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Bruce Arena is a safe bet compared to the gamble U.S. Soccer took on Klinsmann
by Mike Woitalla, November 22nd, 2016 5:24PM
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TAGS:  bruce arena, jurgen klinsmann, men's national team, world cup 2018

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By Mike Woitalla
@MikeWoitalla

It was an exciting and hopeful time, when U.S. Soccer hired Jurgen Klinsmann in the summer of 2011. The press conference at Niketown in New York City garnered media attention not seen for an American soccer announcement since MLS signed David Beckham in 2007.

The U.S. national team was not so much in crisis as on a plateau. A regular at every World Cup since 1990, it reached the round of 16 in 1994, the quarterfinals in 2002 and the round of 16 in 2010.

Now, the USA would be led by a man who as a player won a World Cup and a European Championship with Germany. Making him an even more intriguing candidate to lead the USA, Klinsmann had moved to California, with his American wife, after retiring in 1998, and had thoroughly educated himself on the U.S. game. Already fluent in Italian, French and English -- during his playing days he vacationed in the USA -- he learned Spanish, the language of a vital community in American soccer. He got involved in the adidas ESP Camp, a player development showcase for America's top teens.

Upon his retirement, Klinsmann said he was in no rush to enter the coaching ranks, but he got his German federation (DFB) license, part of which entailed attending practices at the Los Angeles Galaxy with then-head coach Sigi Schmid. He also hooked up with Bruce Arena, who welcomed him to observe U.S. national team training camp.

Meanwhile, Klinsmann's children played youth soccer in California. Just how impressive was his immersion in American soccer? Klinsmann played minor league soccer for Orange County Blue Star under a pseudonym.

Klinsmann eventually did move into coaching -- in dramatic fashion. Becoming Germany’s head coach, despite having zero coaching experience, two years before Germany would host the 2006 World Cup. It was after the 2006 World Cup U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati first courted Klinsmann. But U.S. Soccer couldn’t meet Klinsmann’s terms of control of the program, and Bob Bradley succeeded Arena for five years.

After a Gold Cup final loss to Mexico in the summer of 2011, the Federation fired Bradley and hired Klinsmann, who had now had a second stint as a coach, lasting less than a season at Bayern Munich

The failure at Bayern, the Bundesliga’s richest, most talent-laden team, could have been a red flag. Also, the third-place finish on home soil at the World Cup was somewhat overrated. Four years earlier, under Coach Rudi Voeller, Germany finished runner-up in Japan. Voeller, too, had taken over a team in crisis, eliminated from the previous European Championship in the first round.

Nevertheless, it was easy to be impressed with Klinsmann during the 2006 World Cup. He always had an inspiring, optimistic demeanor. Combine that with his experience as a player and his ambitious work to familiarize himself with every facet of American soccer -- it looked like a reasonable gamble for U.S. Soccer to give Klinsmann the helm of the U.S. national team.

Klinsmann certainly seemed like a smart enough guy to learn from his failure at Bayern and worldly enough to navigate the unique challenges he’d face as a USA coach.

But Klinsmann’s team showed no signs -- after two, three, four, five years -- of playing more impressive soccer than the U.S. national team had under his predecessors, dating back to Steve Sampson and Bora Milutinovic. So now the Federation is cutting its losses and the task at hand is crystal clear: qualify for the 2018 World Cup while rejuvenating a team that in its last game, a 4-0 loss to Costa Rica, looked uninspired and unmotivated.

The firing of Klinsmann was made easier by the availability of Bruce Arena, by far the USA’s most successful coach ever. Before his first stint as U.S. head coach, 1998-2006, Arena had won five NCAA titles with the University of Virginia -- an especially significant achievement considering the attractive, sophisticated and attack-minded style of soccer the Cavaliers played -- two MLS titles, a U.S. Open Cup, a Concacaf Champions Cup and an Interamerican Cup with D.C. United.

