Eight sources, including multiple current team employees, said that complaints filed by New England Revolution assistant coach Richie Williams are part of the investigation into the conduct of Bruce Arena, who resigned as the Revolution’s head coach and sporting director on Saturday night.
Williams has been coaching the Revolution on an interim basis while Arena was on administrative leave due to an MLS-commissioned investigation into alleged “inappropriate and insensitive remarks” he made. Major League Soccer announced after this story was published on Saturday that “certain” allegations were confirmed and that Arena would have to submit a petition to the commissioner if he should pursue future employment within the league.
Sources familiar with the investigation said that some questions asked by investigators centered around comments Arena allegedly made behind closed doors and to his coaching staff.
Arena met with MLS commissioner Don Garber on Tuesday to discuss the investigation, multiple sources said. Those sources also said that Arena was present at the offices of the NFL’s New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Thursday to meet with members of the Kraft family, who own the Patriots as well as the Revolution. He was under contract through at least next season.
All 12 sources interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation and events surrounding it publicly. MLS policy generally forbids its teams and employees from doing so.
Representatives for Arena, Williams and Major League Soccer all declined to comment on Williams’ involvement in the investigation or any further details on the investigation itself. The New England Revolution could not be reached for comment on Saturday evening. After the Revolution’s 1-1 draw against Minnesota United in Saint Paul, Minn., the Revolution abruptly canceled the team’s standard post-game press conference with Williams.
“I know that I have made some mistakes and moving forward, I plan to spend some time reflecting on this situation and taking corrective steps to address what has transpired,” Arena said in a statement.
What we know about Bruce Arena’s mysterious absence
Arena was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 1, with Williams taking over as interim manager and technical director Curt Onalfo installed as interim sporting director. The investigation conducted by outside law firm Proskauer Rose was announced simultaneously.
Williams has a lengthy history with Arena which dates back to his playing days at the University of Virginia in the 1980s and 1990s, where Arena was his head coach. He was an important part of Arena’s D.C. United sides during the club’s championship runs in the mid-90s and has coached alongside Arena in various capacities in MLS and with U.S. Soccer. Williams joined the Revolution in 2019.
When Arena received his multi-year contract extension with the Revolution before the 2022 season, much of the Revolution’s sporting staff — Williams, Onalfo, assistant coaches Shalrie Joseph and Dave van den Bergh and goalkeeper coach Kevin Hitchcock — were not extended, said multiple sources familiar with the Revolution’s front office operations. Arena, Williams and Onalfo clashed during the 2022 and 2023 seasons, those sources said, over differences between the club’s sporting direction and tactics. Onalfo, those same sources said, has clashed with Arena over player signings in particular and, prior to Arena’s hiatus, had largely been marginalized from player personnel decisions.
Onalfo has his own lengthy history with Arena that dates back to the late 90s as well. Arena has worked with the former MLS player in some manner for long stretches of the past two decades during spells with D.C. United, LA Galaxy and the USMNT.
Williams, sources said, was advised earlier this season that he would not be returning as a member of Arena’s staff in 2024; on Friday, multiple sources said that Arena, earlier this year, had suggested to Williams’ representation that he find a landing spot for his then-assistant.
Sources told The Athletic that players and staff weren’t initially given specifics in terms of why Arena was under investigation, and those allegations against Arena have yet to be publicized. He was initially removed from the team in the days before the investigation was announced, with players told that Arena would be gone “for a bit” with no explanation. In the weeks that followed New England’s announcement, the league, working with Proskauer Rose, interviewed coaches, staff and players at the Revolution. As of Friday, Revolution players had yet to be informed as to Arena’s future with the club.
Revs defender Omar Gonzalez, who worked under Arena at the LA Galaxy and the U.S. national team before New England, expressed public support for his coach on August 17.
“It’s just bizarre what’s going on, we still really have no idea what happened or what’s going on,” Gonzalez told Morning Footy on CBS Sports Golazo. “The guys are hoping that Bruce will be back soon and get ready to kick off the second half of the season and continue the way that we’ve been going.”
Several other current players and staff members, all of whom requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the investigation, expressed support for Arena. “Bruce is a good man,” said one. “I have zero complaints about him as a coach or as a person.” Another player described Arena as “the last player’s coach” in MLS and said players by and large welcome his presence in the locker room. Other players declined to comment.
Another of Arena’s assistants, former Revolution player Shalrie Joseph, made his sentiments public in an Instagram post last week. “Thank you for being the man you are,” wrote Joseph. “I appreciate every lesson and (the) early morning conversations we used to have… love you big guy.”
Last month, Revolution captain Carles Gil made his own feelings public while speaking to The Athletic during the initial stages of the investigation. At the time, Gil said he’d never heard Arena say anything inappropriate.
“My experience with Bruce has been very good,” the 30-year-old former Aston Villa midfielder said. “Every coach I’ve had has helped me in some way; with Bruce, I have a great relationship. I’m the captain of this team so I try to represent the entire dressing room when I speak to him and honestly I have a very good relationship with him.
Arena, 71, began his soccer coaching career in 1977. He is the most decorated professional coach in American soccer history, having won five MLS Cups, four Supporters’ Shields, a U.S. Open Cup and a CONCACAF Championship over 17 seasons as an MLS head coach with D.C. United, the New York Red Bulls, LA Galaxy and the Revolution.
He also led the U.S. men’s national team at World Cups in 2006 and 2002, with the team achieving its best men’s World Cup finish in the modern era in the latter tournament as it reached the quarterfinals. Arena again took the reins of the USMNT after Jurgen Klinsmann was fired in 2017 in the midst of a faltering qualification campaign. Arena was unable to right the ship and the U.S. men missed out on their first World Cup in nearly 30 years.
Arena has also been one of American soccer’s most outspoken personalities, widely-known for his no-nonsense, blunt approach when addressing any number of issues, from the league’s officiating and roster regulations to the general state of soccer in America. In 2018, not long after Arena took over for Jurgen Klinsmann during the U.S.’ doomed 2018 World Cup qualification cycle, he hit out at U.S. Soccer and a host of others in “What’s Wrong With Us?,” a book he co-authored with commentator and author Steve Kettmann.
Two years later, Arena served a three-game suspension during MLS’ “MLS is Back” tournament during the COVID-19 pandemic for using abusive language against a match official. He initially received a red card and a standard one-game suspension but MLS commissioner Don Garber extended that penalty by an additional two games.
(Top photo: Andrew Katsampes/ISI Photos/Getty Images).)