Running of the
After being let go
as U.S. coach, Bruce Arena believes he can turn a feckless franchise into a
model for MLS
Why would Bruce
Arena go from the pinnacle of global soccer (the World Cup) to the most hapless
team in MLS (the New York Red Bulls)? The answers are complex, and they reveal
a still-hungry coach who's eager to assuage the pain of the U.S.'s first-round
exit in Germany. "I would not have come back in this league to any other
team," Arena said last week before his debut, a 4-1 friendly loss to
European champion FC Barcelona. "But [the Red Bulls] want to make the sport
better in this country. They want to give you the things necessary to be
successful, and I've never heard that in this league."
Arena's goal is to
build, as he puts it, "a real professional club in the United States."
Since purchasing and renaming the MetroStars in March, the Austria-based
energy-drink company has contributed at least $75 million toward a 25,000-seat
soccer stadium in Harrison, N.J. (groundbreaking: Sept. 19) and green-lighted a
training center that will house the team's growing youth-development system.
"I don't need to say I need X amount of dollars," says Arena, who won
the 1996 and '97 MLS titles in his three seasons with D.C. United. "I'll
tell them what we'll need, and we'll get it done."
objectives at all would be a triumph for Arena's new outfit, which has never
reached an MLS Cup final and was 5-6-9 at week's end. No doubt motivated to
succeed where other respected coaches haven't (see Carlos Alberto Parreira,
Carlos Queiroz, Bora Milutinovic, Bob Bradley), Arena will build around
Honduran midfielder Amado Guevara, the 2004 league MVP. As for his former
employers at U.S. Soccer, who showed him the door despite his reaching the 2002
World Cup quarterfinals, Arena can't hide his bitterness. "What am I going
to show them?" he says. "I've probably showed them the finest eight
years of the national team they're going to see for a long time. I don't need
to prove anything to them."
At a time when MLS
is making gains off the field-adding teams, building stadiums, signing its
first television-rights fee deals-Arena's arrival should further lift the
league's profile. But as the recent sold-out U.S. tours of Barcelona, Chelsea
and Real Madrid suggest, MLS owners have to invest some of their TV windfall in
what matters most. "They need to get better players," Arena says.
"There are people in America who are interested in seeing soccer. We're not
going to have a league right now with teams the caliber of Barcelona, but we
can make the product better. And the people are saying, 'Make the product
better and we'll support it.'"
Arena's task won't
be easy. In fact, building a successful MLS team in the nation's most
sophisticated soccer market might be an even bigger accomplishment than taking
the U.S. to the World Cup quarterfinals.
? More analysis
from Grant Wahl at SI.com/soccer.