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Bruce Arena

The Maestro: Bruce Arena Turns the Galaxy Around


He’s the best manager this nation has ever produced. Not only is he the best, but the gap between Bruce Arena and the second best American manager ever (Bob Bradley, Dom Kinnear, Mooch Myernick, etc?) is so wide it’s not even worth debating. Bruce Arena has done what no US manager has ever done and may never do again. For his prickly ways and the sometimes difficult football to watch his teams produce, he is a one of a kind person when it comes to the game in this country.

That’s why it should come as little surprise to our readers that the Los Angeles Galaxy after three disastrous seasons are now one of the best teams in Major League Soccer again. Arena’s tried and tested formula or signing players he knows from past coaching stints (the USMNT, DC United or UVA) has once again worked brilliantly as the team looks better organized and more together than anytime since the untimely and tragic death of Doug Hamilton.

Bruce Arena has taken a previously outclassed squad and achieved results. Sadly, much of it has been achieved by playing anti-football. The Galaxy are still one or two years away from moving beyond the stench created by Alexi Lalas, Ruud Gullit and David Beckham and while Arena is being faulted by some for his tactics, what else is he supposed to do? Send a team out to play attractively and be beat 3-0 every night like Ruud Gullit’s team was towards the end of his tenure?

I know we hear a lot from MLS fans about how good coach A, is or coach B is. But I’ve witnessed time and time again that good coaches by the MLS standard don’t match up on most nights with Bruce Arena. There are very few Galaxy games this season that I have watched where the other manager is on par tactically with Arena when it comes to making changes during a match.

I do believe as reflected in some recent comments that the coaching in MLS is subpar. I also agree with the comments from some readers that the fact that USL attracts some decent foreign coaches (including some that have managed at a very high level in Europe) who steer away from MLS because of the restrictive rules and failures of past foreign coaches (not one single non American/Canadian oriented coach has been successful in MLS history with the exception of Octavio Zambrano, and even he was eventually fired twice).

Thus, you have a situation where former players who haven’t been properly trained as coaches end up opposing Arena. Some former players improve their coaching skills while some simply do not. It is worth noting that after his one failure as a coach, Arena did not reach back to hire former players of his as his top assistants but brought in Dave Sarachan, who helped build the USMNT under Arena and also did a good job with Chicago. Arena has never said so, but his hiring of Sarcahan indicates to me he knew that he made mistakes in New York with his staff selections.

The best eight years in US National Team history were due almost entirely to Arena. Coming off the disaster of World Cup 1998 and inheriting a team in transition, he quickly stabilized the side beating Germany twice and Argentina once in his first eight months on the job. As well as Bob Bradley is doing, Arena had two more wins against top five ranked nations in his first eight months than Bradley has in almost three years.

Dave Sarcahan was a big part of that quick turnaround for the USMNT, as he rejoined Arena in late 1999 to help steer the national team through the choppy waters of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The USA finished third in the Hexagonal, but considering Costa Rica and Mexico had relatively few injuries compared to the USA during qualifying, Arena had actually been able to deepen the pool thanks to the troubles.

World Cup 2002 was unlike anything American soccer has experienced before or since. What’s more interesting is that the team was not necessarily more talented than the 1994 or 1998 teams. But Bruce Arena had a magic touch. He got lucky with a healthy John O’Brien for the entire tournament but also pushed the right buttons with Clint Mathis, Frankie Hejduk, and youngsters Pablo Mastroeni, Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley to get results. He also smartly kept veterans Cobi Jones, Earnie Stewart and Joe Max Moore in the team to provide stability.

When Arena was fired in 2006 by Sunil Gulati he implied that the US wouldn’t see the sort of run we enjoyed under him again for sometime. Perhaps it was just a bitter parting shot, or perhaps the maestro of American soccer knows something we don’t. The jury is still out on that comment of course as we have not completed a full World Cup cycle.

Let’s get back to the Galaxy. I felt that when Arena was hired that it was a good choice for the club which had resembled a traveling circus for the better part of 15 months. But even I did not know Arena would have the Galaxy turned around this quickly.

With the veteran experience of several USMNT players, some good young players and Landon Donovan, anything including MLS Cup is possible. That is if David Beckham and his ego don’t get in the way. That I suppose will be Arena’s big test from here on out this MLS season.




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  1. soccer goals

    July 17, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    They played really good last night.

