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Soccer

Bruce Arena returns to lead Revolution to victory over Galaxy

New England Revolution v Los Angeles Galaxy
Zlatan Ibrahimovic reacts after scoring.
(Katharine Lotze / Getty Images)

The Galaxy have spent much of the season celebrating the franchise’s history. So it was fitting Sunday that they welcomed back the author of some of the most important chapters in that story.

Bruce Arena won more than 120 games and three MLS titles in eight full seasons with the team. No coach has won more of either. But in his return, Arena stood in front of the other team’s bench, making his debut as manager of the New England Revolution in a 2-1 win over the former team.

The Revolution’s goals came from Cristian Penilla late in the first half and Teal Bunbury early in the second.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic gave the Galaxy some late hope, scoring another highlight-reel goal on a bicycle kick in the 84th minute.

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But they would come up short when Diego Polenta’s shot in the dying seconds of stoppage time bounced off the crossbar, allowing Arena to breathe a sigh of relief.

“I have nothing but great memories, win, lose or draw here,” Arena said. “This is never going to be an environment that I don’t feel comfortable in.”

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Arena was hired as New England’s coach and general manager last month, tasked with turning around a dismal team, just as he took the Galaxy from three straight losing seasons to an MLS Cup final in one year. He coached his first training session Tuesday and Sunday’s game was his first as the Revolution’s manager.

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“We’ll look to try to make the team better,” Arena said. “It’s challenging midyear to do that. But we have our eyes on some people.”

Sunday’s game marked his first trip back to an MLS sideline since he left the league for the U.S. national team and an ultimately failed World Cup qualifying campaign after the Galaxy were knocked out of the 2016 playoffs. The team hasn’t been back to the postseason since.

Now Arena’s magic appears to be rubbing off on his new team, which hasn’t lost since he was hired.

Sunday’s win, the team’s first on the road this season, extended New England’s unbeaten streak to four games, equaling its longest since early last summer.

The Revolution (4-8-4) took 10 shots in the first half but didn’t score until the 45th minute. Penilla ran on to a pass from Carles Gil on the right edge of the penalty, pushed the ball ahead with his first touch, then blasted a shot that got past Galaxy keeper David Bingham and trickled in at the near post.

The Galaxy opened the second half pushing for the equalizer and New England took advantage, with a Gil pass from wide on the right wing finding Bunbury sprinting up the center of the field on a counterattack to double the lead in the 60th minute.

Ibrahimovic scored in the closing minutes, battling New England’s Brandon Bye for control of the ball with his back to the goal, then launching it back over his shoulder for his 11th goal of the season.

But they would get no closer.

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“It wasn’t perfect. The last 10, 15 minutes was sloppy,” Arena said. “But to get a result here and walk away with three points is pretty good.”

The loss was the third in a row at home for the Galaxy (9-6-1), leaving coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto frustrated going into the team’s three-week Gold Cup break.

“We want to win here. We need to get better position,” said Schelotto, whose team remains second in both the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings.

The game may ultimately prove costly in another way. Sebastian Lletget limped to the locker room in the ninth minute with a left hamstring injury.

Lletget was due to join the U.S. national team this week.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com | Twitter: @kbaxter11


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