Arena uncertain about future after U.S. Cup ouster
HAMBURG, Germany (AP) -- Bruce Arena sounded more like a man ready to say goodbye than a coach eager to sign on for another World Cup.
He was noncommittal after the Americans were knocked out in the 2002 quarterfinals, too, though he said then he was open to staying on and eventually agreed to a new four-year contract. On Friday, he spoke in the past tense and showed little eagerness to stay.
"Four years ago I was completely burnt out after that whole thing. I was a zombie for about two weeks," he said. "Right now, I'm just an idiot."
There was no glory for the Americans this year. After the United States was eliminated in the first round with a 2-1 loss to Ghana on Thursday, Arena spoke with U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati, and the pair said it was far too early to make any decisions on whether Arena should stick around -- or even wants to remain -- for four more years.
As security officials dismantled the metal detectors in the lobby of the U.S. team hotel, Arena talked of exploring options. He said he was offered a "European job opportunity" that was no longer available.
"I can go either way," he said, looking relaxed in jeans instead of his team clothes. "There are certain things I would want. I'm sure there are certain things they would want."
His hesitation, he said, wasn't over whether the U.S. could make the next World Cup, to be played in 2010 in South Africa.
"I have no doubts in mind I can qualify a team," he said, "but that to me is not the whole job."
Arena took over after the United States finished last at the 1998 tournament in France.
Blunt and forceful, he has been soccer's gadfly in America, at times angering his U.S. Soccer bosses and Major League Soccer.
"Every job I've been, when I've left them, I've left a better team and organization," said Arena, who led the University of Virginia to five NCAA titles and D.C. United to a pair of MLS championships. "Certainly there have been great moments, from the World Cups to winning Gold Cups to winning big games along the way. It's all been, I think, milestones. So, yeah, there's a lot I'm proud of."
If he leaves, Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann might top the list of potential candidates -- Klinsmann lives in Southern California, and the U.S. job would shorten his commute.
Arena was hired by Bob Contiguglia, whose second four-year term as U.S. Soccer president ended in March. At Gulati's first news conference after taking over, he said Arena's fate wouldn't be solely decided by the United States' performance in a tough World Cup group.
With a 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic, a 1-1 tie with Italy and the defeat against Ghana, the United States finished tied for 25th with Iran in the 32-nation field.
"He's done an extraordinary job," Gulati said back in March, before adding, "No one is irreplaceable."
Arena forced U.S. Soccer to grow up, insisting on a larger staff, charter flights and a more professional attitude. He claimed that when he became coach "there wasn't the leadership in the program that was necessary for us to be successful" and said a lack of organizational commitment in 1998 "was part of the failure."
At his side was Claudio Reyna, who announced his retirement from the national team after 12 years of international play, the last eight as team captain. Reyna played for Arena at Virginia before turning pro, and the pair often analyze matches with the same expressions, a sign of their closeness.
"There's been no better coach in the history of U.S. soccer," Reyna said. "You could see immediately from the first day that he took over -- he set the tone and completely changed everything, really, the attitude of the players and the country and the sport, to really be winners."
Yet the Americans still crashed out in the first round, just as they did in 1998. They scored only twice this time -- one an own-goal, at that -- and had just four shots on goal total. Veterans made critical errors, several young players showed their inexperience. The result was a quick trip home.
"On the whole, we weren't good enough throughout the tournament," Arena said. "We were punished for all our mistakes."
If Arena is to stay on, he wants better "mechanisms" for success. In the short-term, the United States needs to play in better competitions to prepare for the World Cup, such as Copa America, South America's championship. U.S. Soccer has been reluctant, because it would take stars away from MLS for even longer periods and shorten the already slight vacation time European-based players have between their lengthy seasons. In the long-term, he wants MLS to assume the role of player development.
Following Thursday's loss, Arena directed much of the blame for America's failure on the referee. On Friday, Arena said the officiating shouldn't have made a difference.
"A real good team overcomes all those circumstances," he said. "So out of this World Cup, could we say we're a real good team? No, we weren't good enough."
Arena also expects Landon Donovan to bounce back from his poor World Cup. Donovan finished the tournament with just one shot, none on net, and showed little enthusiasm for challenging defenders.
"He's still 24 years old," Arena said. "Don't write him off at this level."