Bruce Arena on Couva: 'Some people cracked'

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 years.

“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 up front.

“It 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 Gonzalez 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 came."

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 were.

-- 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."

11 comments about "Bruce Arena on Couva: 'Some people cracked'".
  1. beautiful game, January 20, 2018 at 10:01 a.m.

    IMHO, team chemistry is first on the list. That said, the coaching staff was totally derelict in finding it and keeping it in place as best as they could. They chose the players to the squad, and they didn't deliver; end of story.

  2. frank schoon, January 20, 2018 at 11:39 a.m.

    “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 were"
    What is that suppose to infer? Were they bad for team moral, not disciplined, not good enough players or were they just troublemakers???  Then what were they doing on the team in the first place?? If they were so bad, why wasn't this leaked somehow to SA or that it never got out of the lockerroom is unreal. If they were bad for they and the outside never heard of it, is simply UNREAL.
    "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". That is almost 20 years ago and during that time there have so many SOCALLED improvements in player development like the Developmental Academies. That is not saying much as far as player development goes. I'm not surprised, for as far I'm concerned player development  has been on "STUCK" for the past 50 years!! and no doubt ,hopefully, people are beginning to wake up to the fact as we  now see what's going on...

  3. Ben Myers replied, January 20, 2018 at 2:33 p.m.

    I absolutely believed that Brazil's win here in the '94 World Cup would influence US player development.  But it hasn't.  So true that player development overall is stuck in the dark ages of mostly long-ago English boot it over the top play.

  4. frank schoon, January 20, 2018 at 3:01 p.m.

    BEN, You're not far off...To me the best player the US ever had ,who I thought was dominant with a ball was Hugo Perez. There has not been a player on the USMNT that really had poise, stature and had a presence with the ball likw Perez. The next player comes to mind would be Tab Ramos. Both of which were born in a foreing country. I really question the money spend on these socalled Developmental Academies. As far as I'm concerned if these kids after 8or9 years at the DA are not able to cross, shoot, dribble , trap and receive a ball with either foot while under pressure then those parents have wasted a lot of money.

  5. Ric Fonseca replied, January 20, 2018 at 3:47 p.m.

    >FS, having spend a good amount of time with the US Soccer coaching Alumni and "teaching" staffers/cliques from 1971 -to the very early 1980's, I feel that I got to know their mind set concerning the identification of talent as well as their Euro/Brit mind set.  Ramos and Perez, are but two miniscule example of the talent that existed then, and that they even managed to get themselves "endeared" to the US Soccer coaching amigos, is a miracle in and of itself.  However look where Perez and Ramos are now: one out of the coaching clique mainstream, and the other knocking and banging at the door; both excellent talent and top-notch soccer role models.  Sadly though, these two CABALLEROS DEL FUTBOL are probably not being considered for any top position within US Soccer, even when a new president is seated at the head of the table.  I can quote you chapter and verse given my membership in the NSCAA/United Soccer Coaches that spans at least 35 years if not 40, as to how many Latino/Hispanic coaches were ever encircled by the US Soccer Coaches cliques, or for that matter, the developmental issues.  I saw it as early as the mid 70's and even experinced it how cliquish and futbol-soccer ignorant the recreational minded groups were, and then into the late 80's and into the early '90's when US Soccer was threatened by a law suit to fully incorporate and affiliate a youth recreational soccer group - yeah, ok, is this a reason for the lack of serious developed talent, and the birth of the DA's? When my family left the recreational soccer group and wenmt to a more competitive program, I began to see a myriad of Euros/Brits coming in and taking the bull by the horns, and by the mid '80s it was well planted in people's minds that the pay-for-play syndrome would - and did - become a detriment to an ALL INCLUSIVE player development program.  And now we're crying in our beer and over spilt milk.  As to your last sentence in your comment, I remember a 16mm film, entitled "Pass, Dribble, Shoot" that I even used and showed by innocently-ignorant recreational soccer parents as a teaching tool on what is the jogo bonito.  Saludos cordiales!!!

  6. frank schoon, January 20, 2018 at 4:23 p.m.

