That "my hands are tied, what can I do?" plea, that almost martyred tone of regret ... when have we heard that before? Quite recently, and under identical circumstances. Just change the names -- for Lewis read Claudio Reyna, for Ruiz read Amado Guevara -- and you have Arena's statement announcing his first player trade for the Red Bulls in January 2007.
In both cases Arena shed tears (only he can tell us if they were of the crocodile variety) at the loss of the departing and talented Latinos. Ruiz, Arena informed us, has "proven to be one of the great goalscorers in the history of this league and I have the highest regard for him" -- but goodbye Carlos anyway. At the Red Bulls, Arena was well aware that Guevara was coming off his best season, and was the team's most popular player -- but farewell Amado anyway.
As it happens, neither the Reyna nor the Lewis signing marked the first time that Arena had decided to unload a foreign Latino in favor of an American college product returning from Europe.
In 1996 Arena made the switch from college soccer to MLS -- a risky move, but one that he soon turned into a triumph, leading D.C. United to the first two MLS championships, and giving the league what still remains, for me, its best-ever team.
That team was built around the superb skills of the Bolivian Marco Etcheverry, the player who gave it personality and attacking flair. When Arena joined D.C. United, the fledgling MLS -- under the guidance of then deputy commissioner Sunil Gulati -- had already signed a number of star players. Etcheverry was one such, and he had been assigned to D.C. United because Washington was where the largest Bolivian community resided.
Incredibly, Arena did not want Etcheverry. So his very first move in MLS -- nicely foreshadowing his first moves at the Red Bulls and the Galaxy -- was to seek a trade. Some other club would get Etcheverry, while D.C. United would get the player of Arena's choice. And Arena's choice, the player he rated higher than Etcheverry was ... you'd better be sitting down ... Alexi Lalas.
Mind-boggling hardly begins to describe that Arena notion. He was saved from his own madness because MLS nixed the trade. To his credit, Arena quickly appreciated just how extraordinary were Etcheverry's talents, and became his staunchest admirer.
But the experience of having been saved from the dire consequences of his own poor judgment seems not to have registered with Arena. Eleven years later came a replay: the trading of Guevara for Reyna. No one was there to save Arena this time, and the move turned sour very quickly -- for everyone, for Arena, for the Red Bulls, for Reyna and for Guevara.
Nothing if not persistent, Arena has returned to the same theme with the signing of Lewis (who, I see, has the same agent as Reyna had). Ruiz -- suitably lauded -- is already accustomed to being treated as a makeweight in player deals, after his move to FC Dallas in March 2005. That move "had to be done" so that the Galaxy could bring in Landon Donovan. Of course, it was done with regret -- after all, Ruiz had scored 50 goals in 72 games with the Galaxy, had been the League's MVP -- but no matter, it was adios Carlos.
Now Ruiz has been shipped out again. In comes Eddie Lewis and one is entitled to wonder exactly what the big deal is here. Lewis is 34 years old and has had a very ordinary career in England. He brings his high work rate and his left-footed abilities -- which include accurate crossing, or so we are told. Lewis will bring one definite, undeniable quality to the Galaxy: he has to be better than what's already there.
Arena's move, then, will presumably mean more crossing for the Galaxy. Beckham will whip them in from the right (or will do when he finally decides to take his Galaxy duties seriously) and Lewis will pour them in from the left. Ruiz will not be there, in the middle, to profit from them, and perhaps that's the only logical thing about this affair. If the Arena-led (or is it the Beckham/Arena-led?) Galaxy is to live off crosses, then a different type of center forward is probably required -- you know, the big, bustling, good-in-the-air type, a Brit stereotype, in fact. Heavens, no wonder Donovan has been heard speculating about a return to Europe.