Bruce Arena’s second coming passed with no fanfare or grandiose predictions.
In a stale, uninspiring telephone conference, the 65 year-old described his delight and drive at landing the job of USA coach over 10 years since being fired by US Soccer president Sunil Gulati, the man who has just reappointed him.
“I view it at Bruce 2.0,” said Gulati, slightly unconvincingly.
Yet considering the turbulence of the last two performances under Jürgen Klinsmann, the mood was about right. Defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica were debilitating lows. This is a time for the US to regroup, and with the next World Cup qualifier against Honduras not until next March, Arena at least has time on his side.
His deal only extends to the end of Russia 2018 – results, as always, dictate the future. Gulati, however, is praying the former LA Galaxy manager can repair a splintered roster that clearly had lost their way under the German.
“We need to build chemistry and have a common goal and really work on a team concept,” Arena said, in what could be perceived as a slight on his predecessor. “We have good players and we just need to get them together as a team.”
He went on: “It takes a lot of hard work, communication, discipline and some talent — and we have enough of that to end up in Russia in 2018. I am a hard worker. I like to believe I am a players’ coach. What I really know is how to build a team. I understand the qualities and circumstances that go into building a team. It is highly unlikely we will bring many new players into the program. We are at a time in the program when we need to get results and we need players who are ready to go.”
The Brooklynite officially starts work on 1 December yet admitted contact has already been made with two players.
While Klinsmann took on the role as US Soccer’s technical director in 2014, it remains unclear how Arena will restructure the team.
Gulati may have given the German a vote of confidence earlier this month, but he remains confident in Arena’s ability to improve on his zenith – a trip to the World Cup quarter-finals in 2002.
The jury remains firmly out. Gulati steadfastly believes the right choice has been made. “He has far more experience than first time around. He has proven himself at all levels of the game in America, [and] his record as a coach is unparalleled,” Gulati said. “We felt we needed to go in a different direction. In the case of Bruce, we’ve known each other now for the better part of 30 years.
“So that was a hard decision, because of everything not only I had invested, but the federation had invested. And as I think has become clear, we don’t make these decisions based purely on emotion – at all on emotion – but try to be methodical about them.”
Calls for Klinsmann’s departure had become deafening following the hapless 4-0 defeat in Costa Rica last week leaving Gulati with no choice. “The results have been up and down,” the president admitted. “What goes into making the decision? The most recent results, talking with people close to the team. We wanted to be in the Confederations Cup next summer, we wanted to be in Brazil at the Olympics and have a better start to the Hex. We didn’t get that but a lot of things come into the evaluation.
“There is no doubt that pressures have increased on everyone in the game - that’s players, coaches and administrators, leaders and everyone else. That’s a reflection on certain things. The technological changes and the speed of information and social media adds a dimension of pressure which isn’t something Bruce would have experienced in his first go-round.
“Two – our fans are much more intelligent about the game. They watch the game, are very passionate and they know the game in a way and in numbers that wouldn’t have been possible 15 or even 20 years ago.
“So we have a group of sophisticated fans, which is a good thing. And the number has increased dramatically. All these things lead to more pressure but we look at them as positives. In situations where there have been bad results and people are feeling pressure, no-one likes to face the firing squad but that’s a natural part of the game.”
Arena’s arrival will warm the heart of MLS commissioner Don Garber, who became a staunch critic of Klinsmann’s urging of players to try their luck in Europe rather than stagnating in America. The most successful coach in US history, however, was quick to diffuse any early suggestions that his views are radically different from his predecessor’s.
“We embrace any player that is eligible to play,” Arena said. “We are who we are. The American qualities have certainly been teams that are hard to play against. In the modern era those are qualities a lot of teams take on. Look at the teams who were successful at the European Championships. We need the right balance, right combinations and right mentality.”
This article was written by Steve Brenner, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 22nd November 2016 23.16 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010