Arena, whose D.C. United teams also played an entertaining brand of soccer, did double-duty coaching the USA’s U-23 national team at the 1996 Olympics, where the USA fell to eventual silver medalist Argentina but beat Tunisia and tied Portugal.

After he took the helm of the national team, Arena guided the USA to two wins over Germany and victory over Argentina. He won two Gold Cups, finished runner-up at a Confederations Cup, qualified the USA for two World Cups and his team’s 2002 World Cup performance was its best in the modern era of U.S. soccer.

After the USA’s first-round elimination at the 2006 World Cup, Arena was replaced by Bradley. Nine months after parting ways with the Red Bulls, Arena was hired to coach the LA Galaxy in August 2008. During nine seasons, Arena led the Galaxy to four MLS Cups and won three.

“I’ve had 10 years on the field at the club level,” Arena said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented players in the world, and understanding how they work. I’ve continued to grow on the tactical side. … Ten years later I’m better prepared for this job than I was in 1998, 2002, and ultimately 2006. … One of the things you learn from experience is you see things a lot clearer, a lot quicker.”

After opening with the losses to Mexico and Costa Rica, USA is in last place in the Hexagonal, the final round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, but with eight more games to play, beginning with a home game against Honduras March 24. Before then, Arena will have a January training camp.

There was no Niketown, standing-room-only press conference filled with international journalists upon Arena’s appointment on Tuesday. It was a media conference call during which Gulati said the 65-year-old Arena has a contract through the 2018 World Cup.

“I’m thrilled to be back with the national team,” Arena said. “It’s the greatest honor for a coach in our country. We have a great challenge ahead but we have a great pool of players to reach our goal of qualifying for Russia in 2018.

“I have a lot of confidence in our domestic pool and players playing in Europe and Mexico. Since I left in 2006, the pool of players has certainly expanded.”

Never in the history of U.S. Soccer has a coach with so many championships on his resume and so much experience with American players taken charge of the national team. It’s a safe bet that Arena will steer the USA back on track.



