The email arrived at 7:03 p.m. one year ago this evening. It was an email that many who follow the Revolution closely, Blue Level denizens and fandom alike, never thought would come.
Just as the final bars of Wheel Of Fortune’s show open faded, Pat Sajak had introduced the contestants, and the first puzzle of the night underway, New England’s soccer fandom learned the news: the Revolution and Michael Burns, the long-time and beleaguered general manager of the Original Ten outfit since late 2011, had parted ways.
The news was a welcome shock, especially after Burns had announced three days prior — the day after the Revolution relieved Brad Friedel of his duties as head coach — that he would be involved in what would have been his third head coaching search since he became the general manager.
Following that announcement, the uproar was tremendous. The fans showed they had had enough. The leadership of the Midnight Riders and The Rebellion had released statements that it was time to go in a different direction with the soccer operations department; former Rebellion president (and new dad in 2020) Matt Puglise, in his pre-match meeting with team president Brian Billelo, handed him a letter requesting a Supporter’s Town Hall with the Krafts to get their house in order.
The next night against San Jose, a 3-1 Revs win, fans in The Fort not only chanted “Burns Out” — a chant the in-stadium cameras caught and showed on the Jumbotron — but members of The Rebellion held up a banner which read, “N.E. Deserves Better.”
They did that twice. Twice. TeamOps didn’t rush over and confiscate the negativity.
And even though that night was a win, a match the Revs scored three goals pretty much against the run of play, I had said in my follow-up that fans should not be complacent with the win and that Burns, the architect of the team who had not found or signed defensive help — the Achilles heel of the team — should still be fired.
Less than 48 hours later, it happened, the news well-received by Revs Colony; some 13 hours or so later, the Revolution announced that Bruce Arena would serve two roles in the club’s hierarchy — head coach and sporting director.
Of course, anyone who has followed the team closely knew that Burns had to go. The stats certainly weren’t in his favor, and it’s painful reading:
In 251 matches at the helm of soccer operations, Burns was 91-103-57. That’s 330 points accrued out of a possible 753. In addition, there was a goal difference of -29. There were also three playoff appearances, none since 2015, and at that point in the season, it did not look like The Boys In Blue would get to the postseason for the fourth season running. New England had blown a two-goal lead against Sporting Kansas City two weeks prior, a three-goal midweek drubbing to a late-arriving Montreal side a few days before that, and were also coming off back-to-back five-goal defeats to Philadelphia and Chicago before the club dropped the hammer and mercifully ended Friedel’s tenure.
And sure, Burns was in control of the pursestrings when the Revolution made its fifth and as of now last trip to the MLS Cup Final; the same with the team’s run to the US Open Cup Final in 2016. Those can be considered positives. Yet it was being in control of the pursestrings that saw the club not replace AJ Soares in defense, as well as sign a number of players who were, quite frankly, not very good.
Simply put, Burns was a mediocre general manager, one whom agents never liked to work with.
In his place, the Krafts hired Bruce Arena, whose resume in American soccer is well-known. The owner of five MLS Cup titles, three Supporter’s Shields, an Open Cup title, a CONCACAF Champions League title, seven conference titles, plus what he did at the University of Virginia and with the US National Team. In short, he’s a difference-maker.
Since Burns’ dismissal, the Revs had an epic turnaround in 2019: an 8-3-10 record, and were unbeaten in 11 straight matches, to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Arena added a goal-scorer in Gustavo Bou with the second designated player spot, something Burns never used. And in the offseason, Arena added a third DP in Adam Buksa. He drafted Henry Kessler with the sixth pick in January’s SuperDraft, and he has played well in defense so far. Is he Soares’ replacement five years later?
The 2020 Revs under Arena have, as mentioned on this site, gotten off to a slow start, given two matches played with one point out of a possible six claimed before the coronavirus pandemic shut Major League Soccer down in mid-March. And with the pandemic now entering its third month on these shores, we don’t know exactly when the league will resume. There are reports indicating that the league will play games in Orlando. Until it does re-open, the re-build is on hold, the results everyone wants not forthcoming.
What will the future hold? What will historians eventually say about the tenure of Michael Burns, which ended one year ago tonight? And how will those same people hold Arena when looking at his tenure as New England’s bench boss?
While all current signs show the club is in better hands, time will certainly tell when it comes to the long-term future of New England’s first-division side.