November 22, 2016
OLDER BUT WISER
A new and improved Bruce Arena (at least that's what he says) takes over reins of U.S. national team
By Michael Lewis
|Bruce Arena: "I think 10 years later Iím better prepared for this job than I was in 1998 and 2002, and ultimately 2006."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Ten years older but wiser, Bruce Arena feels he is better prepared in his second time around as U.S. national coach.
He has had a decade to hone his already impressive coaching skills, first with the Red Bulls and more recently and much more successfully with the LA Galaxy.
Arena was named U.S. national coach for the second time in his career Tuesday, a decade after he directed the Americans to their second consecutive World Cup. He replaced Jurgen Klinsmann, who was sacked Monday.
ďIíve learned a lot. Iíve had 10 years on the field at the club level and Iíve had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented players in the world and understanding how they work and how to build a team; and Iíve continued to grow on the tactical side, continued to grow in learning how to deal with players and learning how to plan and playing away and playing in big matches. I think 10 years later Iím better prepared for this job than I was in 1998 and 2002, and ultimately 2006."
The Franklin Square, N.Y. native was far from finished.
"Iím hopeful that the experiences that I have are going to benefit the program. You know, one of the things you learn from experience is you see things a lot clearer and a lot quicker than you did previously, and the game has slowed down a bit where I can see as a coach, and in my position, how things are happening on the field. Iím better at identifying the strengths and weaknesses of players and I think Iím better at how you build a team. Certainly, this time around itís going to be a great challenge."
The challenge will begin Dec. 1. Where it will end? Well, the 65-year-old Arena's contract runs through the 2018 World Cup in Russia. After that, it depends on how well the USA fares and whether U.S. Soccer wants him back or vice versa.
But his main concern is to right a sinking U.S. ship and get it back on the path to qualify for its eighth consecutive World Cup. The red, white and blue finds itself at the bottom of CONCACAF hexagonal with an abysmal and confounding 0-2-0 mark and a minus five goal differential, six points adrift from leader Costa Rica.
He'll have to do it later than sooner as the Americans' next qualifier is set for March 24 against Honduras at a venue to be determined in the states.
Before the team will get any close to that, Arena must begin team building, which will kick off during a national team camp most likely in Carson, Calif. in January.
While he doesn't begin his job officially for 10 days, Arena already had spoken with several players prior to his conference call.
"So and have an understanding, we need to build a chemistry with this team and have a common goal and really work on a team concept," he said. "I really believe individually and positionally we have good players and we just got to get them working together as a team. There are no real secrets in how you build good teams. It takes a lot of hard work, it takes communication, it takes discipline and it takes some talent. I think we have enough talent to build a good team and end up in Russia in 2018. Itís going to take a little time, a little bit of patience and a lot of hard work.Ē
For the first time since 1989 -- when Bob Gansler replaced Lothar Osiander as national coach -- the U.S. has made a change at the top in the middle of a World Cup qualifying cycle.
Arena said that he was "very familiar" with the pool of players.
ďAlthough Iím very familiar with the pool of players, the most important thing right now is to hav
"The challenge that we have together as a team," he said. "We will develop an identity over the next couple of months and hopefully feel comfortable working with each other and understanding that the goal we have is important for the entire group. We will work together in the next couple of months to build our team to be the best team we can be and be ready for qualifying when March 24 comes around.Ē
It doesn't seem Arena will do any experimenting as he plans to use more veterans or players in the pool than newcomers with so much on the line.
"I donít think the roster is going to have radical changes from the last couple of camps but there will obviously be some changes," he said.
He added later: "I would say that its highly unlikely weíre going to bring many new players into the program. Weíre at a time right now where we need to get results and we need to have a team thatís ready to go in March.Ē
Arena, more or less, said all the right things during his conference call. In 2013, he was quoted by ESPN The Magazine, saying the following:
"Players on the national team should be American. If they're born in other countries, we aren't making progress."
On Tuesday, he walked that back.
"I donít know how that came about," he said. 'I guess we did that interview together three years ago from what Iím told. If I made those comments, I certainly donít believe thatís my attitude. As a starting point, one of my favorite players in my eight years as national team coach was Earnie Stewart.
"I believe that anyone that has a United States passport is certainly eligible to play for our National Team. I embrace all players that are eligible to play and I just want to make sure their heartís in the right place and when they put the U.S. jersey on theyíre playing for that crest on that shirt. Itís important to me. I have a great passion for this national team and I expect the same out of all players. I am all for any players that are eligible to play for us and I really look forward to working with our foreign-nationals as well as our domestic players."
As for his age -- 65 -- Arena is one of the oldest coaches, if not the oldest in USA soccer history. But he didn't that would be an issue going forward.
ďI donít think the age matters, as a starting point," he said. "We just elected a 70-year-old man as president of the United States. Weíre still going pretty strong in this age group. How would I describe myself as a coach? A hard worker. I believe Iím a playerís coach. I like to believe I have a good understanding of how players are thinking. What I really know is how to build a team. I understand all the qualities and circumstances that develop into making a team and, again, Iím hopeful those qualities will allow me to get this team moving at full speed when qualifying starts again.Ē