Dec. 21, 2016
Arena Named USMNT Coach - Again
In 2002, Bruce Arena guided the U.S Men’s National Team to its best finish in the World Cup in more than 80 years.
Now, he gets a second chance to see if he can push a team in disarray to similar heights in Russia, 2018 – but first the team must qualify. It was the recent losses to Mexico and Costa Rica in the Hexagonal that prompted the dismissal of Jurgen Klinsmann on Monday.
U.S. Soccer President, Sunil Gulati, announced today that Arena will replace Klinsmann who held the dual role of Head Coach and Technical Director. For now, the position of Technical Director remains vacant.
“It’s been a long two weeks,” said Gulati on a media conference call this afternoon. “None of us expected the two results we got. Overall, those two games as well as the history – we needed to go in a new direction.”
Arena led the USMNT from 1998-2006 and compiled a record of 70-30-29 and steered the U.S. to an historic quarterfinal finish in the 2002 World Cup while winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2002 and 2005. He leaves his position with the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer after eight years and three MLS Cup titles. Arena is the only coach to win five MLS championships (two with D.C. United) while prevailing in five title matches at the University of Virginia.
His next coaching exam provides the challenge of correcting apparent flaws while qualifying for Russia with eight matches remaining in the Hexagonal.
“I told Sunil, 10 years later I’m better prepared for this job,” said Arena. “One of the things from experience – you see things a lot quicker and a lot clearer. I’m better at identifying strengths and weaknesses – I’m better about how to building a team.”
Constructing a unit that was in obvious disorder in the 4-0 loss in Costa Rica will be the prominent test for Arena.
“I have had communication with a couple of players over the last 10 hours or so,” he said. “We need to build chemistry with this team and have a common goal.”
A strong indicator that the leadership of the squad deemed that connection qualities were lacking under Klinsmann.
“Individually and positionally we have good players,” continued Arena. “We just have to get them working together as a team.”
Arena also addressed the perception that he does not favor the foreign born Americans – players like Tim Chandler, Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson who had significant roles under Klinsmann.
“Players on the National Team should be American,” said Arena in a 2013 interview. “If they’re born in other countries, we’re not making progress.”
This afternoon at his introductory media call, Arena dialed back on his previous claim while hesitating with his response.
““If I made those comments – I certainly don’t believe that is my attitude,” he said. “One of my favorite players was Earnie Stewart (Dutch-American). I will embrace all players that are eligible to play – players that are playing for the crest on the shirt.”
The next camp to prepare for the ensuing stage of World Cup qualifying matches will be in January. Arena suggested that he does not plan profound changes to the player pool.
“I don’t think the pool will have radical changes,” said Arena. “But obviously, there will be some changes. I’m aware of the pool of players in Major League Soccer.”
Could that signal the re-emergence of Sporting KC’s Benny Feilhaber, one of the premier midfielders in MLS who felt scorned by Klinsmann?
“Only time will tell,” said Arena who reviews myriad film to scout his MLS opponents while getting a close-up view on match-day. “We are going to give players like that a chance to be back in the national team program. No names are off the table.”
Although complete terms of the contract were not revealed, Gulati indicated that Arena has an agreement though the World Cup in Russia.
“I would have done this for free,” joked Arena.
“I’ve learned a lot on the field at the club level,” explained Arena, a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. “I’ve continued to grow on the tactical side and dealing with players and learning how to plan and playing away game and playing in big matches.”
The USMNT is last among the six nations in CONCACAF and the next big match is March 24 against Honduras.
“The only thing I can tell you is that we are going to make it better,” he said.