Bruce Arena has proved to be the most successful soccer manager in the sport’s history in the U.S.
But he is not the right man to lead the U.S. men’s national team right now.
The team was dragged intentionally into a rut by Jurgen Klinsmann. The same core of players were picked for almost every game, though they often had no idea how they would be used and were often played incorrectly.
But what has become evident is that combination of players — Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Chris Wondolowski, Timothy Chandler, etc. — are simply not good enough together to take the U.S. to the next level in soccer, which is a semifinal of the next World Cup in Russia. They aren’t even good enough to dominate what is arguably the second-easiest region in world soccer.
It doesn’t mean they aren’t talented. But they don’t work well together. As evidence, look at the Gold Cup, the Hex or any number of games in which underwhelming performances were notched.
That is why Arena isn’t the right man to lead the national team right now. He knows most of these players from their time in MLS. He is too familiar.
A new eye needs to be hired, one who won’t pick the same players and doesn’t have any prejudices toward any leagues. Though Arena’s tactics and formations almost certainly will be easier to understand and execute than Klinsmann’s crayons-on-the-refrigerator approach, I believe Arena will continue to call in many of the same players as his predecessor.
It has become clear what that group of players is capable of: good, but not good enough. It has become clear that they won’t advance the U.S. in the sport any more than their predecessors, despite the millions to billions of dollars that have been spent growing the game and improving the coaching and players in the country.
A new eye is needed, one who will ignore the names on the back of the jerseys and will simply watch the tape with an objective eye.
It is, after all, about picking the best team. The best team typically has the best chemistry. It’s no coincidence that Spain’s rise was partially fueled by the fact that most of its players came from three club teams. They knew each other. The transition from club to country was mostly seamless. It’s been true of Italy and Germany. Portugal winning the Euros was a bit of an outlier.
To that end, it would be refreshing for Arena to consider picking groups of players from MLS who are performing well together for their club teams. Three of the back four on Dallas are U.S. nationals. Dallas had one of the best defenses in the league last season.
Why not top that with part of the midfield from the Red Bulls?
There are obviously certain positions in which talent should trump team: DeAndre Yedlin, Fabian Johnson and Christian Pulisic obviously come to mind.
I understand the arguments that someone who knows the players is needed to navigate the Hex and ensure that the U.S. qualifies for Russia. Starting 0-2 isn’t the disaster that it seems. The region is weak and the U.S. talent pool should be talented enough that the U.S. will advance through with Arena, or someone new, at the helm.
But a new approach is needed for the long-term good of the team and the sport in the country. I’m aware that was kind of the argument for dumping Bob Bradley and hiring Klinsmann, who seemed to have sold U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati a bill of goods.
Who is the right candidate is the obvious question.
I tweeted this last week after Klinsmann’s bizarre 3-5-2 formation against Mexico was followed by capitulation in Costa Rica, but why not at least call Sir Alex Ferguson. What does Gulati have to lose?
Ferguson is ruthless with personnel, as many of his ex-players can say, and brilliant with tactics. If he could right the USMNT ship and get it to Russia and deep into the tournament, the genius that the rest of the world knows would be fully appreciated in the U.S. If he can’t, well, there likely isn’t anyone else who can, either.