Arena out as U.S. national coach at end of year

July 14, 2006
By Wayne Drehs
ESPN.com

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati announced Friday that U.S. Men's National Team coach Bruce Arena, the longest-tenured national team coach at the World Cup, will not return to the U.S. team after his contract expires at the end of the year.

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Arena met with Gulati and U.S. Soccer Secretary General Dan Flynn for five hours Thursday at LaGuardia Airport, and a decision was finalized Friday morning.

Gulati said a worldwide search to find a replacement will begin immediately. Speculation will center on Jürgen Klinsmann, who coached the German national team to a third-place finish in this month's World Cup. Klinsmann, who lives in California with his family, stepped down from the German post earlier this week, saying he felt, "burnt out."

"Bruce expressed a desire to continue," Gulati said. "I'm sure he'll have opportunities. He had a great opportunity before the World Cup, but he didn't want to be distracted. No doubt there will be multiple opportunities in the soccer world in the U.S. and outside if he wants them."

Arena, hired in October 1998, will leave the national team as the winningest coach in its history. He coached the 2002 U.S. men's team to the quarterfinals of the World Cup, the Americans' best World Cup showing more than 70 years. But Arena's squad disappointed at this year's World Cup, failing to advance out of group play as it lost to the Czech Republic and Ghana and tied eventual World Cup champion Italy.

"It comes down primarily to eight years being a long period," Gulati said. "I'm not going to say we felt the need to change directions. The direction Bruce has set is very, very positive. We didn't get the results we wanted in the World Cup, but Bruce didn't become a bad coach in three games with a few bad bounces of the ball."

"It's tough to see a good coach leave, especially with what he's done for the sport of soccer in this country," Clint Dempsey, the only U.S. player to score during the 2006 World Cup, told ESPN.com. "The way I see it, if it's not broke, don't fix it. But I guess the federation was disappointed in our performance in the last World Cup and decided to go in another direction."

Other / Ron Scheffler/US PRESSWIREAfter eight years, it was time for Bruce Arena and U.S. Soccer to go in different directions.

Dempsey felt it was unfair for critics to solely blame Arena for the Americans' World Cup disappointment, which included a 3-0 tournament-opening loss to the Czech Republic. After tying Italy 1-1, the Americans could have advanced out of group play with a victory over Ghana, but they lost that match 2-1 after a controversial penalty call late in the first half.

"You can't put that entirely on a coach," Dempsey said. "It's on the players, as well. We didn't do what we needed to do. He put us in the position to be successful, and we came up short. Both parties should be blamed, but that's not the way it works. And it's tough that he gets the blame."

Arena compiled a 71-30-29 record during his eight years, including records for consecutive games unbeaten (16 in 2003-04) and most wins in a calendar year (13 in 2005). In addition to his team's performances in the World Cup, he coached the U.S. team to two CONCACAF Gold Cup championships (in 2002 and 2005) and a third-place finish at the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup.

His 71 victories and .658 winning percentage are U.S. soccer records.

"I would like to thank the players, coaches and staff who have been with the program over the last eight years," Arena said via a statement. "Their tireless effort has helped transform the national team program into something we can all be proud of, and I am extremely grateful for their commitment. I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience, and I would like to thank U.S. Soccer for the opportunity and their support throughout my tenure. I am proud of how far the organization has come over the last eight years, and I am extremely optimistic about the future of the sport in our country."

On Friday, Gulati said he hadn't talked to Klinsmann in six months but acknowledged the former German star could be a potential candidate.

"He's a very inquisitive guy," Gulati said. "He comes to coaches conventions; he'll ask Anson Dorrance how he motivated his North Carolina teams. All those sorts of things. He's intelligent, multilingual. He has a lot of positive qualities."

Arena, on the other hand, said he plans to take some time off before weighing future coaching opportunities here and abroad.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.