Rogers: Bruce Arena comes in, speaks out in introduction as U.S. coach

Bruce Arena came out firing as he was appointed head coach of the United States for the second time on Tuesday, replacing the axed Jurgen Klinsmannand immediately striking a bullish tone.

Arena, 65, repeatedly asserted his confidence that he can lead the squad out of the doldrums and reverse its dismal start to the final stage of World Cup qualifying.

As he and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati spoke to reporters on a conference call, neither could Arena resist a thinly-veiled swipe at Klinsmann, who he has never had much time for.

Klinsmann was widely criticized for failing to inspire enough togetherness in the camp and being unable to usher in a new era of European-style, attacking soccer.

“We need to build chemistry and have a common goal and really work on a team concept,” Arena said. “We have good players and we just need to get them together as a team. It takes a lot of hard work, communication, discipline and some talent — and we have enough of that to end up in Russia in 2018.

“I am a hard worker. I like to believe I am a players’ coach. What I really know is how to build a team. I understand the qualities and circumstances that go into building a team. It is highly unlikely we will bring many new players into the program. We are at a time in the program when we need to get results and we need players who are ready to go.”

Arena’s contract formally commences on Dec. 1, though in practice he will begin immediately and already spoke to two national team players on Tuesday morning.

The deal is set up to run through the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It can be reevaluated and potentially extended at the end of that tournament.

The appointment of Arena has not been met with universal approval from national team fans, with some viewing it as a backwards step. As ever, such perceptions can rapidly switch with a couple of positive performances.

“I view it at Bruce 2.0,” Gulati said, referencing Arena’s prior stint from 1998 to 2006. “He has far more experience than first time around. He has proven himself at all levels of the game in America, his record as a coach is unparalleled.”

Arena moved quickly to distance himself from prior comments in which he questioned the heavy use of foreign-raised players, mainly from Germany, who were brought in under Klinsmann. He said on Tuesday that he would “embrace any player that is eligible to play.”

Much as fans of the national team may crave an exhilarating style of soccer, what they want more is to win with greater regularity. Arena’s hiring was as full of pragmatism as the coach’s own approach.

PhotosUS Men’s Soccer practice at Busch Stadium

Results are paramount after defeats at home to Mexico and away to Costa Rica to begin the Hex, the six-team CONCACAF qualifying tournament that will send three teams directly to the World Cup, with a fourth going into a playoff.

The next two qualifiers, at home to Honduras and away to Panama in March, provide an opportunity to revitalize the campaign, but any more setbacks have the potential to put a place at the World Cup in serious jeopardy.

“We are who we are,” Arena said. “The American qualities have certainly been teams that are hard to play against. In the modern era those are qualities a lot of teams take on. Look at the teams who were successful at the European Championships. We need the right balance, right combinations and right mentality.”

For Gulati, a series of factors built up to convince him Klinsmann was no longer the right man to move the program forward. Failure to reach the Olympics in London and Rio de Janeiro, missing out on the Confederations Cup, and the miserable start to the business end of the World Cup campaign all added up.

Results, especially at this stage of the World Cup cycle, matter. Arena, the winningest coach in national team history, was therefore the obvious choice.


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