25 comments
  1. R2 Dad
    commented on: November 22, 2016 at 5:53 p.m.
    "The firing of Klinsmann was made easier by the availability of Bruce Arena, by far the USA’s most successful coach ever. " Made easier for whom? And how is success measured? You play a 4-4-2 when you don't have a real #10. Nagbe could have been that 10 over the course of the next 18 months but now we will never see him in the middle. At least JK was working on two different ways to play. Now all we get is Bunker Bruce. We'll never get to a semi worried about safety.
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 11:54 a.m.
    Have you watched the USMNT under JK? Bunkerball doesn't begin to describe it. There's no reason think JK would ever even play Nagbe again. But there's every reason to think the USMNT would have missed out on the World Cup if he'd stuck around.
  1. cony konstin
    commented on: November 22, 2016 at 7:34 p.m.
    Soccer in the US is not a way of life. That is the first thing that we must work towards. None of these foreign coaches are the solution. We need a movement. We need a cause. US needs radical change. We need a new vision. We need new leadership.. We need a 21st century master plan. We need a soccer revolution... We need 600,000 Futsal courts in our inner cities and suburbs so our kids can play king of the court, 24/7/365 and with no adult interference... Coaching is totally over rated. To become magical it first starts out with DNA then you must be immersed in natural environment where kids are fighting everyday to see who will be king of the court. MJ, Pistal Pete, Connie Hawk, Byrd, Magic Johnson. and other magical BB players became magical by playing and not doing drills. We need a soccer revolution in the U.S. Futsal can be our version of streetball. Once we create this environment not only will we have natural, talented, magical players but we will win a World Cup and finally the world will respect us.
  1. Joe Linzner
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 9:32 a.m.
    I suppose Brucie is that vision. I guy that only wins with stacked teams and then limits the players creativity. Reminds me of the youth coaches who run along the side lines hollering constantly. Wrong choice. Sorry to see JK go! It is what it is.
  1. Mark Botterill
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 9:44 a.m.
    Hear you land and clear....start with Tom Byer an American responsible for the Japanese football revolution and now heading up the Chinese evolution. We need to start to building our culture and it starts at home at 2-6 years of age "Football Starts at Home,", Tom Byer-tomsan.com. Master and love the ball at an early age and we have built a foundation of technique and passion. No secret sauce here just culture that Brazilians, Germans, Italians have in abundance and no matter what we do we are always in catch up mode.
  1. Kate Phillips
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 10:12 a.m.
    Ah yes, futsal. It still amazes me that this game has not caught on any more than it has. I banged my head against the wall here in Georgia for 10 years, trying to garner support for the game, and it was like pushing a string (but's that's another story for another time, and it was a lifetime ago). There was interest, but not enough to make a go of it. Which is odd, because futsal is the perfect game to be the "streetball" or "sandlot ball" of soccer. Free play and pickup games will do more for the development of soccer in this country than any academy could; the academy teaches and hones the skill, but free play makes it thrive (no parents yelling, no coaches running down the sideline, with their coaching manual in their hand, screaming "PAAAASSSSSS!!!!!" because "that's what it says in the book," just kids out having fun playing ball). Paraphrasing what Frank Klopas said, American youth soccer players have the game in the their heads, but not in their heart. Only when the players have the game in their heart, soccer make the strides to achieve consistency. There is a lot of great talent in the U.S., but the age of "manufacturing" players rather than "growing" them needs to come to an end (hopefully, it already has; I've been away from the game for a while). Talent will only get you so far; passion is what carries you the rest of the way. And passion can't be taught, it has to be planted in the heart, and then allowed to grow. At least at the college level, Bruce Arena had the chance to not only build a winner, but also cultivate the talent that he had to become winners. And hopefully, he'll be more aggressive, and leave the 1-8-1 (yeah, I'm exaggerating :-P), boring as hell, "play not to lose" lineups that have plagued US soccer for years, in his bottom desk drawer, and at least try a 3-4-3, and score some goals. Sorry fpr he long post; it's been a while. :-P
  1. Kate Phillips
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 10:14 a.m.
