Bruce Arena sat in a Sun Life Stadium suite Tuesday night, looking mighty happy with his FIU soccer coach son Kenny at his side, his 13-month-old grandson, Wayde, on his lap, and his Los Angeles Galaxy preparing to play A.C. Milan for third place in the International Champions Cup on Wednesday night.
The former U.S. national team coach is very comfortable in Miami, especially now that his son is coaching here. He brought the U.S. team here for training camps before the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, and has many friends in the area — including University of Miami basketball coach Jim Larrañaga, whom he met at the University of Virginia and reconnected with when Kenny Arena was an assistant at George Mason.
The elder Arena is convinced Major League Soccer could thrive in Miami, especially if David Beckham is the owner. Arena was Beckham’s coach for five years with the Galaxy. He has seen the recently retired British icon operate up close.
“I strongly encourage people here to get behind David Beckham, because I’ve never been around a more impressive person,” Arena said. “He’s the real deal. He can deliver. I’ve seen him deliver. His charisma, personality, drive. He’s got it all — and the respect his name carries. I think David Beckham would be the person to rejuvenate this marketplace for professional soccer. That’s special having him involved, and this city has evolved so much as a soccer market since the days of the Fusion [the MLS team in Fort Lauderdale from 1998 to 2002].”
Last week’s inaugural Champions Cup drew 38,513 to Sun Life Stadium for Tuesday’s matches — Inter Milan vs. Juventus and Everton vs. Valencia – and a near-record 67,273 for Wednesday’s championship match between Real Madrid and Chelsea, preceded by the Galaxy-Milan game. The two-day total of 105,786 and electricity in the building surely was noted by MLS officials, although passion for international soccer doesn’t necessarily translate to passion for the domestic league.
Arena also pointed out that Univision and BeInSport USA, which both offer extensive international soccer coverage, have major studios in Miami.
“It makes sense for Miami to have a team, and David Beckham is the guy to do it right,” Arena said.
Kenny Arena, 32, who took over the FIU program last year, is rooting hard for a local MLS team. He said it will help raise the caliber of recruits in the area. Beckham toured FIU Stadium and Sun Life Stadium as possible venues for an MLS expansion team, though it is more likely the team would play in a privately-funded 25,000-seat stadium.
“I was in high school when MLS started, and now, I’m recruiting kids born the year MLS started — 1996 — so their whole life there was a pro league in this country,” Kenny Arena said. “For me, it was really late in my soccer development to see pro games on a weekly basis. If there was a team in Miami, local kids would get to see the game up close at the highest level in our country. It is much more inspiring to that have intimate experience. Fans that will see [Cristiano] Ronaldo do a step-over at Sun Life will remember that more than seeing it on TV 100 times.”
The father and son talked about the special bond they share being in the same profession. Kenny admitted with a sheepish smile that his surname certainly comes in handy on the recruiting trail. Bruce said he keeps close tabs on the FIU program. Kenny watches just about every Galaxy game on TV or on his computer.
“Sometimes I keep my wife up late at night because I’m watching the Galaxy on my laptop in bed,” Kenny Arena said.
The younger Arena has been around coaches his entire life — not only his father, but successful coaches in other sports.
“Kenny grew up around guys like Terry Holland at [the University of Virginia], and we’d go to [Atlantic Coast Conference] basketball games and see Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano — those guys helped mold his view of the coaching profession,’’ Bruce Arena said. “He learned early on that coaching is not all about Xs and Os, it’s about so much more than that. And he understands that.”
A big part of the job is managing personnel, pushing the right buttons, motivating athletes different ways. Bruce Arena, for example, had to work through Landon Donovan’s self-imposed four-month sabbatical last winter. No coach likes his players to take extended periods of time off, but in this case, Arena said, “there was an understood concession” that the U.S. star needed a break.
“Around Gold Cup time, he was getting back to his old self, in a good rhythm, enjoying himself again,” Arena said.
“He is more lively than I have seen him in a number of years, and that translates on the field.”
Kenny Arena said he tries to emulate his father, and hopes to someday be as successful.
“It is very clear that I am at the very beginning of my career, and I have a very, very long way to go before I get close to what my dad has done,’’ Arena said. “I’m not on his stage yet.’’
FIU opens its 2013 season at Loyola-Marymount on Aug. 30. Bruce Arena, the proud pop, will be there.Soccer on radio: