U.S. Men's National Team
Arena: "We Need to Build Chemistry With This Team"
November 23, 2016
BRUCE ARENA addressed the media Tuesday, shortly after U.S. Soccer officially announced that he was taking over the U.S. men's national team. The Brooklyn native conveyed a sense of quiet reassurance that the team was talented enough to advance to the 2018 World CUp and that while there is a need for urgency, there is no reason for panic.
The U.S. lost the first two games of the Hexagonal round of qualifying and now finds itself facing a must-win game against Honduras on March 24. The only time the team will assemble between now and then will be this January, in the federation's annual winter training camp.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati opened the conference call saying that the decision to fire Jurgen Klinsmann on Monday was made while considering a longer period of time beyond the start of the Hexagonal. But the tone was that a new direction for the team was needed immediately to give the team the best chance to qualify for Russia.
Arena, 65, offered solutions that were pretty simple but yet had been absent from the team in recent years under Klinsmann. The concepts of teamwork and chemistry were mentioned frequently.
“We need to build a chemistry with this team and have a common goal and really work on a team concept,” Arena said. “I really believe individually and positionally we have good players, and we’ve just got to get them working together as a team. There are no real secrets in how you build good teams. It takes a lot of hard work, it takes communication, it takes discipline and it takes some talent.
"I think we have enough talent to build a good team and end up in Russia in 2018. It’s going to take a little time, a little bit of patience and a lot of hard work.”
Another important item that Arena stressed is that he is willing to use all aspects of the player pool, including dual-national players who were both born and raised abroad. This includes John Brooks, Fabian Johnson, and Aron Johannsson, among many others.
On Wednesday, he offered a strategic tidbit on SiriusXM radio: "There's enough young attacking talent to be aggressive going forward. That young energy will help our pressing game as well."
Another benefit of hiring of Arena is that he is familiar with the entire player pool at the moment and has a good understanding of what he wants to do. He also said that staffing decisions and discussions should be done within two-to-three weeks.
“Although I’m very familiar with the pool of players, the most important thing right now is to have conversations and meetings with as many players as I can before we start January camp,” Arena said. “I want to touch base with our entire pool of players by the time we get together again in March. I think they need to know who I am and what my thoughts are, where they fit into the program, and the challenge that we have together as a team.
"We will develop an identity over the next couple of months and hopefully feel comfortable working with each other and understanding that the goal we have is important for the entire group. We will work together in the next couple of months to build our team to be the best team we can be and be ready for qualifying when March 24th comes around.”
Arena also indicated that he does not see making drastic changes to the player pool that featured under Klinsmann, but he did allow that there will be some new faces. When asked about Jonathan Bornstein and Benny Feilhaber, Arena said they were two players who could get a look.
Should the U.S. acquire sufficient points to move into a comfortable position, the Gold Cup this summer could be an important stage to further explore the player pool.
One reason why the Federation turned to Arena is that he had a successful tenure as the national team head coach from 1998-2006. When he was first hired, the team was reeling from a disastrous World Cup but Arena quickly set a new tone and returned the team to winning soccer. Arena is familiar with the World Cup qualifying stage and the pressure these games entail.
After toiling in Major League Soccer over the last decade, Arena believes he is a better coach and more prepared than when he was during his first tenure with the national team. While at the Galaxy, he has coached players like Robbie Keane, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, and Americans such as Landon Donovan, Gyasi Zardes, and Omar Gonzalez.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Arena insisted. “I’ve had 10 years on the field at the club level and I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented players in the world and understanding how they work and how to build a team. And I’ve continued to grow on the tactical side, continued to grow in learning how to deal with players, and learning how to plan and playing away and playing in big matches.
“I’m hopeful that the experiences that I have are going to benefit the program,” he continued. “You know, one of the things you learn from experience is you see things a lot clearer and a lot quicker than you did previously, and the game has slowed down a bit where I can see as a coach, and in my position, how things are happening on the field. I’m better at identifying the strengths and weaknesses of players and I think I’m better at how you build a team.
"Certainly, this time around it’s going to be a great challenge. I’m excited about it and, hopefully, all my experiences help us quickly get this team turned around and ready for qualifying.”
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