Saturday, July 15, 2006

Empty Arena
By Zach

I'm probably not the right guy here at Sportszilla to give you the ins and outs of USA Soccer, but the departure of Bruce Arena, however predictable it was, gives me a chance to give my thoughts on the US's poor showing in the World Cup.

Arena was, in my mind, the single biggest culprit in what was a very disappointing showing in Germany. His decision to stick with the aging Eddie Pope cost the US goals in each of their first two matches, and a similar affection for Claudio Reyna in the middle cost them a goal in the Ghana match. Beyond that, he played an aesthetically bland and unsuccessful style, sticking with the overly-conservative 4-5-1 formation and keeping guys like Eddie Johnson and DeMarcus Beasley either tethered to the bench or in the wrong position. Unlike in previous years (1998, for example) where the US did poorly, the problem wasn't a lack of talent: while the US may not have been the most talented squad, they certainly had enough to manage more than one measly point.

The composition of the squad will certainly be quite different in 2010, and who knows how a different coach will approach things. I'd love to see the US try and play a more wide-open, free-flowing style of soccer to exploit the athleticism and ball-handling of some of their top players, but that will in part be dictated by how much growth guys like Beasley, Landon Donovan, and Freddy Adu undergo in the next four years. In any case, 2010 will be in some ways an interesting test for US Soccer: the matches won't be in Europe, so they'll have a fighting chance; on the other hand, it's uncertain if the American fanbase will stay devoted after such a poor showing.

Whomever they bring in to coach, and however the team does in 2010, it's clear that Arena's tenure was on the whole a good one for the US. He resurrected the team after the debacle of 1998, capitalized on a favorable draw to get the team into the quarters in 2002, and has certainly brought the team to a new level of reknown both nationally and internationally. He's leaving US Soccer in much better shape then he found it, but it now becomes the job of someone else (Juergen Klinsmann, anyone?) to get the team over the hump and turn them into true World Cup contenders.


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