  2. Jack(Vegas)

    July 15, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    The more I think about this, it seems to be a very cutthroat move against soccer in America. I have finally gotten my two brothers to start following the USMNT and the biggest game they will want to see will be unavailable to them. This almost feels like Mexico is really worried about this game and so if things do not go well for them a much smaller audience of Americans will be able to see it will be a consolation. I don’t normally support this kind of thing but if things stay the same I see a lot of pirated streams on the web. I signed the petition but I am completely blown away that a game that will pull in such a huge number on the ratings scale will be stuck on platform with such a limited number of viewers.

  3. Karl

    July 15, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Is there any hope of ESPN buying the English rights from MUN2? This will be a huge step backward for soccer in this country.

  4. Rebecca Jill

    July 15, 2009 at 10:29 am

    That’s upsetting to hear about the U.S.-Mexico game on August 12. The least that could be done is NBC airing it on some station under their umbrella, but I just don’t see that happening. I don’t mind watching it on a Spanish-speaking channel at all, as I do watch soccer from time to time, but to keep the momentum going for interest in USMNT and for this being an important World Cup Qualifier, it would be better if it were available elsewhere, as well. Also, it’s kind of tough with it being an afternoon game on a day in the middle of the week, instead of a night game, but what can you do?

  5. thedoc

    July 15, 2009 at 8:34 am

    i think the mls has to tell its coaches to start playing attractive soccer. anti-soccer does not get an audience in america. I stopped going because it seemed like ever game i went to was a stalemate 0-0 game. where the ball just bounced around in the midfield the whole game with no team gaining possession. boring…..

  6. Joey Clams

    July 15, 2009 at 8:07 am

    Let’s assume that the gap, as you say, is not worth debating. Still, one is right to criticize, even skewer, Arena for his handling of the national team. They practically backed in to WC 02 in the fall of 2001- remember the 4-3-3 against Honduras at RFK, the mauling in San Jose and the lucky trifecta, a component of which was the white knuckle win against Jamaica? At the WC, he stuck with a guy who was killing us and we made it to the second round because Korea finally woke up against Portugal. The bench was thin in the Germany game because spots had been given to Regis, Agoos and Jones. And in 2006 he didn’t have a clue.

  7. Footyfan

    July 15, 2009 at 5:23 am

    Ugh, I wish they would just keep the USA-Mexico match on 1 channel, in Spanish only. Anybody in the usa who doesn’t know Spanish should be ashamed of himself. The usa is now a billingual country. Hispanicity is as much a part of the usa as apple pie or baseball. If you’re monolingual, you are an embarrassment.

  8. Daniel Feuerstein

    July 15, 2009 at 3:23 am

    For those in the Northern NJ Area & if you have Cablevision in the NY/NJ/CT Tri-state area. We get MUN 2 on our cable systems Channel 197 in Bergen County. If it’s a different channel please go to

  9. quakesin2knever

    July 15, 2009 at 2:24 am

    Kartik, great work. Totally agree on Arena. The USA-Mexico TV news is horrifying. I am just in disbelief that no one at US Soccer and ESPN can figure out a way to work this out. Can’t they try to rent the rights from Telemundo or something?

    Disagree on the Galaxy though.

    ““That’s why it should come as little surprise to our readers that the Los Angeles Galaxy after three disastrous seasons are now one of the best teams in Major League Soccer again.””

    Let’s wait until after we’ve seen them play 3 or 4 games with Becks and Donovan and then talk about where their place is in MLS. I have a feeling you will be right in the end but we have to see it on the pitch first.

  10. Theo

    July 15, 2009 at 2:17 am

    As a fan that got into the sport during Arena’s stint as national team coach, I have to say I’ll never respect him or how he does it. As much as I loathe him, Kinnear does a far more professional (if dirty) job.

  11. D.S.

    July 15, 2009 at 1:50 am

    Quote: “not one single non American/Canadian oriented coach has been successful in MLS history with the exception of Octavio Zambrano”

    Let’s see… your funny use of the word “oriented” might get you off the hook for not including Frank Yallop, who played for 17 years in England, but what about Steve Nicol? Are you going to say that because he played in the MLS for 2-3 years, he is “American oriented”?

    Your comment that the 2002 squad was not necessarily more talented than the previous two squads is also questionable, but you cloak its success conveniently under Arena’s ability to “push the right buttons”, conveniently forgetting the fact that Reyna was in peak form (good enough to be named to be WC “all-star” XI) in 2002.

