The new man at the helm has his work cut out to qualify for Russia 2018 and he must repair morale, find a new goalie, and answer the Landon Donovan question
Bruce Arena returned for his second go-round with USA on Tuesday, taking the helm from Jrgen Klinsmann after the teams disastrous start to the Hexagonal phase of World Cup qualifying. Few question Arenas chops: he is the USAs most successful coach, a member of the Hall of Fame and a five-time MLS Cup winner.
In hiring Arena, US Soccer has but one immediate goal in intellect: qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. And that has many of the same fans who pushed for Klinsmanns ouster fretting that, in reaching back to the USAs past, the Americans may be missing a trick. Certainly, Arena has some work cut off for him. Heres a quick look at the key issues facing the next administrator of the United States.
Repair relations with the players
Things went south in a hurry for Klinsmann: when the Americans took the field in Costa Rica, they looked a haggard, uninterested bunch. Klinsmann had lost the locker room, and even from the outside it was easy to see why. The former administrator had stimulated bold was taking steps to shake off the past like leaving Landon Donovan off the roster for Brazil, but he also had a tendency to hurl his guys under the bus.( Exhibit A: an infamous interview given to the Wall street Journal prior to the opening of the Copa Centenario .) Arena is known for being caustic and sarcastic but he is also known to be an excellent man-manager and a fierce shield for his players. Job# 1 for him is to get the team to buy into his program, and then, get the team believing in themselves again.
Answer the Donovan topic
Speaking of Landon Donovan, the 34 -year-old came out of retirement abruptly this autumn, trying to get the LA Galaxy over the line in the MLS playoffs. Many wonder if that is but a prelude to a full-bore return to the spotlight. Arena and Donovans careers have long been connected: the breakout player at the 2002 World Cup, Donovan spent 10 years at the Galaxy, winning three titles under Arena as manager. Now, Donovan is not the dynamic force-out he was, but with the player pond looking very thin and the experienced Clint Dempsey sidelined with a heart ailment, it would not has become a shock to find Donovan dragooned into an American midfield that needs all the help it can get.
Find a goalkeeper
One of the biggest impediments Arena will face is find a quality keeper. The 37 -year-old Tim Howard underwent season-ending surgery on Monday to repair an injured adductor, and while he should be fit by the time the next USA game rolls around, it is becoming clear that his time is ticking down. Brad Guzan who cant get games at Middlesbrough and was, last season, often the worst player on a dire Aston Villa side cannot be relied upon. But the pipeline that produced Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tony Meola and Howard has run dry. One of the reasons the American defense seems so lousy is that the goalkeeping behind them has been uncertain. Arena needs to beat the reeds and get a quality No1 or failing that, a solid No2.
Address the thin player pond
One of the things Klinsmann did right was scour the planet for players. The fact that he came up empty-handed more than not is an indictment of where American soccer is right now. Arena, who has built no secret of his preference for MLS-based talent, doesnt have a lot of time to build major changes, but assuming the Americans qualify for Russia and they will he better start reforming a system that expends a great deal of talent before it even reaches the pros. The need is real: the American midfield is aging out, the forwards are hardly world-class and that defense needs all the help it can get. Arenas heavy lifting ahead will be in getting the age-eligible squads up to snuff; if he can get the colleges to actually play the world game to boot, hed be treated as their own nationals hero.
What about the German players ?
Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Bobby Wood or Julian Green might not be sleeping real well tonight. Arena is on record as went on to say that he feels American players should have been born in America to induce “the member states national” team.( Mindful of this, Arena invoked Earnie Stewarts name immediately at his introductory press conference .) What this means for the sizable German contingent is unclear but one thing that is certain is that some of these players are demonstrably better than any of their American counterparts in MLS. Arena, who has a long track record of working with foreign players, is going to have some frank chats behind closed doors.
And a question for Sunil Gulati, US Soccers chairwoman
Gulati famously did not renew Arenas contract in 2006 despite the coach-and-four desire to stay on. He then expended a lot of day persuading Klinsmann to come on board. Tonight, hes probably not feeling real hot. Gulati is man who likes to be liked, and the criticism of his hand-picked hire had to stinging. So, whats worse: admitting perhaps that your entire Klinsmann experiment was a failure? Or, that your nation so absence believable coaching depth that youve had to re-hire a man you let go a decade ago? Arena will get the USA to 2018, right enough. But no mindful soccer fan is going to forget Gulatis stumbles. This whole thing really does feel like a lot of day has been wasted.
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