November 16, 2016
Perhaps the U.S. national team is ready for some more Arena futbol
By Michael Lewis
Bruce Arena directed the U.S. national team to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
OK, so last March I asked for the head of Jurgen Klinsmann.
If U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati wants to make a change -- so far he has been steadfast in staying the course with Klinsmann -- I have a candidate for him:
Yeah, I know that's so much easier said than done and I fear too little and too late.
Arena guided the USA in two World Cup cycles, one glorious, one disappointing that resulted in the Franklin Square, N.Y. native leaving the national team (Gulati said the federation wasn't going to renew his contract and a peeved Arena claimed he was going to join the Red Bulls as coach anyway).
So, whether a decade of acrimony between the two has abated isn't publicly known.
Besides, Arena has to want the job and the Galaxy would have to be willing to let him go.
And Gulati would have to want to replace Klinsmann and want Arena as well.
And then there would be negotiations.
It is probably a longshot because so much has to come together. But we can dream, can't we?
Still, Bruce Arena must be a leading choice.
He can be caustic, to the point and blunt -- with his players and his team. But he has a history of not only getting things done, but winning.
And in sports this is what its all about, especially when it comes to the World Cup.
Let us count the ways in which Arena has been successful:
He won with the University of Virginia as the Cavaliers celebrated five NCAA Division I championships during his tenure.
He won with the D.C. United and the LA Galaxy (not so much with the Red Bulls, but that's another story for another time), as his teams have earned five MLS Cup championships, a record for one coach.
And he won with the U.S. national team. Well, it wasn't the World Cup itself, but the Americans defeated Mexico 2-0 in the Round of 16 at South Korea/Japan 2002 before Germany stopped their march with a 1-0 result in the quarterfinals. It was the best finish by a U.S. team in the mundial since the very first competition in Uruguay when the Americans took fourth place among 13 times. Given the fact that many of the European powers skipped that tournament, you can make a case that the 2002 tournament was the best performance by a USA team ever.
Pretty damn impressive, huh?
He is a legend in his own time, a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame and a players' coach who has the best chance of cleaning up the mess called the U.S. national team as it begins a four-month hiatus from World Cup qualifying before resuming it with that proverbial must-win home game against Honduras March 24.
In other words, he has gravitas.
Listen, if and when Arena reads this, I don't know what his reaction will be.
He could get a good laugh.
He might think, "Lewis, stop stirring up trouble I don't want to have any part of. I have enough on my plate with the Galaxy."
Or, he could say, "Hmmm. That's interesting."
Well, that's Bruce.
I can't help what he thinks, only what I feel.
So, Bruce Arena for U.S. national coach!
The Americans can do worse, a lot worse.
Oh yeah, at the moment, they are.