Thursday, June 22, 2006

On Second Thought, An Ode To Bruce Arena

At the TNR World Cup Blog, Brian Sinkoff has a decent rundown of the mistakes U.S. coach Bruce Arena made in this World Cup. High/Lowlights:
  • Overly negative formation: With different players (all-action goal scoring central mid-fielders such as those of England, Ghana or the Czechs), 4-5-1 can be a useful attacking formation, but the way we played it, it was simply defensive, with way too much reliance on long balls aimed at McBride, and not enough players to support and pick up the second ball.
  • Relatedly, an overly negative attitude: Oddly, the only time we got forward in numbers from the run of play was in the second half of the Italy game.
  • Poor use of the squad: Three of our most dangerous forwards (Ching, Wolff, Johnson) played little or no part. Beasley played almost the whole tourney, with his only, and I mean only contribution of note being the pass to Dempsey for the goal.
  • Poor squad selection: Why even bring John O'Brien if he can't play? Admittedly, he might well be our best player, but if you can't use him? (Sinkoff would have liked to see Taylor Twellman. Can't say that I disagree.)
  • And worst of all, the team was not fired up - this is the World Freaking Cup! Get after it. And that kind of lapse is almost certainly attributable to the coaching.

All that said, I can't bring myself to kill Arena. Think of where we were when he took over. We finished last in 1998 (and, in reality, were even worse than that indicates, the scorelines in all 3 games probably should have been more lopsided.) And that was with an aging team that started a German (Thomas Dooley) and Frenchman (David Regis) and a Dutchman (Ernie Stewart). And even before that, though we made the second round in 1994, we were almost comically bad, with Tab Ramos being the one player who didn't totally blow. Further, we advanced by finishing third in our group (there were only 24 teams in the '94 cup, making it NHL playoffs easy to get to the knockout stages.) Aside from goalkeepers, I think there was one U.S. player having success in Europe at the time of the '98 cup.

Now, I'm not even sure I can name all those currently playing regulary off the top of my head. No, the increase in the overall talent level of the team is not solely due to Arena, but surely he deserves some credit.

Further, part of the reason why I feel bad about this early exit is I had actual expectations - call 2002 a fluke if you will, but we sucker punched Portugal, survived the Koreans (legitimately terrifying on home soil, just ask Italy) before absolutely mauling Mexico in the second round (a feat we duplicated in qualifying, I might add) and were desperately unlucky to lose to Ze Germans in the QF's. Thus the bar was raised, which is good. The only way we are going to get better is if we have expectations of reaching the next level.

So though it is probably time for the players to hear a new voice, and a man with new ideas (Eric Wynalda, anyone? Hell, you think we couldn't find the jing to make a run at Big Phil Scolari and that he wouldn't whip us into a scary side?) to take charge, let's pause for a moment and give some gratitude and credit were it is due to Mr. Arena.


Al said...

Yes, we've made great strides in the past 8 years. And at the appropriate time, it will be right to honor Bruce for the contributions he made to those strides.

However, now is NOT the time for honoring him. He is 50% responsible for this debacle (the players the other 50%, of course). And he is going to have to deal with the fallout for another couple of years until qualification starts again.

As to the next manager, I've suggested Klinsmann. He seems to have done a pretty good job with a Germany side that most observers thought not as talented. Obviously, he's happy living in SoCal, where our training facility is located. He has international experience at the highest level, both as a player and, now, as a coach. And, most importantly to me after our utterly inept performance this WC, he plays an attacking style, which is exactly what we need. I don't know whether he will be free after this WC is over - maybe if he does well Germany will want him back. But I sort of doubt it. We should go after him.

bill said...

Next coach: I'm ok letting Wynalda have a shot. Otherwise, Al beat me to my first suggestion: Jurgen Klinsmann.

Arena has done great things for US soccer, can't deny that. So everyone raise a glass as we toast, "The king is dead, long live the king." Seeya.

The problem isn't so much the losing, but how poorly they lost. Defensive and tentative, still has an offense that loses its nerve as it approaches the box. What I thought we need most after 2002, and we didn't get, was an increase in international matches. We're not getting any better playing against concacaf. we need friendlies against the best teams. We should spend the next two years playing the best competition we can find and have many of these games be away. If we can't even beat Mexico in Mexico, why should we think the team could be successful against anyone in Europe. I'd rather see them get their ass handed to them by Brazil or Netherlands, then squeak out a win against Jamaica or Canada.

And FIFA, get some decent f**king refs.