U.S. Soccer turned to a familiar face to replace fired national coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Bruce Arena, who guided the U.S. team to its best World Cup finish in eight decades with a quarterfinal appearance in 2002, was rehired on Tuesday. His contract runs through the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The most successful coach in U.S. history, Arena led the team from 1998 to 2006 and won 71 games. He also won five MLS Cups with D.C. United and the L.A. Galaxy.
He takes over a U.S. team still stinging after back-to-back World Cup qualifying losses to Mexico and Costa Rica. The 4-0 loss at Costa Rica was particularly disheartening because the players appeared unmotivated and it dropped the Americans to last place in the six-team group with eight games remaining.
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"When we considered the possible candidates to take over the Men's National Team at this time, Bruce was at the top of the list," said U.S. Soccer president Gulati. "His experience at the international level, understanding of the requirements needed to lead a team through World Cup qualifying, and proven ability to build a successful team were all aspects we felt were vital for the next coach. We all know Bruce will be fully committed to preparing the players for the next eight qualifying games and earning a berth to an eighth-straight FIFA World Cup in Russia."
Arena, 65, is seen as a natural choice for the job. He has done it before, is very familiar with the U.S. talent pool, and can step in right away. He said he is better prepared for the job after 10 years in MLS, that he can “see things more quickly and clearly” than before.
Never one to overcoach or tinker unnecessarily, Arena doesn’t expect wholesale changes in the roster.
"I’m thrilled to be back with the national team," said Arena. "It’s the greatest honor for a coach in our country...I'm looking forward to working with a strong group of players that understand the challenge in front of them after the first two games of the Hex. Working as a team, I'm confident that we'll take the right steps forward to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia."
In 2002, under Arena, the U.S. team shocked Portugal in the World Cup opener and beat Mexico 2-0 in the Round of 16. Arena has spent the past eight years as coach and general manager of the Galaxy, winning three league titles – 2011, 2012, 2014.
Klinsmann was hired with high expectations. The German legend was expected to take American soccer to the next level. He had mixed results.
At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the U.S. team advanced from the “Group of Death” before losing in extra time to Belgium in the Round of 16. But he alienated some U.S. Soccer fans and insiders by leaving star Landon Donovan home. He also rubbed some the wrong way with his criticism of MLS, and for bypassing some U.S.-born players in favor of German-born dual nationals.
In a 2013 interview with ESPN The Magazine, Arena said: “Players on the national team should be -- and this is my own feeling -- they should be Americans. If they're all born in other countries, I don't think we can say we are making progress.”
Tuesday, Arena backtracked on those comments: “If I made those comments, I don’t believe that’s my attitude. As a starting point with dual nationals, one of my favorite players in my previous eight years was Earnie Stewart. I embrace all players that are eligible to play. I just want to make sure their hearts are in the right place.”
Poor results over the past 18 months led U.S. Soccer to make a change.
The Americans lost to Jamaica in the semifinals of the 2015 Gold Cup, lost a semifinal World Cup qualifying match to Guatemala, and finished fourth in the 2016 Copa America Centenario.
“Right now U.S. Soccer is in a panic stage because we’ve lost the first two games in the Hex,” said former U.S. defender Marcelo Balboa, now with Sirius XM FC. “Bruce Arena is going to be the (Mexican coach) Miguel Herrera of us. What he did for Mexico, Bruce Arena is going to do that for us. He’s the guy who has been there, who has gone through qualifying, a guy that can settle things down.”