He may yet wind up as coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy, but Bruce Arena does have loftier goals to fulfill sooner or later in his life.
Arena is ready for his next challenge, and repairing what has been wrought at HDC would certainly provide that. But any team that can ring up 40 goals in 20 games doesn't need much more than stitching together the 10 field players to cut down on chances permitted the opposing team.
Either Ruud Gullit couldn't devise or invent such a structure, or he and his assistants failed to implement it, or he just couldn't be bothered. Training sessions that consisted of scrimmages more often than not certainly suited the players, at least those eager to attack, but don't address weaknesses and certainly can't impose the regimen of marking, tracking, tackling and tactical acumen essential to good defense.
Interim head coach Cobi Jones, who retired after the 2007 season, is learning the ropes but isn't one of those students of the game who eagerly took coaching courses. Had there been another assistant coach to handle the X's and O's and conduct meaningful, purposeful training sessions, the Gullit Era might have been successful, or at least longer.
Arena can solve those issues, no doubt, though jumping right back into another chaotic situation similar to the one he left in New York last year isn't irresistible, no matter how burning his ambition to get back into the game. Finding common ground, not to mention respect, between Arena and former team president Marc De Granpre - as clueless about professional soccer as any corporate executive ever put in charge of a team in this country, and that's saying something -- was never going to happen, yet a meeting of the minds -- and egos, to be sure -- of Arena and AEG president Tim Leiweke could be a formidable one indeed.
Even before he left his post as U.S. national team coach during the 2006 World Cup he'd expressed a strong interest in running a pro team or collegiate athletic program, not strictly the business or competitive operations, but the overall direction. In its history as an AEG enterprise, the Galaxy has had just one director steeped in both the game and the business of it, and that was the late Doug Hamilton.
To be sure, the Galaxy lucked into its last title, which it won in November, 2005, four months before Hamilton suffered a fatal heart attack flying back from a CONCACAF match played in Costa Rica. Since then, it has fired three coaches (Steve Sampson, Frank Yallop, and Gullit), won just 16 of 82 games, and missed the playoffs twice.
When players and coaches come and go and the results stink, the problem is guidance, not getting stuck in. In Arena, the Galaxy has both the man to right the ship on the field right away, and also plot a long-term course.
Rather than picking a president and then a head coach, or vice versa, Leiweke can fill both positions by hiring Arena as head coach with the understanding that eventually he'll move up the ladder to president, senior vice president in charge of soccer operations, impresario, czar, or any other title that suits him.
Already in place is an excellent businessman, Tom Payne, from whom Arena can learn that aspect at his own pace, if he wishes to do so. On the soccer side, Arena would be the boss, perhaps working with director of soccer Paul Bravo, coaching the team, and overseeing the reserve and youth teams and all other competitive aspects. He could also select an assistant coach to groom as the eventual head coach when he decided to step down from that job and step up into management.
In the AEG luxury box to watch the Galaxy-Chivas USA game with Leiweke and other executives, Arena looked trimmer, tanner and healthier than the forlorn, fatigued, and exasperated figure he was during last days with Red Bull. It's a stretch to say he looked like a typically laid-back Southern Californian, but the disgruntlement and disgust he felt less than a year ago has vanished.
As the man responsible for directing Phil Anschutz's sports enterprises and much more, Leiweke seeks out the best talent available. He tells prospective AEG employees, "This is where the action is."
A few glances at the large complex that is home to a pair of MLS teams and U.S. Soccer can convince anyone that in terms of the game in America, HDC is where the action is. Despite Arena's disdainful remark a few years ago about it being "an amusement park," it's the best place for him to set up shop.