Jurgen Klinsmann is no longer the manager of the United States men’s national team. While that’s a reason for many fans to celebrate, now it’s time to figure out what’s coming next, because there’s one big question to answer: Why have they hired Bruce Arena to replace him?
Multiple outlets reported earlier on Tuesday that a deal between Arena and U.S. Soccer was done, and now the USSF themselves have confirmed that the hiring has been made official.
The now-former LA Galaxy boss has a long history of success, with five MLS Cup trophies, three Supporters’ Shields, and numerous other managerial honors in his trophy cabinet. He also has a stint as the manager of the USMNT in his past, spending eight years in charge from 1998 to 2006. In that time he helped elevate the standing of the USMNT, getting to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002 and winning the Gold Cup twice.
But history isn’t the reason to tab Arena right now. His familiarity with playing in North and Central America, and the rigors of the travel and environments involved, are a huge plus given the tough World Cup qualification road the USMNT are on right now.
Don’t overlook the impact of that travel, or of how knowing how to manage it can help the team. Travelling in CONCACAF isn’t quite the same as travelling in Europe — the flights are longer, the accommodations rougher, and oftentimes the fields they play on are re-purposed cricket pitches or track-and-field venues. Knowing how to manage the team through those kinds of travels — from time management, training adjustments, different preparations, and even on-field tactical adjustments — is absolutely crucial, and something Arena has proved that he knows how to do over and over, for 20 years.
He’s also very familiar with the growing core of MLS players in the USMNT, which would also help make his transition much quicker and easier. Be it managing Gyasi Zardes when he gets back, his long relationship with Omar Gonzalez, or knowing how to coach against players like Matt Besler, DeAndre Yedlin, Jermaine Jones, or Sacha Kljestan will help him make the team more efficient and more effective.
It might even make his teams more fun to watch than Klinsmann’s, since players will be put into positions to succeed rather than shoehorned into roles that don’t suit them. If Arena has one great quality as a manager, it’s that his teams always look like they have a great understanding of what they’re supposed to be doing within their tactical system. For all of Klinsmann’s positive qualities, this was clearly his biggest shortcoming.
Arena is also more likely to make good use of a few MLS players who haven’t gotten good looks in the USMNT but could be huge assets to the team, like Bill Hamid, Darlington Nagbe, Wil Trapp, or Galaxy star Sebastian Lletget.
Plus, those two Gold Cup wins and the World Cup quarterfinal berth in Arena’s past are more than Klinsmann can claim to have done with the USMNT. That’s not nothing.
Arena might not be an exciting, sexy, inspiring hire for the USMNT to make. There’s more attractive names out there for sure, but what he does bring are a lot of necessary qualities that the USMNT is searching for. He can steady the ship, and with their qualification efforts looking a little desperate, Bruce Arena might be exactly what the United States national team needs right now.