By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – Bruce Arena has been handed the tall order of getting the United States’ qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup back on track after being named head coach of the national team, U.S. Soccer said on Tuesday.
Arena, a five-times Major League Soccer champion coach who is taking over for the recently fired Juergen Klinsmann, is no stranger to the U.S. national team having been at the helm from 1998-2006.
Considered by many to be American soccer’s greatest coach of all time, Arena’s previous stint with the U.S. team included a run to the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup, the country’s best result in the tournament since the inaugural event in 1930.
“I don’t view it as Bruce II but Bruce 2.0,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati during a conference call to introduce Arena. “I think he has far more experience than he did with the national team the first go around and has proven and reproved many times at all levels of the game in the United States that he is an extraordinarily capable and successful coach.”
Arena, who will be in charge of the U.S. team through the 2018 World Cup, will assume his new role on Dec. 1.
He takes over a U.S. squad sitting dead last in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, also known as “The Hexagonal,” after last week’s stunning loss to Costa Rica, which came on the heels of a home loss to Mexico.
Arena has a long history of success and was at the reigns for the two best dynasties MLS has seen.
Prior to his first stint with the U.S. national team, Arena coached D.C. United to consecutive MLS Cup victories during the league’s formative years.
He then captured three MLS titles during a remarkable four-season stretch with the Los Angeles Galaxy that came during one of the league’s most competitive eras.
When Arena joined Los Angeles late in the 2008 season he inherited a team that had not made the playoffs since 2005, were sitting at the bottom of the league, had David Beckham and Landon Donovan but little else.
A year later Arena led the Galaxy to a runner-up finish in the MLS Cup, the start of an impressive run that included championships in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
That success, says Arena, has left him better prepared for the challenge of coaching the national team than he was the first time around.
“I hope the experiences I have had are going to benefit the program,” said Arena. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented players in the world, understanding how they work.
“What I really know is how to build a team.”
During his first stint with the national squad the United States shot to fourth from 19th in the FIFA world rankings and his 71 wins are easily the most in U.S. history.
But Arena’s contract was not renewed after a first-round exit from the 2006 World Cup in Germany where his U.S. team scored twice in three games and finished last in their group.
U.S. Soccer are now hoping that Arena can help steady the ship after a rough start to World Cup qualifying.
“They (the players) need to know who I am and what my thoughts are, where they fit in the program and the challenge we have as a team,” said Arena. “I don’t think the roster is going to have radical changes from the last couple of camps but there will obviously be some changes.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Steve Keating)