CARSON, Calif -- I really do like Bruce Arena.
I mean, I like and appreciate him the way I like and appreciate a really mean dog in my neighborhood. I respect that dog. And over time, I think that dog has come to respect me. Why? Becuase I know what I'm doing around dogs. And I don't take any shit from that dog.
Therefore, we understand each other. We get along just peachy ... but I know that dog will bite someone in half if they get up in his face.
That's Arena. He can be cantankerous and condescending to the unaware or the uninitiated -- although I think he's mellowed a bit through the years. And the truth is, he really does have to answer a dumpster load of stupid questions. Because David Beckham is around, there's always someone nearby who wouldn't know a soccer ball from a pumpkin, but wants to hear from Arena just the same.
(Just last night, riding an elevator to an MLS "media" event, I heard one dolled up little thing say to her escort, "I can't wait to go Sunday. Who are we playing? ... And Beckham is going to be there, right?" Later, I found out she's actually in the local media! Oh, my.)
And through the years, Arena has been on the front lines of the soccer culture wars, fielding perennially stupid queries such as, "When will soccer ever make it in this country." (I get this a lot, too. Soccer will never "make it," and it won't ever not "make it." It just is what it is.)
I've always said that one-on-one interviews with Arena aren't interviews, per se. They are sparring sessions. But, so long as you bring your gloves to the fight and protect yourself at all times, as the pro pugilists say, you'll emerge unharmed. In all seriousness, Arena has been quite accommodating to me through the years, ever more congenial as time has gone along. Lately, in all candor, the man has been downright pleasant to work with for me personally.
All that is a very long way of introducing this: I respect Arena, and I certainly recognize his managerial ability in global game. But he's got this one wrong. (Read on ...)
Arena says there are no favorites in soccer. You can read Scott French's piece at ESPN Los Angeles, but here is the important part.
“In soccer, there's no such thing [as a favorite],” he said. “This is not like basketball or baseball or football, I don't think. This is probably the sport, if you talk to bookies, that's the hardest one to pick, because it's low-scoring.
“Our expectation is we have to step on the field and play hard and play well in order to win. I think we understand how you're supposed to prepare to win a game, so I don't think it anyone says we're the favorites that it matters one way or another.”
Well, here's the deal: If Houston wins on Sunday (I'm probably picking L.A., but it will be close, probably a one-goal game and quite possibly even in extra time).
It will be a much bigger upset than RSL over L.A. two years ago ... and that's probably the biggest upset in MLS Cup history.
Los Angeles is at home. No one is buying this hooey about the Home Depot Center being "neutral" ground Sunday. Plus, Houston is missing its top player, Brad Davis.
So, neutral schrmuetral. Favorites? Yepper. Big time. It's Los Angeles.
But I still can't wait to get over to practice at the Home Depot Center this morning to hear what Arena has to say about it all.