than fifth in the Eastern Conference since 2014, when they were the runners-up.

New England (15-3-4) has turned around in the past two-plus seasons under coach Bruce Arena, who was hired as head coach in May 2019 after Brad Friedel was dismissed.

Arena, a Hall of Famer who has coached teams to five MLS titles, took the Revs to the playoffs in his first season, ending a three-year postseason drought.

In the coronavirus-shortened season last year, New England earned a play-in spot and advanced to the semifinals before losing to the eventual MLS CUP champion Columbus Crew.

So maybe the recent success isn’t all that much of a surprise — rather a progression. One of the league’s original teams, New England has never won the MLS Cup title.

If they want that trophy, the Revs just have to keep it up.

“It’s the second half of the season, teams kind of know obviously where they are in the standings, you’ve either got to make up points or you got to hold on to the points and the positions where you’re at,” Revolution defender Andrew Farrell said. “Largely, I think we’ve done a good job this season where we’ve gotten a lot of points. But we obviously need to keep going and keep improving.”

Arena said the fact the Revolution have some “points in the bank” during this part of the season is positive. New England has 12 games left in the regular season, starting with Saturday’s match at Yankee Stadium against NYCFC.

“We’re in a position where we have some margin for error as we finish off the regular season and that’s because we’ve had a good start,” Arena said Thursday.

One of the breakout stars for New England has been 22-year-old Tajon Buchanan, who has six goals and four assists in 17 appearances.

Buchanan’s transfer to Club Brugge in Belgium was announced earlier this week, but he will stay with the Revs for the rest of this season. He was also named to Canada’s World Cup qualifying squad Thursday.

“I think our goals are still the same today as they were before we started the season: we want to qualify for the playoffs. And then secondly, we’d like to have home field advantage in the playoffs as well. So that’s the goal of our team for 2021,” Arena said. “We’re headed in that direction. However, we realize the next 12 games can certainly change that.”

OUT WEST

It’s a much tighter race in the Western Conference. The Seattle Sounders (12-3-6) are atop the table, in front of Sporting Kansas City (11-4-6). The teams in fifth to 11th place are only separated by six points.

The Sounders, who won their second MLS Cup in 2019 and were runners-up last season, had six players start in Wednesday night’s All-Star Game, so there’s plenty of talent there to compete for another title.

GOLDEN BOOT

Seattle’s Raul Ruidiaz leads the Golden Boot race with 14 goals in 21 games.

“It’s not just how many goals he scores, it’s when he scores them,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “He’s a showman and he pulls out the highlight-reel goals on a week-to-week basis.”

New England’s Gustavo Bou and Kansas City’s Daniel Salloi each have 12 goals this season.

ASSISTS LEADER

Revolution midfielder Carles Gil leads MLS with 15 assists this season but he is currently nursing a soft tissue injury. He has missed five games and traveled to his native Spain to rehab.

Gil was named the league’s player of the month for June after collecting five assists in three starts. If he can get back to 100% soon, he’s also a strong MVP candidate.

GOALKEEPERS

Nashville’s Joe Willis and Colorado’s William Yarbrough are the league’s shutout leaders with eight apiece. Austin’s Brad Stuver has stood out with 87 saves and a 78.4 saves percentage.

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