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Bruce Arena

Arena’s Demise Long in the Making

Bruce Arena is the only American born coach to reach legendary status. In spite of his many detractors, he is by far the most accomplished manager our nation has ever produced. However since 2003 when the US flamed out of the Confederations Cup with a last place group finish, Bruce Arena has lost his way, his edge so to speak.

The same troubles that ailed Arena’s last few years as US National Team manager ailed his short tenure with the Red Bulls. The late Arena years on the National Team were typified by a non merit based system for player selection and a clear bias towards players who played their club football in the domestic league (MLS) or in England. Arena allowed many quality American players to drift off the radar who happened to play their club football in places like Denmark and Norway. While every spot on the national team was open for competition in the 1999 to 2002 time period, including during World Cup 2002 when Arena played all but one field player he took the World Cup, in 2006 Arena took several players to Germany who either weren’t fully fit or had no hope of contributing positively to a World Cup campaign. While I would argue that the talent pool of Americans had regressed between 2002 and 2006, no doubt exists Arena bungled the team selection badly.

As Red Bull manager Arena immediately added John Harkes and Jeff Agoos favorites from his time at DC United and the University of Virginia. Neither Harkes nor Agoos were ready for the roles thrust upon them and when New York used their initial designated player spot to sign Claudio Reyna another Arena favorite from UVA and the National Team it was obvious that crony ism was reigning supreme ahead of merit in Arena’s eyes.

Much like World Cup 2006, Arena’s lack tactical savvy was exposed in MLS 2007. He often times couldn’t figure out how to play with Jozy Altidore and Juan Pablo Angel together. This was surprising since Arena found a way to use Raul Diaz Arce/Roy Lassiter and Jaime Moreno together with DC United, but then with the USA was so impressed with what either Landon Donovan or Clint Mathis could provide that he liked to use a withdrawn striker behind Brian McBride. Also Arena didn’t seem to understand how to instill an organized defensive system into his backline. Throughout much of the season, it appeared the Red Bulls didn’t have a clear structure on the pitch and many of the players did not understand their roles.

MLS is becoming a much more tactically sophisticated league as Juan Carlos Osorio and Preki among others have taught us. Bruce Arena’s greatest qualities were his player/talent evaluation and his ability to motivate his team. But from a tactical standpoint, we already see his former Assistant Bob Bradley as more tactically savvy in his year as USA manager. The US National Team is actually running a clear organized system instead of the shambolic mess that Arena’s later USA years yielded.

Bruce Arena’s contribution to soccer in this country have been invaluable. But what we learned this season is that National Team program and MLS itself have both moved past his abilities. Give Red Bull management credit for recognizing this and cutting their losses after a disappointing season.

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  1. Anonymous

    November 6, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    Maybe Becks can go to New York as a player coach!

  2. Anonymous

    November 6, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    It is my sincere hope that he never coaches again for all his arrogance and berating of the media.

  3. Soccer Guru

    November 6, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    I’d be surprised if Altidore came back. I’m also hearing Querioz who has flirted with the idea of leaving Man U in January could be returning to the team he last coached 12 years ago.

  4. JR

    November 6, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    Honestly, rebuilding this team is going to take time and a larger “buy in” from the local community.

    Red Bull Park is a first step, but where are the meaningful local partnerships and the local media attention?

    New Jersey is a bad MLS market. It has been from the beginning of the league. Why when the area has more ethnics and at least in theory more soccer fans than the rest of the nation, do place like DC, LA and even Dallas and Houston do much better drawing ethnics to the game.

    Simply having a winning product or a new stadium isn’t going to solve this. I know ego is forcing MLS to always help this club, but the reality is the league’s core markets don’t include New Jersey.

  5. Anonymous

    November 6, 2007 at 1:10 pm


    (okay a bad attempt at humor)

  6. Football 101

    November 6, 2007 at 11:34 am

    I disagree with Josiah. I think Red Bull in hiring Arena showed they wanted someone with an MLS track record. Maybe they try and lure Preki away from Chivas or go after Quieroz again. He did a decent job with the team the first time around and with Fergie hanging on forever, maybe he’ll never be United’s manager. That and Roy Keane’s emergence.

  7. Josiah of Footy Fame

    November 6, 2007 at 11:22 am

    New York is in a position to attract a really top notch international manager. Red Bull has the money and with Angel and a potential DP spot opening up after Reyna is dumped, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a really big name take this job. It’s New York, a new stadium is opening next year and the players are there, expecially if Altidore and Richards stay put.

  8. JR

    November 6, 2007 at 10:40 am

    I don’t agree. I think the RBNY managment was totally unrealistic in its approach to this league. New York’s team has been a traditional doormat in the MLS and turning things around in one season wasn’t going to happen.

  9. Anonymous

    November 6, 2007 at 10:10 am

    The whole idea of bringing in Reyna when other teams were buyting players the quality of Beckham and Blanco tells you how blinded Arena was and how he puts way too much faith in players he was familiar with. Cronyism to the highest degree.

  10. Anonymous

    November 6, 2007 at 7:21 am

    It’s too bad to see Arena fall to these levels. His own cockiness and arrogance did him in with the USMNT and NY.

  11. eplnfl

    November 5, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    Well a big news day here and across the pond.

    I fully agree that Arena had lost the, edge and after the 2002 WC, and needed time off. Why Arena stayed on the USMNT after 2002 and took on the NY MLS team right after the 2006 WC is unknown to me. Maybe he just needed to keep active for his personal satisfaction, when he clearly deserved and needed time off. That will somewhat cloud his major positive influence on all levels of US Soccer and MLS.

    It should never be forgotten what he did for soccer in the US and it maybe another generation before a US coach takes a team as far as he did in th WC.

    On the other hand he has the makings for an excellent ESPN expert. So look for him on TV.

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