    RIC, You know so much more about the inner dealings of all the political garbage, that's why I'm glad you avail yourself for comments ,here. What I don't get Ric, is the abundance of Hispanics on the West Coast, where you're from, have solittle control in matters of soccer and politics there like the English/Germans do on the East Coast....I DON'T GET IT! Instead of being treated as second class, as you state, this should have been a no-brainer for you guys. I mean, there are soooo many Hispanics living there and of course you guys have the experience of soccer, coming from Mexico /Central America and all you guys have to show for it is a mere Pittance. Look New York is teaming with Europeans playing soccer but between NY and DC was there was nothing and it began in Fairfax county, Annandale back in the late 60's and it took a long time for the suburban parents to even get used to soccer. But you guys on the West Coast had a built in fan source, players with soccer experience , that you guys should have been way ahead of the ball game...
    What has happened to Perez is a shame and a pure waste of talent in helping youth develop. I don't really care if he ever coached but he is more valuable working with youth. I think the difference between Ramos and Perez is the former can play the political game and the latter can't or doesn't. I can understand the frustation coming from both of them. I would like to see the NEXT USMNT coach to be of a latino from Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Columbia, Chile or Peru. I think this is the first step to improve our soccer. 
    I also don't understand that as many  Hispanics we have in this country we don't have a big star. The ones on the NT are a joke. The only good latino players in the MLS comes from either Central or South America. To me it shouldn't matter if the Latino neighborhood soccer kids ever integrate with suburban soccer associations for I much rather not see these Latino kids get coached by these licensed NITWIT coaches, but coached by their good latino players/coaches. For a good Latino youth player will DEFINITELY be noticed by other side and asked to come...As I've stated before the latinos kids here as compared to South American youth are NEUTERED...I just expect so much better from the latino kids here ,but dont see it.

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, January 20, 2018 at 10:49 p.m.

    Frank, I think the problem is that the higher up your go in the USSF organization the less Hispanic (and Latin) influence you see. Ironic since the USA has 60 million Hispanics. I don't know for a fact, but my understanding is that in many areas of the country Hispanics heavily influence play at the grass roots level. That influence though has been declining because of the restrictions on players.

    In the past our National team players generally were exposed to more coaches and clubs. Donovan for instance played AYSO and in a Hispanic league in addition to a USSF club. On the other hand players in Hispanic leagues basically had no reverse path into USSF. When was the last time that you heard about a girl playing on a boy's team? Our USSF development system is designed around facilitating team competitions, rather than facilitating player development.

    To progress we need to take down the cultural barriers and share ideas. The pc mantra of the last 15 years or so has been diversity. Someone USSF has missed the advantages of diversity. We should not be holding up the way the game was played at most clubs in Northern Europe 30 years ago as our role model. 

    A lot of what is wrong with US soccer would go away if we put more emphasis on ball skills, a lot more emphasis during the early years. There are coaches and clubs who do this now, but I won't be satisfied until everyone does. If we focus on fundamentals, systems, tactics and styles will evolve from there (a base of solid fundamentals).  

  8. frank schoon replied, January 21, 2018 at 12:01 p.m.

    Bob, I think you're right that the higher up you go the less hispanic influence. Perhaps this is cultural that hispanics are not into the  political garbage of soccer and they just want to play and enjoy the beauty of the game, who knows. I"m like that ,I don't care about the power and control element, I'm just into the game itself. This is why it is an eye opener reading Ric's insight knowledge and experience of what goes on  off the field and that includes you too for both of you are more of what's happening than I.
    Another thing that I don't understand, considering, as you say, there  are 60 million hispanics here or origin of, that we aren't producing latin talent up the ying yang, just coming out of the woodwork. Just by law of average we should have latin talent but we don't. We haven't even come close to producing a Hugo Perez, or a Tab Ramos, of almosst over 30 years ago, quality types, when soccer wasn't even organized, with a lot less  opportunities. WHERE ARE THE LATIN YOUTH TALENT!!! Why is it that we can bring in immigrants from Africa ,from poor countries and we find talented youth among them. Go Figure! You can't blame the USSF for not reaching out to latin communities for that. The Latin likewise have to look in the mirror why they aren't producing great talent.
    As a matter of fact, I don't want  the USSF involved in the Latin communities for these licensed  USSF coaches are butchers of youth talent.After all the USSF has completely failed in developing players in the past 50years. I think the USSF should bring in stress more of Latin influence in their coaching academy, for we need a better blend of EURO/\HISPANIC coaching. And until that time leave the latin communities alone and let them develop their own. 
    Yes, you're right the DA stress team instead of individual development. This is why I state we need to get away from the "coach" license for the word coach implies "team" concepts not individual concepts. We need to change the term coach to "facilitator"  whose main thrust is to  allow the player (youth) improve his development as a player and that team orientation is 'Secondary" to 'Individual" deveiopment upto the  age.of 14/15. That means the USSF needs to change their emphasis for how youth coaches train....

