Difference between Arena, Klinsmann stark as new USMNT boss takes over
The difference in tone was stark as Bruce Arena was introduced (again) as U.S. men’s national team coach.
After five years of Jurgen Klinsmann, U.S. Soccer picked a coach who is, in many ways, his predecessor’s opposite.
There are no real secrets on how you build good teams. It takes a lot of hard work, it takes communication, it takes discipline and it takes some talent.
Where Klinsmann is philosophical, Arena is pragmatic. Where Klinsmann could be meandering in his answers, Arena is often blunt and to the point. If the last five years felt overthought, Arena’s answers to media on Tuesday set the path of the USMNT on two basic, simple tenets: chemistry and identity.
Ten years after he last coached the U.S., Arena is no doubt a better coach. But the belief system around which he operates has not changed, nor, he said, has the USMNT’s formula for success.
“We need to build the chemistry of this team and have a common goal and really work on a team concept,” Arena said. “I really believe individually and positionally we have good players and we just got to get them working together as a team. There are no real secrets on how you build good teams. It takes a lot of hard work, it takes communication, it takes discipline and it takes some talent. And I think we have enough talent to build a good team and end up in Russia in 2018.”
Embracing the challenge
Arena has four months, essentially, to turn things around and instill that “team concept” within a group that, perhaps more than it ever has, looks vulnerable. The American confidence within its own region is shaken, and that needs to be restored before the program can move forward.
It will take some significant effort from Arena to make that happen in a short time span. Arena first must familiarize himself with the U.S. pool, and especially with the foreign-born players that make up a decent chunk of the current roster. Then he must consider expanding the pool and bringing fresh eyes to players who have been on the outside. Finally, and most importantly, he must inject an identity that will lead to a quick turnaround.
The first task comes with some challenges.
Arena made comments to ESPN in 2013 that came across as disrespectful and potentially xenophobic. Those comments questioned the role of foreign-born players in the U.S. pool, though both Arena and Sunil Gulati were quick to clarify Arena’s stance on dual-nationals.
I just want to make sure their heart is in the right place and when they put that U.S. jersey on they are playing for that crest on the shirt. It’s important to me.
“If I made those comments, I certainly don’t believe that that’s my attitude,” Arena said. “As a starting point one of my favorite players in my eight years as a national team coach is Earnie Stewart.
“I believe anyone that has a [U.S.] passport is certainly eligible to play for our national team and I embrace all players that are eligible to play. I just want to make sure their heart is in the right place and when they put that U.S. jersey on they are playing for that crest on the shirt. It’s important to me. I have a great passion for this national team, and I expect the same out of all players.”
Gulati went a step further, reframing those initial Arena comments as a referendum on the development of players within the U.S., not of the players themselves. Gulati said players like Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones, who developed outside of the U.S., don’t indicate whether the U.S. is making progress on developing players within its borders.
How Arena may have intended the comments matters less than how they were interpreted, and clarifying his position and patching up relationships with those players will be an essential part of his first few weeks on the job.
Arena said he will work to have conversations and meet with “as many players as I can before we start January camp and obviously touch base with our entire pool of players by the entire time we get together in March.”
“I think they need to know who I am and what my thoughts are, where they fit into the program and the challenges we have together as a team,” Arena said. “We’ll develop an identity over the next couple months and hopefully feel comfortable working with each other and understanding the goal we have is important for the entire group.”
In addition to reaching out to players who have been a part of the pool over the last few months, Arena will also look to identify players who have been outside of the pool that he will want to integrate into the program. Fans have clamored for players like Benny Feilhaber to be included, and Arena said that Feilhaber and defender Jonathan Bornstein could be among a group of players that gets a closer look in January. So, too, might be some other outsiders like Dax McCarty, Jorge Villafaña and Eric Lichaj.
No names are off the table; however, I would say that it’s highly unlikely we’re going to bring many new players into the program.
“They and others are good players and we’re going to give those type of players an opportunity to be back in the national team program,” Arena said. “… We’re going to look closely at those players as we begin a domestic camp in January and ultimately select a roster for the games in March. No names are off the table; however, I would say that it’s highly unlikely 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.”
Ultimately, Arena knows his job will come down to creating a clear identity for a group that has lacked that sort of direction over the past five years. There seemed to be a disconnect in Klinsmann’s final months in charge – between the coach and his players, between the coach and the fans and media, and between the many iterations of formations and players on the field. Arena must find a way to reestablish those networks, and quickly.
“The only thing I can tell you,” Arena said, “is we’re going to make it better.”
For all their differences, that answer revealed where Klinsmann and Arena are the same: A confidence that they are the ones that can get it done. Arena must now show that his methods can succeed where Klinsmann’s failed.
Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.