Bruce Arena: “It has been a lot of fun to try to put some of the pieces of the puzzle together.” (Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In soccer, there’s always another challenge around the corner.
If it isn’t a league game, it is a cup match.
If it isn’t a cup match, it is some sort of qualifying encounter for a tournament.
Another game on the horizon, another challenge.
Which brings us to Bruce Arena, whose coaching career has been defined by meeting his challenges and overcoming them.
He started at the University of Virginia and his team earned five NCAA Division I men’s champions.
He moved to Major League Soccer and his D.C. United and LA Galaxy sides captured five MLS Cup titles.
In-between those coaching tenures, Arena directed the U.S. national team for eight years, reaching the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan.
After his stint with the Galaxy, the U.S. national team beckoned for a second time and another challenge
That’s what drives Bruce Arena.
“I always have been a competitive person,” Arena said Tuesday at Levi’s Stadium, the site of Wednesday’s CONCACAF Gold Cup final between the United States and Jamaica.
“You work every day and you try to be successful. You take on challenges that are interesting and this certainly has been an interesting challenge since I’ve come back to the U.S. team in November. It has been a lot of fun to try to put some of the pieces of the puzzle together. At this point in my coaching career, this is probably the best challenge that I could have undertaken. That keeps me going every day.”
Since Arena took over the coaching reins for the fired Jurgen Klinsmann, the Americans are undefeated in 13 matches. They will try to make it 14 Wednesday night, then the U.S. meets Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final at Levi’s Stadium.
Moreover, he also has revived the U.S.’s quest to reach its eighth consecutive World Cup after a horrendous 0-2-0 start under Klinsmann.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard, who made his international debut under Arena in 2002, has noticed a change in the coach in his return to the international sidelines.
“Bruce came in and kind of took the edge off a little bit,” Howard said. “That’s who he is as a person. That’s how he man manages us. He’s allowed us to be ourselves and have that swagger.
“One thing I’ll say about Bruce, which is kind of always been the case, but more so now, he is more relaxed off the field and much more demanding on the field. He’s always had that balance, but it’s more extreme now. He asks all of us on the field. Whether it be training or games, he asks for 100 percent every day. He’s joking, he’s very jovial. He lets us to be who we are.”
Arena, the winningest coach in Gold Cup, will try to add to his record number of Gold Cup titles. He has two, the Americans winning in 2002 and 2005.
But not every American has won trophies or taken home medals.
U.S. captain Michael Bradley, who turns 30 on July 31, has come close. When the U.S. won in 2007, Bradley was suspended for the final. He wasn’t on the 2013 side that captured the title. Last year, his Toronto FC team lost in MLS Cup.
“The chance to play with a trophy on the line, the chance to play in a final — you don’t get a million of these opportunities in your career,” he said. “You don’t want to let opportunities slip you by, and so we have a group of guys that is excited and motivated by the chance to step out onto the field for a big final.
“I want to win because that’s why you play. At the end, they pass out medals and pass out a trophy. We want to be the team holding the trophy up.”
So does Arena.
“I could care less who we are playing in the final,” he said. “I want to win a trophy.”
Which is what drives Bruce Arena.