New England Revolution players refused to practice Tuesday amid the resignation of sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena on Saturday, according to The Athletic.
Team president Brian Bilello told players and staff in an email Monday that there would be a mandatory meeting Tuesday ahead of practice, where he would address “what has transpired at the club” and give the “group a chance to ask questions.”
The meeting lasted about an hour, and players apparently demanded more information on the investigation into Arena — who resigned Saturday after allegations that he made “insensitive and inappropriate remarks.” It’s unclear what he said specifically, but Major League Soccer “confirmed” certain allegations after an investigation. Arena had been on leave since Aug. 1. Technical director Curt Onalfo was promoted to interim sporting director, and assistant coach Richie Williams was promoted to interim head coach.
Players were apparently “unsatisfied with their time with Bilello” in the meeting Tuesday morning, according to The Athletic, and requested more time with the coaching staff. That second meeting lasted about two hours, and players asked Williams about his involvement in the investigation. Williams allegedly filed complaints against Arena and was interviewed in the investigation. He was also reportedly advised earlier this season that he wouldn’t be returning in 2024.
Williams reportedly told players he couldn’t comment about the investigation.
“Not many guys trust Richie leading the team right now,” one Revolution player told The Athletic.
Players then allegedly refused to practice Tuesday. Williams, who spoke to reporters later in the day, framed that as a group decision rather than a refusal.
“We didn’t have training today as we had a bunch of meetings between players, coaches and management,” Williams said, via The Athletic. “The length of the meetings and what was discussed we decided as a group, collectively, that we wouldn’t have training today and we’d be out tomorrow.”
Multiple assistant coaches have reportedly walked out on training sessions on separate occasions since Williams took over as the interim coach, too. Williams and assistant Shalrie Joseph even had to be physically separated on one occasion last season, per the report.
“With me personally as the interim head coach, they’ve asked me to take over, to be the coach until the end of the season, hopefully into the playoffs and to a championship and that’s obviously what I’m going to be doing moving forward,” Williams said, via The Athletic. “And again, it’s been a very good response over the last six weeks from the players and with results-wise and maintaining our second place standing in the league.”
Williams, however, appeared to be fired later on Tuesday night. The Revolution put out a statement naming Clint Peay, who is the head coach of their second-tier club, as the team's interim head coach. The statement did not mention Williams by name, or make it clear what happened. Joseph and fellow assistant Dave van den Bergh were fired.
Club executives are set to speak Wednesday.
It would genuinely be difficult to script a more bizarre scandal(?) than this New England Revolution mess https://t.co/ML77E9sjXR
— Henry Bushnell (@HenryBushnell) September 13, 2023
Arena, 71, has been a longtime coach in MLS and U.S. Soccer for decades. He spent time with D.C. United, the New York Red Bulls and the LA Galaxy before taking over the Revolution in 2019. He led the U.S. men’s national team twice, most recently in 2017. He resigned from that post after the USMNT failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Arena said in a statement while announcing his resignation that, “after much soul searching,” he had made “some mistakes.” The league said he must file a petition with the commissioner if he wants to join another team.
The Revolution have gone 1-1-3 in MLS play and had two draws in the Leagues Cup since Arena left the team. The club sits in second in the Eastern Conference standings, nine points behind FC Cincinnati. It’s unclear if the team will practice on Wednesday. They are set to play against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday.