When the U.S. Men’s National Team needed fixing, U.S. Soccer officials turned to the best repair man they know.
Bruce Arena is an American soccer legend and member of the Hall of Fame. And his status may be taking another step up, given his latest effort with the men’s side.
Following June’s back-to-back 2018 World Cup qualifying matches in which the Americans took four points from six with a home win over Trinidad & Tobago and a well-earned point at the Azteca Stadium against rival Mexico, a spot for Arena’s men in the 2018 World Cup seems more likely.
While the official coronation for Arena 2.0 with the USMNT may come this fall if and when the red, white and blue punch their ticket for Russia, he has proven to be a steadying influence since his return a head coach in November.
For those needing a refresh, Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann who was fired following U.S. losses in World Cup qualifying matches at home to Mexico (2-1) and at Costa Rica (4-0) just days apart in November. It was no surprise Klinsmann was fired and probably less of a surprise to see Arena return to the team he led from 1998 through 2006.
While time will continue to be spent talking about the tactical differences between Arena and Klinsmann, perhaps most noticeable and impactful is the team’s demeanor.
From an outsider’s viewpoint, it appeared as if there was tension between the players and Klinsmann and some outright confusion about the former head coach’s tactics. But now under Arena, the players seem far more relaxed and the on-field result has been a team that appears more cohesive.
In addition, the head coach has done a solid job of meshing the on-field talent that today is a mix of MLS-based and European league players. The likes of Christian Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin, and Darlington Nagbe continue to inject this team with speed and a youthful exuberance. Seeing them on the pitch more will be a good thing for the U.S., even if it comes at the expense of playing time for the likes of Clint Dempsey.
The defense has also improved and the pairing of Geoff Cameron and John Brooks along with the addition of others including Matt Hedges could further bolster a backline that had been problematic in recent years.
The one area that will need to be addressed is goalkeeping. Tim Howard is no longer a kid, and while Brad Guzan is a solid netminder, the likes of a Sean Johnson and Jesse Gonzalez gives Arena some younger options going forward.
It will be interesting to see how Arena uses this summer’s Gold Cup tournament to prep the U.S. for its final World Cup qualifiers this fall, and what players get an opportunity to earn the trust of the head coach.
Whatever the result in the Gold Cup, U.S. soccer fans are feeling better about the team and the possibilities of another trip to a World Cup.