The Revs are coming! The Revs are coming!
By Steve Goldberg
Here's a fun fact. This Saturday's MLS match between Charlotte FC and the New England Revolution will be the second game in the Queen City for both teams. For Charlotte, it's the club's second-ever home match; for the Revs, it's just over 12 years from their date here versus the Charlotte Eagles in a preseason tilt in 2010.
Against the USL2 Eagles, essentially a third division side, the Revs won 2-0 behind the play of Shalrie Joseph, who had been a league MVP finalist the year before.
On the Revs roster but not on the pitch that evening was a former Duke player who also made a mark in the previous season becoming the second rookie in the history of MLS to play every minute of every game. A quadricep injury early in training would limit his preseason, frustrating the Raleigh native who was looking forward to playing as a professional in front on family and friends.
"When it was announced that we would be headed to NC for preseason, my eyes lit up because there are very few occasions in your pro career where you get to showcase yourself in front of people who have been with you from the beginning, but such is life," says Darrius Barnes.
Barnes, 35, won't be on the pitch for this match either, at least not as a player. After nine professional seasons, eight with the Revs, he took the other talents he honed at Duke to the marketing department of MLS before coming home to North Carolina as Director of Business Operations for Charlotte FC.
"I was bummed not to be able to play in front of family or friends due to a quad strain," Barnes recalls but adding, "My memories from that match are all positive."
"The excitement and energy from the fans was electric for a preseason match and the Charlotte Eagles were quality competitors. They were a tough, gritty and tenacious opponent who had quality and forced us to play at an elite level."
Unfinished Business for Arena
The New England side coming to Charlotte this time had the best regular season record in MLS last season with 22 wins, 5 losses, and 7 draws. That bestowed upon them the Supports Shield but losing in the quarterfinals to eventual champions NYCFC leaves coach Bruce Arena with unfinished business.
Arena is arguable the most successful American soccer coach ever with five MLS Cups – 2 with DC United, 3 with the LA Galaxy – and five NCAA College Cups including three when the tournament finals were hosted by Davidson College from 1992 to 1994. The consistency of success for his Virginia Cavaliers prompted Indiana coach Jerry Yeagley to call it, "the Bruce Arena Holiday Invitational".
The Revs have played in five MLS Cup finals without winning it yet, the last appearance in 2014. Their ascent under Arena was hampered by the pandemic, 11-11-12 in 2019, 8-7-8 in 2020, but is now all but complete.
There's speculation in soccer circles that the former USA national team coach, who is already in the National Soccer Hall of Fame, would have retired had the Revs hoisted the MLS Cup last year. They didn't. He didn't.
And now they are coming into Charlotte still stinging from a penalty kick loss on the road to Mexican club Pumas UNAM in the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday after building a 3-0 edge in the first leg at home. That means their entire focus is now on winning the MLS Cup.
Even though this will be the Revs fifth game in 15 days, It wouldn't have been easy for Charlotte in any case even though the Revs are missing USA national team goalkeeper Matt Turner and both first choice centerbacks Andrew Farrell and Henry Kessler missed the trip to Mexico and are questionable to play.
Revolution midfielder Matt Polster put it this way on the Revs website, "We wanted to move further in that competition, and we had a great chance to do that. We weren’t up to the task. For the group itself, even the young guys, you have to now shift your focus quickly to a game against Charlotte which will be extremely difficult. They’re looking for their first win of the season."
"I don’t know what the fans will look like, but I’m sure they’re going to have a pretty sold-out crowd again. It’s going to be another great atmosphere and we’re going to need to be up for it because this will be a tough team."