BRUUCE! Or is it BOOO!!!???

Posted By Peter Nolan on May 14, 2019


Or is that BOOOO!!!???

Today’s announcement that the New England Revolution hired Bruce Arena to take over as both coach and Sporting Director of the moribund MLS originals has drawn both responses.

And despite Arena’s impressive resume, that split reaction to his hiring by a team desperate for, well, everything, comes as no surprise.

Bruce Arena: The Good!

So, let’s take a look at that resume. Arena has won more MLS Cup titles (5) than anyone. He captured the first two in MLS history with DC United (1996 and 1997) and three with the L.A. Galaxy (2011, 2012, 2014).

The reason for the gap in titles is that Arena was coaching the USMNT, advancing the U.S. to the quarterfinals in Japan/South Korea, where a handball on the goalline prevented the U.S. from potentially taking mighty Germany to extra time. That result remains the best for the Americans at the World Cup.

Arena leads MLS coaches in Cup titles, Coach of the Year awards (3), Supporters Shields (tied with Sigi Schmid with 3), and is second in wins with 202 to the late Schmid’s 240.

Bruce Arena: The Bad?

So, that accounts for the positive BRUUCE! reaction. But why would anyone BOOOO! hiring the man behind all of those accomplishments?

The obvious answer:

Trinidad and Tobago, October 10, 2016 (aka The Day that Will Live in US Soccer Infamy)

Too much? Ok, let’s put it another way. The night that the heavily favored Americans lost 2-1 to already eliminated Trinidad and Tobago and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

The aftershocks of that loss are still being felt by players like Michael Bradley (often booed every time he touches the ball at away games–especially in Atlanta) and Jozy Altidore, who fans have raked over the coal to point where it seems some may never forgive them for that night in Couva.

As the coach of the team that failed, Arena likewise has earned the enmity of some who simply will not forgive or forget.

Then there is Arena’s attitude. Has he been humbled at all by missing out on the World Cup? On the one hand, the BRUUCE! hand, Arena took responsibility in the aftermath and quickly resigned.

On the other, the BOOOO! hand, there is Arena’s book, “What’s wrong with Us,” (clever). From his book:

“If I had it all to do over again, I’d take the job again in a second, and even though people don’t want to hear it, I don’t think that, given the limited time I had, there is much I would do differently, either.”

And there is some unease about his final days with Los Angeles. Having won MLS Cup in 2014, L.A. finished fifth in 2015, third in 2016 when Arena left late in the MLS season to replace Jurgen Klinsmann on that failed World Cup rescue mission.

Then with Arena gone the wheels fell off for the Galaxy who finished last in the Western Conference. Arena wasn’t there, so was he absolved? Or did Arena deserve criticism for leaving the cupboard bare for his successor?

Had Arena lost interest?

So which is it for you? BRUUCE! Or BOOOO!

Personally, I was all for bringing Arena back to replace Klinsmann at the time. Klinsmann’s inscrutable act had long worn thin by then and it was clear his players were ready for something different. Arena’s plainspoken (if dipped in sarcasm) style, combined with his deep experience in all things CONCACAF seemed just the ticket to get the U.S. to Russia.

That it didn’t work, that Arena couldn’t coax even one more point out of the USMNT against a group that sent Panama (Panama!!!) to the Word Cup is troubling. Did anyone see Panama at the World Cup and not find themselves screaming- we couldn’t beat out those guys?!

But I digress. Is Arena the right choice to lead New England out of the wilderness? Maybe. As Sporting Director he will be his own boss. If Tom Brady is not playing, the owners don’t care. Maybe that’s good. Especially if they give Arena the Kraft family checkbook.

And Arena is surely a huge upgrade over fired General Manager Mike Burns and first-time coach Brad Friedel. At 67, Arena will have to show he has the energy for one last big project. I believe that his ego is bringing him back for one more tilt at the windmill, one final chance to burnish his reputation before he walks away, and that might be the best motivation of all.

So for me, it’s not BRUUCE! But it’s not BOOOO! either.
I guess it’s just Bruce.

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Peter Nolan

Peter Nolan has been on the soccer beat for many years now, covering the United States Men's and Women's teams, from the SnowClasico to Azteca and back again. Along with the US national teams, Peter will provide insight into the MLS and NWSL, with a focus on the NY Red Bulls and NYCFC.

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