    I will agree with you that Arena plays the ugliest brand of anti-football. The flip side of his over-reliance on his trusted core of players came out during WC 2006, when Reyna was past prime, Beasley couldn’t defend to save his life, and Mastroeni still hadn’t learned how to tackle with one foot. The same thing happened again when he brought in Reyna for the NY MetroStars/RedBulls, as well an assorted number of his ex-players who have since vanished quietly. He did not develop a strong core of central midfielders to take over smoothly from Reyna and O’Brien, something Bradley has done much more successfully with at least M. Bradley, Clark, Feilhaber, perhaps Kljestan, Holden, and Torres, though the jury is still out until WC 2010.

  12. Seybold

    July 15, 2009 at 1:34 am

    I agree not having Mexico-USA on ESPN is a borderline disaster, right when this match could truly make a national impression like never before. ESPN might even hype it up as a soccer rivalry on a nationwide level (not just to us soccer fanatics).

    Well if it’s going to be on Telemundo, they will draw a lot more Anglo attention than ever before. On the sociological side this will the fascinating, on the soccer side not so much. If there’s a perception of a pro-Mexican bias–or for that matter even if they’re just neutral–they might end up regretting not selling the rights to ESPN.

  13. Jason Gatties

    July 14, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    Woah, thats crap. I don’t have Telemundo or Mun 2 on DirecTV and I’m not about to shell out special money to buy the Spanish package simply to watch one game. Justin TV, here I come.

  14. Roger

    July 14, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Hoe exactly did ESPN not get the rights?

    This is awful news.

  15. Eric

    July 14, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    A good piece on Arena. I’m shocked he’s been so successful at turning LA around so quickly. At this rate they’ll make the playoffs and at that point, who knows what happens?

    The ESPN news is devestating. This is the biggest national team qualifier in every cycle and coming off the momentum of the Confed Cup, this could have been the perfect time to keep the good vibes going from that tourney in a huge game.

    Instead we are subjected to Telemundo’s pro Mexican bias and MUN2 which I have never heard of prior to today? Who will call the game for this network and could NBC put it on USA or NBC/Universal Sports?

  16. Adam Edg

    July 14, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    “Believe it or not MLS is niche league with zero presence outside MLS markets. USL keeps the game going in places like Des Moines.”

    Ah yes, we do love the Menace here in Des Moines. Currently sitting atop the Heartland and looking at another strong run into the PDL post season (the only playoffs in US soccer that make total sense). The red & black certainly would not exist without the USL and we still hope that one of the suburbs will grant the land needed to build our SSS. Then we can happily move to USL-1.
    But I would not say that MLS has no presence here. We have pretty strong contingents of Fire and Wizards fans in the metro and the state in general. With KC less than 3 hours away and Chicago about double that, road trips are not that uncommon. I actually started following the Fire during their first year and did not discover the poorly advertised Menace until a year or two later. ESPN speaks louder than the “Game Tonight” signs that pop up around town on Friday & Saturday nights.
    Of course we have a growing contingent of Columbus fans because of Hendrickson & Gruenebaum (I used to hit the casino with Andy after Menace games). Plus we take pride in cheering for former players in the MLS. So in that sense, I guess the USL has helped to “keep the game going” here. We even have a homegrown coach in Casey Mann. I’m curious to know how he would stack up against some MLS coaches. It’s no secret that his is 0-2 against the Wizards, but he is undefeated against USL-1 & USL-2 sides.

    On the main point of this article – I’m glad Arena is turning around the Galaxy. I hate the team, but they definitely do not belong in the cellar. With the world’s biggest Soccer Star and the face of the US, it is embarrassing to see them sucking so badly.
    As far as his removal as head coach of the USMNT, I think his time was up. While I appreciate everything he had done, the magic was gone. Our results against Germany prior to the WC and through WC 06 say it all. Of course we all thought Klinesman would replace him…

  17. Jeff

    July 14, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Then Arena piece is spot on but the news at the bottom is so damn depressing I cannot focus. Can you believe we will miss US-Mexico!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. Lawerence

    July 14, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    NBCU Sports could broadcast it- that an over the air channel.

  19. John

    July 14, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    NBC Universal is the parent corporation of Telemundo. I wonder if NBC affiliates could broadcast the game?

  20. Lawerence

    July 14, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Good stuff on Arena. LA is quickly again emerging as a power house in the congested MLS table.

    But I have to argue the case here for NBC/Universal. Everyone is sure to panic but it’s good to have someone else doing a game other than ESPN which is stale and horrible.

