The New England Revolution started their season off strong last Saturday, taking three points home from their first match of the 2023 season in a 1-0 win at Charlotte FC in front of more than 69,000 fans – the largest crowd in MLS over the weekend. Defender Henry Kessler provided late heroics, scoring the game-winner in the 89th minute, while goalkeeper Djordje Petrović secured the shutout with a four-save performance to give New England its first season-opening win since 2013.
Looking back on the first win of the new campaign, Revolution Sporting Director and Head Coach Bruce Arena sounds pleased with his team’s 90-minute effort on the road.
“That game was not an easy game. Our guys had to grind it out,” Arena said. “That was something we struggled with at times last year, so it’s a real positive that in the opening game we could do that against a team of quality, playing in front of 69,000 people. It was quite a challenge, and our guys came out on top.”
Grinding out results in close games is nothing new for Arena, but perhaps less typical is the influential role he has given to young players who are marking a strong impression on their 71-year-old manager. In Charlotte, the Revolution deployed the third-youngest starting lineup across MLS with an average age of 24.9 years old. Arena praised 17-year-old Noel Buck, an Arlington, Mass. native, who made the start alongside Rhode Island’s Damian Rivera. Arena also praised rookie Josh Bolma, Colombian Dylan Borrero, and Homegrown teenagers Esmir Bajraktarevic and Jack Panayotou as rising players who are pushing the veterans in training each day.
“We have some young guys that are really battling and improving and pushing our older guys and they want to get on the field, so it’s interesting to see,” Arena said of the impact young players are making early in the year. “We’re usually an old team and I’m always criticized about playing older teams, but these young players are good and we’re going have to find a way to get them on the field.”
The Revolution are benefiting from these unexpected contributors, but Arena knows that for the Revs to sustain their success, Carles Gil will need to continue leading the way for the attack. One goal proved to be enough in Charlotte, but Arena still sees the defense a step ahead of the Revs’ offense after one week.
“[Carles Gil] played very well. He had a real good game. I think he needs a little bit more help around him. I think this week, we’re going to be a little bit better in the attacking end of the field. Like in most team sports where there’s scoring, I think the offense is a little bit behind the defensive side of the ball and that’s where we stand right now, but I think as we grow into the season, we’re going to be a much better team in the attack and that’s certainly going to make, hopefully, Carles’ job a little easier.”