    Ah yes, futsal. It still amazes me that this game has not caught on any more than it has. I banged my head against the wall here in Georgia for 10 years, trying to garner support for the game, and it was like pushing a string (but's that's another story for another time, and it was a lifetime ago). There was interest, but not enough to make a go of it. Which is odd, because futsal is the perfect game to be the "streetball" or "sandlot ball" of soccer. Free play and pickup games will do more for the development of soccer in this country than any academy could; the academy teaches and hones the skill, but free play makes it thrive (no parents yelling, no coaches running down the sideline, with their coaching manual in their hand, screaming "PAAAASSSSSS!!!!!" because "that's what it says in the book," just kids out having fun playing ball). Paraphrasing what Frank Klopas said, American youth soccer players have the game in the their heads, but not in their heart. Only when the players have the game in their heart, can soccer make the strides to achieve consistency. There is a lot of great talent in the U.S., but the age of "manufacturing" players rather than "growing" them needs to come to an end (hopefully, it already has; I've been away from the game for a while). Talent will only get you so far; passion is what carries you the rest of the way. And passion can't be taught, it has to be planted in the heart, and then allowed to grow. At least at the college level, Bruce Arena had the chance to not only build a winner, but also cultivate the talent that he had to become winners. And hopefully, he'll be more aggressive, and leave the 1-8-1 (yeah, I'm exaggerating :-P), boring as hell, "play not to lose" lineups that have plagued US soccer for years, in his bottom desk drawer, and at least try a 3-4-3, and score some goals. Sorry fpr he long post; it's been a while. :-P
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 11:56 a.m.
    I agree we need to grow the soccer culture here (which doesn't happen overnight) but the idea that kids in other countries just learn the game by playing in the street is a myth. Kids may play more unstructured games in other countries than they do here but the developmental system in all of these places is highly structured from a young age.
  1. Bob Ashpole
    commented on: November 22, 2016 at 10:22 p.m.
    Soccer is no different than any other sport. A segment of society is fanatical about one sport and usually one team. Each sport including soccer has its fanatics. Our country is large enough that we don't need a large percentage of the population to support a sport. 25% of the population is 80 million people which is the size of a nation. Also few countries have a monolithic culture like you are assuming. Most countries support several sports besides soccer just like the US does.
  1. Brent Crossland
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 9:17 a.m.
    I'm sorry but I'm skeptical that this is a step forward. It may be the best option available at the time, but this is the guy who "has nothing to learn" from European coaches. Who has concerns about whether foreign born players are "American" enough to wear the shirt. He is no longer playing in a league that thinks a "west coast" team is important, nor can he import end-of-career players from Europe to bail this team out. Please prove me wrong, Bruce. MLS style "physicality" may be needed to get us through CONCACAF but it won't put us on the same level as Europe or South America.
  1. Mark Botterill
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 9:52 a.m.
    Brent, where you supporting the US Team in 2002? 3-5-2 that tournament full of guile, ambition, passion, courage. Great players, developed by their local football clubs by the way: Brian McBride father coached him played for his local football club, played Illinois ODP; Tony Sanneh, coached by his surrogate father, ODP for Minnesota...global stars. But for a missed on-the line handball by Tostin Frings in the 47th minute against Germany, a game we still dominated and out shot the Germans 11-6 we lost the chance to be 1-1 with 50 minutes to go. That moment goes the other way the US wins and can beat South Korea and get to the final. We where fun to watch, we where bold and brave. We sparkled in front of goal, we where exciting and on the edge of our seat. If Bruce can use some of his arrogance to good effect and we can stop apologizing for being Americans in the soccer world Russia will be a defining moment.
  1. Allan Lindh
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 6:26 p.m.
    Right on Mark. Problem is that today we don't have Landon and Claudio. And a few other very solid players.
  1. Bob Ashpole
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 11:06 p.m.
    Brent I am curious. Just what do you think European coaches know and Bruce doesn't that is going to help him better manage the US MNT? Do you think they know US players better? The USMNT is not a club team, much less Barca or Bayern. The is also not a league competition. Tournament play is different. As for Germany and Argentina, I sincerely doubt that we are going to beat Germany by playing like Germany or beat Argentina by playing like Argentina.
  1. Mark Buckley
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 9:18 a.m.
    It is a Happy Thanksgiving, we finally have a manager. JK was not a good manager in Germany, at Bayer, or with the USA. Great to have you back Bruce.
  1. Joe Linzner
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 9:37 a.m.
    Yuppa,, he's a true 'murican Gotta get rid a dem fake mericans taking away merican spots on the team!
  1. Bob Ashpole
    commented on: November 24, 2016 at 1:16 p.m.
    I don't think Bruce cares where a player is born, just their attitude. His concern and mine is when and if the shirt is only a shirt to the player and the player doesn't care what badge is on the shirt. I think the sense of pride and obligation is important internal motivation.
