Just one day after officially ending the Jurgen Klinsmann era, the United States Soccer Federation reached into the brightest days of its past and officially named Bruce Arena as the new coach of the United States Men’s National Team, bringing back the man who led the Americans to their strongest World Cup finish of the modern era of American soccer.
“Any time you get the opportunity to coach the national team, it’s an honor,” Arena said in a statement reported by USA Today. “I’m looking forward to working with a strong group of players that understand the challenge in front of them after the first two games of the Hex.”
Bruce Arena‘s appointment was widely expected as both a steadying presence following defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica and as a reconciliation between the federation and its top domestic league Major League Soccer. Throughout his five-year tenure, Klinsmann repeatedly annoyed those connected with the league by regularly belittling it and suggesting that players such as Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley harmed their progress by playing in MLS instead of in a European league.
That won’t be a problem with Arena, who has spent the past eight years guiding the Los Angeles Galaxy, winning three MLS Cups in eight seasons. For his career, the 65-year-old Arena has won a combined five MLS Cups with Los Angeles and D.C. United and five NCAA championships at the University of Virginia.
At the international level, Arena was responsible for the United States’ best World Cup performance since 1930 during the 2002 World Cup. In that tournament, the USMNT not only made it out of the group stage for just the third time in its history, but also earned its first and only win in the knockout stages, defeating continental rival Mexico in the round of 16 by a 2-0 score.
But Bruce Arena’s time in charge came to a crashing halt four years later at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, in which the United States failed to win a match and scored just two goals in three matches, losing to the Czech Republic and Ghana and drawing with eventual champion Italy. Still, even in that defeat, the federation’s remarks about him were positive, claiming the side simply needed a different voice after eight years of Arena’s leadership.
For the time being, Arena’s task is a simple one: get the United States out of its nosedive and into the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The top three teams in the six-team CONCACAF group will qualify automatically, while the fourth-place side will face a playoff with the fifth-placed team from Asia. With eight matches remaining, the biggest questions facing Arena will be whether he can get the results he needs and what kind of team the U.S. will have moving forward.
Under Klinsmann, the USMNT regularly experimented with foreign-born players who had ties to the United States, and eight such players were part of the side for the latest qualifying matches. That’s something Arena expressed disdain for in the past, and it remains to be seen whether he will continue to trust those players or reach into MLS for American-born options who never got a shot under Klinsmann. Regardless of the makeup of the team, the final judgment of Arena’s second tenure will come in a year’s time, when the Americans know whether or not they’ll compete in their eighth consecutive World Cup.
Regardless of the makeup of the team, the USMNT’s first match under Arena takes place on March 24 at home against Honduras, and the final judgment of Arena’s second tenure will come in a year’s time, when the Americans know whether or not they’ll compete in their eighth consecutive World Cup.
Readers, was Bruce Arena the right hire after firing Klinsmann? Will he be able to get the most out of the USMNT? Do you expect to see the U.S. in Russia? Sound off in the comments below.
Commentary by Dan Angell