It will be a long, long time before anyone accomplishes more than Bruce Arena in American soccer coaching across such a wide spectrum.
The guy has been an unquestioned success at college level, league level and international level.
So his wide-ranging Q&A with U.S. Soccer was interesting stuff. If you have followed Arena through the years, you’ve heard him say most of this stuff in various forms, across different platforms. But it’s an interesting walk through his “trophy case,” so to speak, as he talks about getting the roster right for that early dash at dominance with D.C. United and getting the right matchup against Portugal to launch the U.S. men’s national team’s best moment, the quarterfinal shot heard round the soccer world in Asian back in 2002.
Of course, the memories aren’t so fond from World Cup 2006, where a dramatic draw with Italy was the high point, but where losses to the Czech Republic and Ghana left the United States on the outs after group play.
That opening loss to Czech Republic sent things immediately the wrong direction – the same way that stunning upset over Portugal set the gears for World Cup 2002 breakout success.
So it was interesting to hear Arena say that the high-powered Czech Republic (the country was at the time) was simply better, and a bad matchup. Arena may have said this before … but I don’t exactly recall him doing so.
What he said:
Well, because of our success in 2002, we weren’t coming in unknown in 2006. Our opponents were well prepared for us. I’ll be honest, I think if we played the Czech Republic 10 times, they’d probably beat us eight times. They were just a better team than us. The second game we played Italy, who won the World Cup. The third game, the game that we needed to win, we didn’t beat Ghana. I think we were well prepared and were also well-positioned to win that game. …
“Realistically going into that World Cup we knew it was going to be very challenging because we were in what many people felt was the Group of Death. Our goal was to get to the third game in group play and be in a position to advance, which we were. We fell short and that’s something we all live with. But I was so proud of the effort our guys showed after a difficult opening game against a very good Czech Republic team. We battled Italy really hard and got an important point. We did our best against Ghana in the third game and just fell short.”