Okay, I'll admit it. I was wrong about Bruce Arena. It might not have always looked pretty, but the United States Men’s National Team are Gold Cup champions! The man responsible for the success of this Gold Cup wasn’t Clint Dempsey or even Jordan Morris; it was the man at the helm of the ship, Bruce Arena.
When Bruce Arena was hired after the debacle that happened at the beginning of World Cup qualifying, there were many skeptics. I was one of those skeptics that didn’t want Bruce near our national team again. The 2006 World Cup statistics were thrown around, some controversial comments appeared through the media, and I was horrified at what was to come for the United States. There was a legitimate fear that the USA wouldn’t qualify to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Not qualifying would have set the country back decades in terms of where the country is in supporting the beautiful game, and morale would have been demolished like Kyrie and Lebron’s bromance. Bruce Arena became captain of a ship that was entering the Bermuda Triangle in a thunderstorm.
“Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time,” General Patton famously quoted during his famous speech to the 3rd Army. This simple principle has extended to soccer where Americans struggle to support, or understand even, why America isn’t winning. We win every other international sport, so why not soccer? Bruce Arena brings that winning American mentality to the squad. Bruce is a serial winner. He won five National Championships with Virginia, he won several MLS titles with DC United and then LA Galaxy, and he took the United States to the furthest they had ever been in the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea. He takes that mentality wherever he goes, and you can see how it’s rubbing off on the players. There were a few matches in that Gold Cup tournament that the United States didn’t play particularly well in, but they would win. Bruce Arena’s unbeaten record at the start of this second term is nothing to scoff at.
One of the biggest things for me is the team chemistry that I’m seeing within the team. Watching the players whether it’s on the winning podium, on the instagram story when they’re on their prematch walk, or even when I travelled to their training at the beginning of the tournament in Nashville, it’s clear how much the team was gelling together. During one training session I saw, Kellyn Acosta chose the wrong way on a reflex test and therefore had to do 10 pushups, which prompted Dom Dwyer and another player laughing and pushing around the youngster. Training ground fun is always part of the camps, but every little bit helps. Chemistry and camp morale is intangible, but when you see it, you know it. The way that Bruce, Paul Arriola, and Matt Besler talked about the team told the whole tale.
On an individual level, Bruce is doing everything right to get the most out of every single one of the players at his disposal. Darlington Nagbe has thrived under Arena lately. While not lighting up the stat sheet, Nagbe’s influence has been key to the creativity of the United States. Dom Dwyer has hit the ground running under Arena, which will no doubt propel him further forward as well. Jordan Morris has found his confidence again after an extreme dry spell, and Jozy Altidore has been turning into “David Beckham” according to Landon Donovan. Other players like Gyasi Zardes, Kellyn Rowe, and Omar Gonzalez have also seen improvement under Arena’s watchful eye. He knows how to manage players, and it’s relieving to see how the players are responding to him in training.
World Cup Qualifying isn’t over yet, and our spot isn’t solidified, but we sure are in a way better spot than where we were in November. As a former Arena doubter, I’ve had a change of heart. I'll admit that I was wrong. I can see why the players love him, and how he can take this team further forward, even if he is just a short-term solution for the United States.