Bruce Arena believes the United States are ‘getting closer’ to the day when they can realistically challenge for the World Cup.
Arena returned as US coach on Tuesday, leaving the LA Galaxy to reclaim a position he held between 1998 and 2006, during which time he led the States to their best finish at a World Cup in more than 80 years – a quarter-final appearance in 2002 in Japan and South Korea.
The 65-year-old replaces Jurgen Klinsmann, who was dismissed on Monday after World Cup qualifying defeats at the Hexagonal stage to Mexico and Costa Rica.
Those setbacks mean the US face a struggle to reach Russia in two years’ time but Arena is confident the country will be challenging for the top prize before long.
“The US squad has made great progress (since his last stint as manager),” Arena said. “We have a really great group of players. Winning World Cups is difficult, as you know, there are only a few countries that have won, but I think the United States is getting closer to that day.”
Asked what he has learned since he left the post 10 years ago, he added: “A lot. I’ve had 10 years’ experience on the sidelines at club level, where I’ve been able to work with some of the most talented players in the world.
“I’ve understood better how they work and how to grow a team. I’m hopeful that the experiences I’ve had will benefit the program.”
Arena’s return has received a mixed reaction from US fans but Arena insists he is a different coach now, a point emphasised by his willingness to pick players born outside the US.
“I believe anyone who has a passport in the Unites States is eligible for team selection,” he said. “I embrace (that) all players are eligible to play. I just want to make sure their heart is in the right place. I have great passion for this national team, and I expect the same from our players.
“I have a lot of confidence in our domestic pool as well as MLS. I believe the pool of players since I left the national team has expanded.”
US Soccer president Sunil Gulati made clear his stance that Arena is not here as a memory of his former tenure, but as a new manager ready to help this squad achieve its goals.
“I don’t view this as Bruce 2, but (instead) Bruce 2.0,” Gulati said. “I think he has far more experience now than his first go-round, and he has proven and re-proven many times in all levels of the game in the Unites States that he’s a successful manager.”
Gulati said he targeted Arena as soon as he knew Klinsmann was on his way out.
“Bruce and I talk pretty regularly,” Gulati said. “We’re friends, we work in the sport, and he coached our national team. There were a number of active coaches that I talked to along the way, talking about recent results. Those discussions happen all the time.
“Talks about coaching the national team started over the last 48 hours. We met with Bruce on (Monday) afternoon and came to an agreement (Tuesday) morning.”
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