For the third time in his career, Bruce Arena has been tasked
with an MLS rebuilding job.
In 2006, shortly after his contract as the U.S. men's national team coach was not renewed following its poor showing at the World Cup in Germany, he was given the job of head coach and sporting director at the New York Bulls.
But he exited before the end of his first full season in charge as relations with the Red Bull organization in Austria soured.
Arena was out of the game for 10 months when he was hired by LA Galaxy in August 2008, replacing Ruud Gullit as head coach and Alexi Lalas as general manager. Within a year, the Galaxy was back in MLS Cup and went on to capture MLS titles in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
Almost 19 months to the day after he quit as U.S. men's national team following its elimination from the 2018 World Cup, Arena was confirmed on Tuesday as the boss at the New England Revolution, replacing Brad Friedel as head coach and taking the position of sporting director in place of Mike Burns, who was fired as general manager on Monday.
The 67-year-old Arena's record as a head coach is unmatched by an American coach with 18 professional and collegiate championships spanning 29 years:
-- Five MLS Cup titles (D.C. United 1996-97; LA Galaxy 2011-12, 2014);
-- Three Supporters' Shields (D.C. United 1997; LA Galaxy 2010-11);
-- One Concacaf Champions Cup and one Interamerican Cup (D.C. United 1998);
-- Three Gold Cup titles (USA 2002, 2005, 2017); and
-- Five NCAA Division I titles (Virginia 1989, 1991-94).
But Arena faces the toughest job of his career at New England.
To say the least, the Revs have developed over the years a reputation for being one of the most unpopular teams for MLS players to play for.
Stars like Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen exited after difficult contract issues. The small crowds at Gillette Stadium (relative to its size) and artificial turf don't help matters.
The team's payroll -- guaranteed compensation in figures released by the MLS Players Association -- ranked 21st out 23 teams in MLS in May 2018. The Revs have only one Designated Player on their roster in 2019 -- Carles Gil -- after a deal for a second, Standard Liege winger Paul-Jose M'Poku, fell through.
The Revs are just starting to play catch-up. The reported package for M'Poku was valued at $14 million. They broke ground on the new $35 million training center last fall. The most important thing the Kraft family can do to show their commitment to the team, though, is find a site to build a soccer stadium. Easier said than done in Boston's urban core.
In the short term, Arena faces a huge task of working with a patchwork squad that includes only five holdovers from the team that lost to Arena's Galaxy in MLS Cup 2014: Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, Scott Caldwell, Diego Fagundez and Andrew Farrell.
At the Galaxy, Arena had big-name stars like David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, but he built his reputation as MLS's most astute manager and a popular coach for getting the most out of the other players he signed -- collegians like Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza, who were drafted in 2009, and Mike Magee, who had played for him at the Red Bulls and on the national team.
Arena was the master of building an MLS roster during a period rapid change in the league, but it has changed a lot since Arena left the Galaxy after the 2016 season to return to the U.S. national team.
Targeted Allocation Money was just being introduced when Arena was finishing up at the Galaxy. One of the first TAM deals allowed the Galaxy to retain Gonzalez and sign Giovani dos Santos as its third Designated Player in 2015. Now TAM in all its forms is the tool that makes or breaks most teams.
The Galaxy soon fell apart after Arena left and it's only now starting to rebuild under new general manager Dennis te Kloese. Arena can't afford to let that happen this time.
It's hard to imagine that Arena will coach more than two or three more years. One has to believe that he took the job with an understanding that a Boston soccer stadium is in the pipeline, so his most important work could be building up the Revs for when they move in no earlier than two or three years from now.
Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire