In a Q&A session on Friday at the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia, where he was inducted into the organization's Hall of Fame, Bruce Arena
gave his most candid post-mortem
since the USA's loss to Trinidad & Tobago that knocked it out of the World Cup.
The USA was unbeaten in its first 14 games under Arena after he took over from Jurgen Klinsmann
following two opening losses to Mexico and Costa Rica in the Hexagonal. But losses to Costa Rica at home and T&T in Couva eliminated the USA from the World Cup finals for the first time in 30
“I accept that responsibility," Arena says. "That’s why I resigned so quickly. I accepted my responsibility. That’s the way it goes. I don’t feel good about
it, but that’s life. I’m not embarrassed by it because I think we as a coaching staff, and as a team and an organization, we really put in everything we had. We were in a difficult
position to get our team to qualify. We fell short."
The Costa Rica game was the first following the USA's victory at the Gold Cup and Arena introduced five new players from Europe into
the starting lineup: Geoff Cameron
and Tim Ream
at center back, Christian Pulisic
and Fabian Johnson
in midfield and Bobby Wood
wasn’t the same team with the right chemistry," Arena said. "It just didn’t seem like everyone was on the same page with the right mentality and the same understanding of what everything
was about. The chemistry of the group wasn’t right. It wasn’t the character you see out of a U.S. team."
Arena said the USA was also hurt by injuries. It was missing center
back John Brooks
, who didn't play in any of the last four qualifiers and right back DeAndre Yedlin
The loss at T&T was confounding because the USA beat Panama,
4-0, four days earlier in a game where the margin of victory could have been twice as much. What happened? The USA, Arena said, "laid an egg."
“We understood the magnitude of the
game," he said. "Trinidad played us very well when we played them in Denver. They played very well against Mexico in the previous game. And I told them we’re going to find a team that’s
going to play their best game against us, and we’ve got to be ready to play. I just think a lot of pressure built up on some players, especially when we conceded the first goal [Omar
own goal], and some people cracked.”
All five away Hexagonal games followed home games. For the only time in four away Hexagonal matches under Arena, he didn't make any
lineup changes and it cost him. Like the opening away game under Klinsmann -- a 4-0 loss to Costa Rica that cost him his job.
"Everyone checks out fine physically and everything else. So
do you make a change to that team? We considered possible changes. Perhaps [Brad] Guzan
in goal. [Tim] Howard
checks out fine, wants to play, ready to go. Perhaps Cameron in the back.
Our defenders are ready, want to go. Perhaps [Alejandro] Bedoya
in the midfield."
Arena said the decision was made to reward the team that crushed Panama. But there were signs of
trouble. Heavy rains at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva left water everywhere on the field.
“Behind the scenes there were mistakes on our part, probably," Arena said. "Our social
media, our communications department, sent out everything humiliating the Trinidad federation on the training facility, which was the game field for that day. It got them all fired up and when we
kicked off on that day, it was a battle.”
After Gonzalez's own goal, T&T went ahead 2-0 in the first half on Alvin Jones
' long-range shot.
“I felt if we went into halftime at 1-0, we had a chance to come back and get our point,” Arena said. “We read them the riot act at halftime. We told our guys they had to go out and
battle, find a way to create chances. We get the early goal [by Pulisic]. We feel if we get another goal, we get the point, we get the hell out of here. We’re going to World Cup. It never
Arena also said ...
-- “We had a couple of bad eggs, as you have on every team." He added the coaches and players were well aware of who they
-- Pulisic was the only player who appeared in the 2-1 loss to T&T who would have certainly started for the 2002 USA World Cup team Arena took to the quarterfinals in
South Korea. “You think over 15 years it would look different. So what’s going on?”
-- As many as seven different players would have started at the World Cup finals if
the USA had qualified. "We knew we had to get better, but we had to somehow manage to get through 2017 and qualify and try to make our team better for a World Cup."
-- Mexico and
Costa Rica were clearly the best teams in the 2016-17 Hexagonal. "But we should’ve been the third one."