  9. Ric Fonseca replied, January 21, 2018 at 2:49 p.m.

    FRANK, first thank you for your compliment.  Yes we do number in the millions, but FYI and others, we did make a very concerted effort beginning in the early 90s, an effort that for lack of time and space 'cause it is a very serious topic and matter to share in a few hundred words.  We launched the LATIN AMERICAN SOCCER COACHES ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA just a few months before WCUSA1994, a national attempt to get us all together. Even the NSCAA - now Utd Soccer Coaches - supported our efforts, we had a coaching clinic at Loyola University in Los Angeles, and at several Coaching Conventions we were even given a booth, etc, etc, ad infinitum, and even got Hank Steinbrecher and Alan Rothenberg give us their blessing.  Sadly, though, our efforts came for naught, we tried to unite ALL of the Latino coaching ranks, but in a country this big, our efforts were almost self-destructing, etc. I could go on, but maybe I will leave it for another time, though surely SA, the old NSCAA (USA) US Soccer, and even some active and retired Latino Coaches, many, yes M-A-N-Y with US Soccer Coaching Licenses, NSCAA Diplomas, and even English FA, Brasilian, and Spanish, Liga MX, etc., can attest to our efforts, to getting licenses/diplomas/certificates.  Many of us opted to not continue due to the old personalities clashes, regional (and sadly national, read nationalities) differences, and most importantly, we did not have the tools necessary e.g. the internet, instant social media then, etc. But most importantly was the lack of full "blooded support" from US Soccer after Alan R and Hank S left. Ok, ok, opk, we did get some - sorry for my choice of words - "lip" service from the succeeding US Soccer presidents and staffers accross the board.  As for the coaching branch, it became a "good old boys network" from the time of Dettmar Cramer's classes and thereafter.  I'll stop now, but there is a helluva lot to be told in answer to uyour question and statement that there are millions of us, yes indeed, but we feel at times to be but a small speckle on the soccer scene, but as they say, "hope springs eternal..."  Gracias y hasta pronto amigos! 

  10. frank schoon replied, January 21, 2018 at 3:32 p.m.

    Ric, thanks for some of the insights that I'm totally unaware of, like for instance the "LATIN AMERICAN COACHES ASSOCIATION". Reading your post about all this stuff is just so frustrating. I was hoping Hank would have at least done more to get things to started. I think the Hispanic contingency should have a convention and come out with set of proposals. One, to stipulate the development of the Hispanic youth BETTER for there is no excuse why they shouldn't have Hispanic talent coming out of the woodwork. Two, that USSF should comingle South American coaching and training philosophy with what is taught there at the present. SA has never said much the Hispanic problem as far as development and coaching goes and only sees it terms of Diversity and PC social interaction garbage. Your right ,it is a big country and there are differences of opinions even within the Hispanic contingency. Perhaps we need get an awareness going about this situation. I mean, how many coaches, right now ,at Coaching convention are even talking about the Hispanic problem like what  we're doing. It needs to start somewhere, for example,  the women began a push for equal parity of pay in soccer. Articles are written about it ,interviews, the press is covering it, and there is now talk (nationally) and an awareness of the pay problem has been created. This is what  the Hispanics need to do ,create some waves, bring well known people and supporters and numbers. Just imagine in the press that a major Hispanic convention is beign held concerning development of hispanic players. All  coaches are welcome. This in fact would give a seed that can grow. But right now I'm so frustrated like Wooden Ships and others with going on's of things....

  11. R2 Dad, January 20, 2018 at 4:54 p.m.

    Hugo Perez isn't dead and buried, he's in San Jose with a DA team there:

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