  1. Delroy Wallace
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 9:48 a.m.
    Godd Luck Bruce, you will need loads of it.
  1. Brent Crossland
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 10:01 a.m.
    Mark - I was in front of the TV in 2002. Agree with everything that you said but times have changed & BA's most recent statements don't line up. Maybe those comments were just outsider flack, but I'm just not convinced that Bruce has the international perspective needed. Again, I would LOVE to be proven wrong. BTW - although I wonted that goal I did not see that 2002 shot as handling -- no deliberate action by Frings to play the ball. Ball played the arm. But you and I could probably argue that for a while - I've certainly argued it with referee friends! ;-)
  1. Mark Botterill
    commented on: November 24, 2016 at 4:53 p.m.
    Brent, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bg3psAYfOv8 Work with me, moves his hand, hand stops the ball 1mm from the line....red, pk. The point is that the US plays 95% of its sports with aggression, intensity, passion and conviction. We haven't played that way for a long time. We are a nation of athletic warriors we need that attitude. If we can get our act together from 2-8 to build a mastery of the ball and a love for technique we will be a top 5 nation annually.
  1. Kent James
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 2:50 p.m.
    Bruce can't solve the cultural problem, which as Kony says, is vital to our moving to the next level (when soccer replaces football or basketball as the "I want to be a pro" dream for most kids, will be 5-10 years before we're able to dream about WC final). But Bruce was not hired to create a program from scratch, he's hired to get the most out of the player pool we have now, get us to Russia, and advance into the knock-out stage (winning at least one game at that level). Not a bad choice to try that, and I certainly hope he succeeds...
  1. aaron dutch
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 3:31 p.m.
    All we do is lunge from tactical to tactical, "just get the next 2 wins" , "just get to Russia" like this is improvement. Without any plan, vision, strategy, investment based on that, leadership, direction we just flaal all over the place for decades without any progress. Would we be any better under Bradley the last 5 years (maybe a win or 2 more or less) what would change really. Arena will try to get us out of the Hex to what end? Get blasted in the world cup. We are not the best team in CONCACAF thats costa rica or mexico in this cycle. Can we maybe win the gold cup, maybe at best. Do we think we will even try to play in Copa's with Arena or get our players to europe. This isnt 2002 its a real global game in europe & asia, even south america is starting to bring in players from other regions. So we try to get some 2002 magic we should bring back in Donovan as our lead striker why not
  1. Allan Lindh
    commented on: November 23, 2016 at 8:22 p.m.
    We can't be top 15 in the world until Parents, and grand-parents, and neighbors, and friends, get kids out kicking a ball around from the age of 5. That's why the rest of the world has great technical skills, and we have run and gun.
  1. Mark Botterill
    commented on: November 24, 2016 at 5:14 p.m.
    I am curious Aaron what's different for you than 2002? Pre Champs 2002-Man U La Liga-Real Madrid Wolrd Cup-Brazil beat Germany Bundesliga Champs-Bayern Munich Champions League-Real Madrid I am explaining it's a mentality and development issue. We have a poor mentality on the Men's National level brought on by it's leadership. Jurgen is an awkward guy, Sunil is a complicated man. 2002 soccer development was local, simple, pure, passionate, affordable, accessible. Not perfect but on the right track. Arena, had swagger, arrogance, determination, not FIFA's most tactical guy but he had belief in himself and his team. He did not second guess himself or his players. He was comfortable with who he was/is and knew the US landscape be it DC United, Virginia University, LA Galaxy. In Indiana the DA is $5,000 a year before travel, kit, tournament fees. 8 years into the DA, a program that was to be FREE of charge is now likely generating $20m in fees annually for the Federation. If you are really into this ask McBride, Sanneh, Donovan how they where developed....local football clubs, the ability to go and play, played in pathway that made sense, youth club, ODP, Amateur/Pro, Europe/MLS and it likely didn't cost Tony $100,000 to play. Best wishes to Bruce and the team. And thank you to the thousands of local soccer Clubs/Regions. Make it a US game, keep it simple, let 'em play and have an ambulance of ambition and courage.
  1. Bob Ashpole
    commented on: November 24, 2016 at 1:23 p.m.
    Aaron your thinking is based on an unstated and incorrect assumption that Bruce Arena has not been coaching the last 10 years. This is someone who was successful in the past and now has 10 more years of experience coaching professional athletes, including internationals.
  1. Vince Leone
    commented on: November 26, 2016 at 9:11 p.m.
    I agree that Arena is the best choice for right now. As for "his D.C. United teams also played an entertaining brand of soccer:" That had a lot to do with Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno--and the U.S. doesn't have players like that.

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