"I think to be fair to Ruud, he was starting to figure out what he needed to do," said Donovan of a tumultuous reign that ended with the Galaxy (6-8-6) out of the playoff picture, as it has been the last two seasons. "It was just difficult because for a long time you got the sense Ruud wasn't completely there and wasn't invested in it. I don't judge him for it, because what he's used to is he picks the game, helps run training, and everything else just falls into place, especially at a big club.
"Here in MLS, its not that easy, because there are so many issues to deal with."
Finding the right man to handle those unique issues of salary caps and player acquisition mechanisms as well as winning games prompted Anschutz Entertainment Group president Tim Leiweke to host Arena last Thursday in the AEG luxury box during the Galaxy's 2-2 tie with Chivas USA.
Leiweke and Arena quickly hammered out an agreement. Arena will oversee all soccer operations as general manager, and straighten out the team's dysfunctional defensive psyche as head coach. The Galaxy leads MLS in goals scored (40) and goals allowed (42).
"We have always felt that the Galaxy should aspire to be the club that sets the pace and tone in Major League Soccer," Leiweke said. "I believe Bruce sees it the same way and will put us back in that position."
Donovan, who emerged as the nation's best player during Arena's tenure with the national team from 1998 to 2006, concurs with that assessment.
"Bruce can run and manage things," says Donovan. "He can manage players, staff, coaches. He so good with people in that way, kind of like a good CEO at a company.
"He can do all those things very well and that's kind of what we need: the leader, someone who takes charge and is accountable and can help direct people in different directions. He's always been very good at that. And of course, he's also an excellent coach."
The Galaxy will need Arena's entire skill set to haul itself into the playoff slots. It hasn't won in eight matches and Thursday goes on national television again to face Chicago, which has added another of Arena's former U.S. players, striker Brian McBride, to a strong lineup that includes Mexican nemesis Cuauhtemoc Blanco.
U.S. Soccer staff coach Dave Sarachan will come aboard as an assistant coach. The former D.C. United assistant coach and Fire head coach has been working as head scout of the federation's Development Academy program.
"I realize we have a lot of work ahead of us and I am optimistic that with the support of management, our coaching staff and the players, we will move forward to positioning this team to qualify for this season's MLS playoffs," said Arena, who in five MLS seasons led his team to the playoffs each time. "My ultimate goal is to win championships and build a club that all of our fans will be proud of."
After winning the first two MLS Cups in 1996 and 1997 and the Interamericana Cup and CONCACAF Champions' Cup the following year with D.C. United, Arena left to coach the national team, with which he compiled a 71-30-29 record and led to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.
He returned to MLS last year and coached Red Bull New York to a 16-16-10 record over a season and a half. He and former team president Marc De Grandpre parted ways after the 2007 season, with Red Bull paying off the remaining portion of his three-year deal believed to be worth $600,000 a season.
The Galaxy is just one point out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, from which the top three qualify automatically. Chicago (9-6-5, 32 points) occupies third place in the tougher Eastern Conference and hasn't face the Galaxy this year going into Thursday's match.
Donovan says he probably won't return in time to face the Fire but an appearance is possible if travel schedules and his condition are favorable. The pressures of a mediocre record and recurring upheavals have drained him despite already setting a personal seasonal best by scoring 14 goals, tops in MLS.
"It wears on you," he says. "It's hard because you want to be able to focus on what's going on on the field. The reality is I care about the team and I want the team to do well and so I, probably without even thinking about it, take on more than I need to mentally.
"It became a case of too many chefs in the kitchen and too many people with an idea of where we wanted to go without anybody being on the same page. That became an issue. To Tim's credit, he figured that all out. Tim is bright and there's a reason why he's been so successful. He figured out what was going on and that we needed to stop it."
Stopping the Galaxy's slide as well as the opposition is what Arena needs to do next as head coach. Restructuring and long-term planning as GM will come in due time.