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Soccer
Ian Thomsen
October 19, 1998
Arenaball D.C. United's Bruce Arena is almost certain to become the next national team coach
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October 19, 1998

Soccer

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Arenaball
D.C. United's Bruce Arena is almost certain to become the next national team coach

How strange and intriguing it is to hear a good coach in pro soccer speak in a Brooklyn accent. "I yam who I yam," said Bruce Arena after coaching D.C. United to a 2-0 victory over the Columbus Crew on Sunday, in the opening game of the best-of-three MLS Eastern Conference finals. "Take it or leave it."

The U.S. Soccer Federation will take it. After months of apparent dithering, the USSF announced last week that it will try to sign Arena, 47, as coach of the national team once United has finished its season.

The richest country in the world has had a lot of trouble hiring a soccer coach. The job seems attractive, but every time representatives of the federation have interviewed someone of any distinction, the candidate has backed away. The latest coach to do so was former USSF adviser Carlos Queiroz, who, frustrated over not being made a firm offer, announced last week that he would remain as coach of the United Arab Emirates. He then endorsed Arena for the U.S. job.

"I've tried to keep my opinions and feelings out of this whole thing," says Arena, who has often been criticized by USSF bureaucrats for his outspokenness, and who had an unhappy relationship with meddling federation officials when he coached the U.S. men's team in the 1996 Olympics. "I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about this job."

Arena won five NCAA titles at Virginia from 1978 to '95 and is seeking his third championship in MLS's third year. D.C.'s victory on Sunday was its 13th in a row in the postseason. Not only did United play with much greater horsepower than the Crew, but it also had the peerless—by MLS standards- Marco Etcheverry at the wheel.

The most compelling evidence in favor of hiring Arena to coach the U.S. team is this: Not only does he get the best players in the league, but they also don't want to play anywhere else. Etcheverry, a Bolivian, wants to stay with D.C., and Eddie Pope, the best young American in MLS. refused a chance last summer to jump to one of the biggest clubs in Germany, Borussia Dortmund. "It's something mat's hard to put your finger on," Pope says of playing for Arena. "It's something about winning."

That's why United is MLS's example of how a team should deal with pro athletes. Yet the league is intent on preventing United from creating a dynasty Deputy commissioner Sunil Gulati told The Washington Post recently that he has been allocating fewer players to D.C. in an attempt to "balance" the league. Why should Arena risk staying in a league that intends to punish him for the crime of being excellent?

He ought to take advantage of his leverage over the USSF. For the good of the country, the federation should hand Arena a four-year contract as national team coach and get out of his way.

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