SI.com’s Grant Wahl interviews LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena on a range of topics including Landon Donovan’s impending retirement, Jurgen Klinsmann’s handling of the U.S. men’s national team, the growth of MLS, and the future of soccer in the U.S. Regarding his “close” relationship with Donovan, who will play his last-ever game in the MLS Cup final against the New England Revolution on Sunday, Arena says: “Oddly enough, I don’t think it’s that close. ... We’re not hanging out together off the field, but it’s one of respect. It’s a relationship that’s been challenging at times, but in the end we both know each other are pretty good people. We mean to do the right things for each other.”
Arena, who has coached Donovan with the Galaxy and as coach of the national team, says that objectively, the 32-year-old would probably make most people’s top five list for greatest-ever USA player: “His numbers speak for themselves,” he says. ‘Me being a full-time coach, I always think they could be better. He, being who he is as Landon, thinks they’re fine. He’s always looked for things outside the game. ... He hasn’t been consumed with necessarily being the best player on Earth.”
Asked about USA coach Klinsmann’s belief that the best U.S. players should accelerate their development by going abroad, Arena says: “I don’t agree with that. I don’t think [foreign clubs] necessarily know anything more about soccer. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that we can’t develop elite players here. And we should encourage our elite players to stay here, and we should have the resources to keep them here.” He adds: “Jurgen only knows Europe. He doesn’t know the United States as well as he needs to. He’s got to learn our culture and our system a little bit better. And help make it better. It’s part of his job.”
Regarding soccer’s future in the U.S., Arena is particularly bullish: “I think the future’s bright,” he says. “This sport is made in this country. I really believe that. Now it’s a question of how much up the ladder we can push it.”
Asked about MLS, in particular, Arena ends with an anecdote: “When I was a kid growing up in New York, you could walk into Yankee Stadium or Madison Square Garden and buy a ticket and go see a game. They weren’t on television. The games were blacked out. Those leagues already had existed like 40 years. And we’re in Year 19. We’re way ahead of where the NBA was, major league baseball and the NFL. Way ahead of them. And nobody ever tells that story. And now we have much more competition than they would have had at the time. Our league is a fabulous story. We’ve been fighting the odds, greater odds than they ever fought."