Bruce Arena comes back as U.S. coach

In World Cup res­cue bid, he re­places Klins­mann a decade af­ter he was let go

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter

Adecade ago U.S. Soc­cer pres­i­dent Su­nil Gu­lati de­cided Bruce Arena wasn’t the man to lead the na­tional team any­more and de­clined to re­new his con­tract as coach.

OnTues­day Gu­lati had a change of heart, pry­ing Arena away from Ma­jor League Soc­cer’s LA Galaxy to res­cue a strug­gling U.S. pro­gram in dan­ger of miss­ing the World Cup for the first time in 32 years. “I don’t view it as Bruce 2 but sort of Bruce 2.0,” Gu­lati said in nam­ing Arena to re­place Jur­gen Klins­mann, who was fired Mon­day as the na­tional team coach. “He’s got far more ex­pe­ri­ence than he did when he had the na­tional team the first go-around and has proven … many times and at all lev­els that that he is an ex­traor­di­nar­ily ca­pa­ble and suc­cess­ful coach.”

Arena, 65, who signed a two-year con­tract, is con­sid­ered a short-term so­lu­tion to get the United States qual­i­fied for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The United States hasn’t missed the tour­na­ment since 1986, and fail­ing to do so would not only mark a big step back­ward for the devel­op­ment of soc­cer in the United States, but it also would likely cost U.S. Soc­cer mil­lions in spon­sor­ship dol­lars.

Arena has al­ready coached a record 130 games with the na­tional team, guid­ing the United States to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups be­fore win­ning three MLS ti­tles with the Galaxy.

More im­por­tantly, he has a his­tory of turn­ing teams around. In his first stint as U.S. coach, he in­her­ited a pro­gram that had lost three straight games in the 1998 World Cup and took it to the quar­ter­fi­nals four years later. With the Galaxy, where he was coach and gen­eral man­ager, he took over a team that would win a fran­chise-low eight games in 2008 and guided it to the MLS Cup fi­nal the next sea­son.

Arena faces a sim­i­lar chal­lenge in his re­turn to the na­tional team, which is last in the six-team stand­ings two games into the fi­nal round of World Cup qual­i­fy­ing. The 10-game tour­na­ment re­sumes in March with the United States play­ing Hon­duras and Panama.

And while the new coach said he doesn’t ex­pect mas­sive changes to the ros­ter, he does think the team needs a change in at­ti­tude. Bruce Arena

“We need to build the chemistry of the team and have a com­mon goal and re­ally work on the team con­cept,” said Arena, who had be­gun reach­ing out to play­ers be­fore he was of­fi­cially an­nounced as the new coach. “In­di­vid­u­ally and po­si­tion­ally we have good play­ers. We just have to get them work­ing to­gether as a team.”

Arena also walked back some com­ments from a 2013 in­ter­view in which he said play­ers on the na­tional team should be na­tive-born. That would have ruled out four of the play­ers Klins­mann started in his fi­nal two games.

“Any­one who has a pass­port in the United States is el­i­gi­ble to play for our na­tional team,” Arena said Tues­day. “I em­brace all play­ers that are el­i­gi­ble to play and I just want to make sure their heart is in the right place and when they put that U.S. jersey on that they’re play­ing for that crest that’s on their shirt.”

Gu­lati said the de­ci­sion to re­place Klins­mann was made Sun­day night. He and fed­er­a­tion CEO Dan Flynn then be­gan for­mal talks with Arena’s agent and the Galaxy to get Arena re­leased from a two-year con­tract ex­ten­sion he had signed with the team this fall.

Gu­lati said Klins­mann’s fir­ing was trig­gered by more than this month’s World Cup qual­i­fy­ing losses to Mexico and Costa Rica. Since the 2015 Gold Cup, in which the United States fin­ished fourth, “we had some very up-and-down re­sults,” Gu­lati said. Klins­mann’s re­fusal to take own­er­ship of those fail­ures was re­port­edly also a fac­tor.

“That wasn’t easy on a per­sonal or a pro­fes­sional level,” Gu­lati, who hired Klins­mann in 2011 af­ter a years-long pur­suit, said of his dis­missal. “But [it was] some­thing I felt we had to do in order to put our­selves in the best pos­si­ble po­si­tion go­ing for­ward.”

Klins­mann, who went 55-27-16 in 51⁄ years with the na­tional team, had two years left on a con­tract that re­port­edly pays him a U.S.-record $3.2 mil­lion an­nu­ally.

For the Galaxy, Arena’s de­par­ture cre­ates open­ings for both a coach and gen­eral man­ager. It could have a wider im­pact on the coach­ing staff, since long­time as­so­ciate head coach Dave Sarachan, who re­signed last week, and cur­rent Galaxy as­sis­tants Matt Reis, Pat Noo­nan and Kenny Arena could fol­low Arena to the na­tional team.

Amongth­ein­ter­nal­can­di­dates to re­place Arena as the Galaxy’s coach is Curt Onalfo, man­ager of the fran­chise’s USL Pro af­fil­i­ate and the for­mer head man with the Kansas City Wizards and D.C. United. Peter Va­ge­nas, who cap­tained the Galaxy dur­ing a 13-year play­ing ca­reer, is ex­pected to re­ceive con­sid­er­a­tion for the GM post. Va­ge­nas is the team’s vice pres­i­dent of soc­cer op­er­a­tions. Like Onalfo, Bruce Arena once coached D.C.

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