Regardless what transpires in the future, Bruce Arena already has cemented his U.S. soccer legacy and then some. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Perhaps someday someone will build a statue of Bruce Arena outside the StubHub Center.
It would be the most appropriate place to erect one, considering his accomplishments, particularly his most recent ones.
He has called the soccer-specific stadium on the Cal State-Dominguez campus in Carson, Calif. his professional home, having resurrected the LA Galaxy into a Major League Soccer force (winning three MLS Cup titles in nine years) and most recently with the U.S. national team.
We’ll leave building a statue to U.S. Soccer and future generations, but in many ways the idea of a statue is more of a metaphor of what the former Franklin Square, N.Y. resident has meant to U.S. soccer.
If there is a better coach in the 48 contiguous states and Alaska and Hawaii, please introduce him to me.
He already has cemented his legacy as a Hall of Fame coach — Arena was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010.
But just in case you didn’t know about or have forgotten his accomplishments, here is a quick history lesson:
* He directed the University of Virginia to five NCAA Division I titles.
* He went on to MLS, turning D.C. United into a mini-dynasty in the league’s formative years, directing the side to 1996 and 1997 championships and reaching MLS Cup in 1998 before his first tenure with the U.S. national team beckoned.
* During his seven-plus year tenure guiding the Red, White and Blue, Arena’s team participated in two World Cups (2002 and 2006). In the former, the USA was eliminated by eventual runner-up Germany in the quarterfinals on a controversial non-handball call; the latter the team was not as successful as it could not get out of the opening round.
* Immediately after U.S. Soccer announced that Arena’s contract was not going to be renewed for another World Cup qualifying cycle in 2006, he signed with the Red Bulls. He lasted until his sacking after the 2007 season. A year later, he joined the LA Galaxy, leading the side to three MLS championships (2011, 2012 and 2014) before the national team beckoned again after its tumultuous start to the CONCACAF hexagonal.
In the first four qualifying matches of the latest Arena regime, the Americans have done what you expect of a team in World Cup qualifying: win at home and tie on the road.
Translated: a 2-0-2 record and a leap from last to third place to keep the side’s hopes up for Russia 2018.
For years, Arena was viewed a master motivator, being able to get players to play for him and getting the most out of them. Sometimes his understanding and mastering of tactics wasn’t always given its due because he had the likes of Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane.
But he has become a shrewd and learned coach.
It was never more apparent Sunday night in Mexico City as Arena devised a plan that helped the USA secure a rare draw and a point at Estadio Azteca.
After earning a 2-0 qualifying victory over Trinidad & Tobago Thursday, the Americans had all of two days of rest before Sunday’s confrontation at Azteca, which included traveling. Arena, who said his plans for the match had been in the works for months, concocted a Starting XI that included seven new faces vs. El Tri and a new formation.
That was a 5-4-1 which included three center backs.
More importantly, the players embraced the plan and the U.S. left the Azteca smelling like roses with that 1-1 draw.
Just as important, Arena reminded every member of his player pool — beyond the 23 for these past qualifiers – that they all deserve to start on the national team, depending on the strategy of the coach. How does that work for morale down the road? Well, it certainly can’t hurt.
Players will run through walls for coaches who go above and beyond.
As for building a statue, Arena’s reaction would be one of probably rolling his eyes and saying something like, “Obviously, I am not dead. Why would anyone want to build a statue of me anyway?”
But because of Arena, the U.S.’s hopes of reaching an eighth consecutive World Cup aren’t dead, but are very much alive and kicking, thank you.
If a Bruce Arena statue is too much for you to consider or over the top, then perhaps the powers that be someday could be persuaded to add a second name to the StubHub Center. Hmmm, how does the Bruce Arena at the StubHub Center sound to you?