Revisiting the USMNT’s Bruce Arena era

Allsport / Getty Images
5 Comments

It seems the majority of American soccer fans would endorse the potential firing of USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, or at least a majority would understand why US Soccer would cut ties with the German football hero.

But we wonder how those same people would feel if his successor was former USMNT coach Bruce Arena, the LA Galaxy’s coach and an American soccer legend in his own right. Reports following Tuesday’s loss to Costa Rica claim US Soccer has Arena lined up should it fire Klinsmann.

[ MORE: Who would replace Klinsmann? ]

Arena oversaw the stingiest U.S. tenure (.76 goals per game) in program history, and boasts the best winning percentage in American history. He also has managed the most games (130) and won the most (71).

Away from US Soccer, Arena has five MLS Cups and five national championships as a college coach. So, yeah, he’s about as good as it gets resume-wise, and would reportedly relish another shot at the U.S. gig.

But circling back on Arena’s time with the USMNT, I wonder whether Sunil Gulati’s comments upon his departure won’t be ringing in Klinsmann’s ears.

“It comes down primarily to eight years being a long period,” Gulati said. “I’m not going to say we felt the need to change directions. The direction Bruce has set is very, very positive. We didn’t get the results we wanted in the World Cup, but Bruce didn’t become a bad coach in three games with a few bad bounces of the ball.”

That was after a World Cup in which Arena failed to get the U.S. out of the group stage. The Americans were throttled by the Czech Republic, drew Italy despite playing 52 minutes with one less man than Gli Azzurri, and fell to Ghana 2-1.

Arena oversaw the Americans’ longest run in World Cup history in 2002, when the Yanks beat Portugal, drew hosts South Korea and were blown out by Poland before winning one of the most memorable games in USMNT history: the 2-0 Round of 16 win over Mexico. The Yanks then hung tough against Germany before bowing out 1-0.

[ MORE: Bob Bradley says crisis wrong word for Swansea ]

Outside of World Cup play, Arena had good moments and bad. He won two Gold Cups and was eliminated from a third by Brazil (no shame there).

He led the Yanks on a 16-match unbeaten run between March 2004 and March 2005, a streak which had modest competition but also a Gold Cup and wins over Poland, Mexico, and Colombia. Bob Bradley‘s longest unbeaten run was 11 (10 wins!), while Klinsmann boasts a 12-match win streak.

But for Arena, there was also a three-match Hex losing streak in 2001 — Mexico away, Honduras home, Costa Rica away — and a Confederations Cup in which the Yanks only managed a single point in losing to Turkey and Brazil while drawing Cameroon.

Then there’s that whole “foreign-born players shouldn’t be on the national team” thing. He later evolved on the position, though not in a manner that moved the meter for me.

Both of those final bits of ignominy would’ve been unforgivable if done under Klinsmann, which goes to show how far the German has fallen and how much past victories can gloss over the poor moments in our memories.

So ask yourself, is Arena’s glittering resume enough to give him the nod over another manager? I’ll admit that I’d prefer to see another name, mainly on account of Arena’s previous critical comments at foreign-born USMNT players, but the man is a legend.