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Taking on the World
GRANT WAHL
May 01, 2006
The coach who led the U.S. to its surprise World Cup run four years ago is at it again, using psychology and ACC hoops insights to ready his team for a killer first-round Cup group
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May 01, 2006

Taking On The World

The coach who led the U.S. to its surprise World Cup run four years ago is at it again, using psychology and ACC hoops insights to ready his team for a killer first-round Cup group

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One of those former live-ins, U.S. midfielder Ben Olsen, says that most of Arena's players can do impressions of his sarcastic Long Islandese speech. "With Bruce I can make jokes about him, and he makes fun of me," says midfielder DaMarcus Beasley. Pope tells a story from his days at D.C. United when the coaches thought forward Jaime Moreno had sat out too many practices with a minor injury. Arena sauntered into the players' lounge and dropped a gem: "I want to announce that Jaime's retiring next week. He won't be playing anymore." Says Pope, "Everybody laughs, Bruce walks out, and Jaime's in training the next day."

Yet for all his quips and pronouncements, there are some topics that can turn Arena as silent as a stone. "Bruce keeps a lot of things inside," says his brother Mike. Foremost among them is the death, at 37, of his twin, Barbara. "That had a huge effect on Bruce, but I don't know what that is," says his oldest brother, Paul. "It's something he doesn't talk about."

A bouquet of a dozen miniature pink roses arrived in the hospital room of Barbara Staak on Sept. 21, 1988. It was the twins' 37th birthday, and though Barbara was in constant pain from the breast cancer that would claim her life, she picked up the phone and called Phyllis Arena.

"Thank you so much for the beautiful roses," Barbara told her, assuming Phyllis had sent them, since she always handled the family's birthday presents.

"Barbara, I'm sorry," came the mortified reply, "but I forgot to send you anything."

Silence. "Oh, my gosh," Barbara said. "The card said, 'Love, Bruce.' I don't know if he's ever done that before."

The Arena twins were hardly inseparable growing up. Like a lot of siblings in big Italian-American families in Franklin Square, N.Y., during the 1950s and '60s, the three sons and one daughter of Adeline and Vinnie Arena split their activities rigidly along gender lines. While Barbara learned to sew and cook and socialized with a gaggle of aunts and cousins, Bruce spent nearly all his free time with his older brothers playing baseball, football and lacrosse in the schoolyard across from their house.

"Bruce was a little, fat kid, like a bowling ball almost," says Mike, and even when he lost his baby fat, the older boys were merciless. Paul recalls one regular game, taken from fight scenes in James Cagney movies. The boys would all yell "Alley beating!" and Bruce would run until they caught him and pounced. "That's one reason he became so fast and elusive as an athlete," says Paul.

Mike followed Paul as the starting quarterback on the Carey High football team, but Bruce dropped football after his freshman season, not least because he was a 5'3", 110-pound signal-caller. Bruce wrestled on the varsity for three years, and after a growth spurt he began holding his own as a midfielder on the lacrosse team. "He was a great face-off man," recalls Mike. "He'd hold the other player down and turn his big Arena ass into the guy and scoop the ball up."

Soccer was never a significant part of the neighborhood's sports culture, and Bruce joined the Carey soccer team as a midfielder only in his senior year. "In the first game our goalkeeper got red-carded, and our coach asked if anyone could play in goal," says Arena, who volunteered and never left his spot between the pipes. He went on to become an All-America in lacrosse (at Nassau Community College and Cornell) and soccer (at Nassau) and the most valuable defensive player of the 1972 NCAA soccer finals. "I always told him soccer is a stupid game, nobody plays it, and you're never going to go anywhere with it," says Paul. "And of course I still tell him that."

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