Kenny Arena said the moment he understood what the word “coach” meant, he knew it was his professional destiny.
Arena, whose father, Bruce, is a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame and coached Team USA in the 1996 Olympics and the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, is now getting his first major opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps as FIU’s new men’s soccer coach
“I’m a players’ coach,” said Arena, 31, who is running a college program for the first time in his career. “I’m in tune with what they’re doing well or poorly. Everything I do is to make their lives easier while also challenging them as students, players and people.”
As a player, Arena started 65 games as a University of Virginia midfielder and played three years of Major League Soccer. He started his coaching career at the age of 25 as a volunteer assistant at his alma mater.
He was a full-time assistant at George Mason in 2007 and spent the past four years in the same role at UCLA, where he helped the Bruins win three conference titles and reach the NCAA semifinals in 2011.
Arena, whose father is currently the coach and general manager of the MLS Los Angeles Galaxy, also has experience with that pro organization. He served as the head coach of the 2010-2011 Under-16 L.A. Galaxy Academy Team.
His experiences helped convince FIU to hire him, replacing Munga Eketebi, who was 5-8-4 in his final season with the Panthers and 27-52-9 during his tenure.
Arena said he has watched tape from every FIU game last year and has a good grasp of the talent he has inherited. He has also met with every player on his team on an individual basis and has been busy installing his possession-oriented system.
FIU graduated six players who started a combined total of 75 games last season. Among the players Arena inherits are the team’s top two scorers, Quentin Albrecht from Germany and Colby Burdette of Boca Raton, who each had 12 points during their freshman years.
The top two goalies also return: Eric Reyes and Rodney Greiling. Reyes, a rising junior, made 11 starts and had a 1.36 goals-against average and a .712 saves percentage. Greiling, a rising sophomore, couldn’t quite match those numbers in his six starts with a 2.15 goals-against average and .667 save percentage.
Despite the late start in recruiting due to the timing of his hiring, Arena has already signed his first two players: attacking midfielder Daniel Gonzalez, who scored 51 goals the past two years at Killian; and forward Andrew Mattek, who had 20 goals as a junior at West Boca Raton.
“Florida made this job attractive to me,” Arena said of the state’s talent. “Any area where kids can play outdoors 12 months a year has a developmental advantage over the rest of the country.”
Asked what FIU soccer fans can expect this fall and beyond, Arena spoke confidently.
“I know we will see a big improvement this fall,” he said. “We should be competing on a national level at some point.”