  21. BC

    July 14, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    “That’s why it should come as little surprise to our readers that the Los Angeles Galaxy after three disastrous seasons are now one of the best teams in Major League Soccer again.”

    Wow. They have a great case for the 9th best team in the league, but anything beyond that given their season is an incredible overstatement. Sure, they could make a RBNYish run to the MLS Cup final, but to say that they are one of the elites at the moment is crazy.

    “Arena’s tried and tested formula or signing players he knows from past coaching stints (the USMNT, DC United or UVA) has once again worked brilliantly as the team looks better organized and more together…”

    Ironic that this is one of the MAJOR criticisms of Bob Bradley. Not a knock against anyone, just thought I would point out the irony.

    Also, why is it so hard for MLS to change their rules to get better coaches? If it is so plainly clear that USL’s tactics are superior why doesn’t MLS fix this issue? This would be like the best baseball managers spending their time in AAA. It is insanity.

    Finally, about the US/Mexico game, I wouldn’t be surprised if ESPN doesn’t pull a rabbit out of the hat here. There is no way they would want to miss out on such a big game with the momentum that their soccer coverage is receiving. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that game on ESPN when all is said and done.

  22. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    July 14, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    I never said they are the best team in MLS- but I said they very well could win MLS cup which is a reasonable opinion. In MLS, where parity reigns coaching usually makes a difference- that’s why Houston and New England have been better than everyone else because they are probably the only two teams the last few few years that realistically have coaches that could survive in another league.

    I maintain that watching MLS and USL, very few USL players could play in MLS- even St Preaux who dominated Jay Heaps the other night for Haiti would struggle. A few of the PR Islanders would do well. We see some USL vets like Osvaldo Alonso and Greg Janicki fit well into MLS but as supporting players, not as stars. To a certain extent USL is simply a semi pro league that gets decent crowds in some markets but is not a fully professional league.

    But the problem is with MLS’ rules structure, USL has now attracted better coaches with UEFA “A” licenses and many with European club or national team managerial experience. People like Yankee Hooligan who get mad at me making this statement should simply watch a random USL-1 game that doesn’t include Miami FC (which is Latin oriented and has very little European influence) and a random MLS game not involving Kinnear or Nicol, and then come back and tell me about coaching and tactics.

    Again, MLS is the only fully professional league in the US. It is our league, and we want it to succeed. But ripping the partial professional/ semi-pro league (depending on the club) below without really watching it just to rip it doesn’t sit well with me, especially given that the USL structure does a lot to maintain this game throughout the country. Believe it or not MLS is niche league with zero presence outside MLS markets. USL keeps the game going in places like Des Moines.

    Watch a USL game and tell me the tactics aren’t better. The players aren’t as good but that isn’t the point. It may seem eurosnobish to claim the USL coaches are better because they have UEFA coaching badges, and typically I’d steer away from such rhetoric, but truthfully in this case after watching and keeping an open mind it makes a huge difference.

  23. Rob

    July 14, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    First off I want to say good article, as I never supported letting Bruce Arena go as US MNT coach.

    But, the note at the end will probably dominate the comments. I have 3 non-soccer buddies now loosely following the team because of the Confed cup, and there just pissed now that they wont be able to watch this match. Could we find it somewhere in Central NY State? Probably, but my god the fact that I can’t watch my country in my living room on my HD TV is pretty frustrating.

  24. Casey

    July 14, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    How can you say the galaxy is the best team in MLS????
    Their fifth in the west and if the season ended today they would be out of the playoffs. Yes, they have been playing well but to determine the top team in the league you have to look at their overall accomplishments and their far from the best team in MLS

  25. Bravo

    July 14, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    This is a really bad blow for the general sports fan in the US. All of us die hards were always going to find a way to watch this game. But there has been a real interest growing in international soccer and the USMNT. There were ESPN radio hosts saying they had Aug. 12 marked on their calender after the confederations cup. Are they going to watch it now? Won’t they view this as ridiculous? This is another reason for the US sports fan who is not in love with soccer but was really into the confed cup run to just retreat back to the “normal” sports landscape and just let the excitement generated by the confed cup fade into the back of their minds.

    In once sense I don’t care because I don’t need the masses to acknowledge soccer as a great sport to justify it in my mind. But I also want the game to get some more respect and give MLS the finances to develop skilled technical players and coaches and I want players going to the 2nd and 3rd tier leagues to stay here.

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