Bruce Arena says he would have done it for free. There’s a certain pride, a certain excitement, that comes with managing the U.S. Men’s National Team, Arena says. It’s an opportunity that is unmatched, one that comes more than a decade after the close of his first sting as USMNT boss. He never thought he’d be back, but now that he is, Arena is once again ready for the honor of guiding his country’s national team.
Amidst all of the excitement, though, is the challenge. The U.S. is in dire need of a steady hand and, after more than 10 years away, Arena feels he is ready to provide it.
Arena was officially named USMNT manager on Tuesday afternoon, replacing Jurgen Klinsmann following the German-born manager’s five-year stint. Arena takes charge of a program in a bit of disarray following consecutive losses to Mexico and Costa Rica to open the Hexagonal. The U.S. needs wins, and fast, as Arena has just four months to put together pieces for the return of World Cup qualifying.
“I think, and I told this to Sunil yesterday, 10 years later, I’m better prepared for this job than I was in 1998 and 2002 and, ultimately, in 2006,” Arena said on a conference call on Tuesday. “I’m hopeful that the experiences I’ve had will benefit the program.
“This time around, it’s going to be a great challenge, and I’m excited about it. Hopefully, all of my experiences help us quickly get this team turned around and ready for qualifying.”
Like many throughout the U.S., Arena watched from afar throughout Klinsmann’s tenure, and feels more than comfortable stepping in to the situation. After leading the team through two World Cup qualifying cycles, Arena is certainly qualified and equally familiar with the rigors of CONCACAF qualifying. His goal, at the end of the day, is to get his team through 2017 and, ultimately, into the World Cup.
Arena’s first test? Redeveloping the team’s confidence and, with it, the team’s style of play. Arena cited this past summer’s European Championships, pointing to how several teams have embraced the mentality of working together as a unit to make themselves hard to beat. It’s an idea Arena says has permeated throughout the U.S. teams all throughout the program’s history, and one that he is hoping to return to.
He certainly has the pieces. Arena cited a talented group of goalkeepers, led by veterans Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. He discussed a unique group of young attackers, like Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic. He pointed to a veteran midfield that includes several players with plenty of big-game experience. The task is now developing the right balance, the right formula and the right fit for this group of players and this current team.
“We need to build a chemistry with this team and have a common goal and have a team concept,” Arena said. “I really believe, individually and positionally, we have good players. We just have to get them working together as a team. There are no real secrets to how you build good teams. It takes a lot of hard work, it takes communication, it takes discipline and it takes some talent. We have enough talent to build this team and end up in Russia in 2018, but it’s going to take a little time, a little patience and a lot of hard work.
“Style is dictated by the qualities of the players,” Arena added. “Certainly, there are things you can do tactically to allow that to blossom, but we are who we are. The American qualities have certainly been teams that are hard to play against and, in the modern era, that is a quality that a lot of teams take on.”
To that aim, Arena says he will certainly take a look at different players throughout the player pool. The former LA Galaxy manager says he’s very confident in the players playing domestically in MLS, while adding that those in Europe and Mexico make this current group much bigger than the pool he left in 2006. There are options everywhere, and Arena tends to explore them.
Over the next few months, Arena says he’ll reach out to each and every player in the USMNT pool, just to simply touch base and discuss thoughts. It’s important for players and coach to know where everything stands and what the team will need from them as Arena’s tenure moves forward.
The change in management opens the door for several players that were outside of Klinsmann’s picture. Benny Feilhaber and Jonathan Bornstein were two names addressed by Arena, and the USMNT boss says both could be among several players to return to the fold. New faces can certainly also join the picture, especially those within MLS.
However, Arena doesn’t have time to reinvent the wheel. There’s a task at hand, and Arena is largely going to simply build upon the foundation build over the last several years.
“I don’t think the roster is going to have radical changes from the last couple of camps,” Arena said. “There will have to be some changes. I’ll use our January camp to identify our domestic players. I’m obviously well aware of our players in Major League Soccer. I’ll continue to keep an eye on our players that are playing abroad and will consider them on their strengths and weaknesses. I’ll certainly have the opportunity to communicate with them as well. I’m hopeful by the time qualifying rolls around, we’ll have the strongest team possible.
“None of the names are off the table,” he added, “but I would say that it’s highly unlikely that we’re going to bring many new players into the program. We’re at a time right now where we need to get results and we have to have a team that’s ready to go in March.”
The U.S. returns to qualifying with a match March 24 against Honduras before visiting Panama four days later.Between now and then, there’s a lot of work to do. Arena doesn’t officially start on the job until Dec. 1, date that begins a feverish period ahead of the annual January camp.
Still, despite the challenges that lie ahead, Arena feels more than ready for what is yet another dream opportunity to lead his country to a World Cup.
“I think it the greatest honor for a coach in our country,” Arena said. “I know we have a great challenge ahead, but I believe we have a good pool of players to make our team successful and reach our ultimate goal of qualifying for Russia 2018. I’m excited for the opportunity and I’m looking forward to getting back to work and getting ready to play in 2017.
“The only thing I can tell you,” Arena added, “is that we’re going to make it better.”