The largest market in MLS has laid a goose egg through 11 years of play in the league. Now, with one year of new ownership under Red Bull and Bruce Arena starting his first full season with the club, New York's club now has a stable atmosphere. Arena was kind enough to sit down with Soccernet to discuss the upcoming MLS season, his views on the return of Clint Mathis, the emergence of Jozy Altidore and Bob Bradley's tenure as interim national team coach.
Bruce Arena: I don't think it's a case of what we will do differently as much as it is simply about a fact that we could get our team on the field and they start getting results. Once they get the confidence to be successful, then the fans start gaining the confidence that we have a team that can compete for a championship. It's all about getting it done on the field -- there are no secrets behind it.
ESPNsoccernet: You're a Brooklyn boy. What does returning to the tri-state area, home to many players you have coached throughout the years, mean to you on both a personal and professional level?
BA: Actually, I'm not a Brooklyn boy; I'm a Long Island guy. I was born in Brooklyn and lived there very briefly as an infant. Coming back to the metropolitan New York area where I went to school and followed all of the teams in the New York area, it's great to be back. For me, the New York area has been the one commodity in MLS that we haven't gotten right, and to be part of an organization that's trying to get a team steered in the right direction is an absolute thrill. I think if we could get this accomplished, it's really going to help the league and bring a great following of New Yorkers and New Jerseyites back into Giants Stadium.
ESPNsoccernet: After the World Cup, you made some critical comments about the MLS and its affect on the national team. This led to a spat of words from the league headquarters and apparent bad blood. Now with a partial season under your belt in the league and an offseason, have there been any sentiments of negativity towards you, within the league?
BA: Anyone that attended my last press conference with the national team knows that I didn't have any bad words against MLS. For some reason, somebody began a campaign that was actually very inaccurate. I did not have any bad words against MLS and I would ask anyone to prove that.
ESPNsoccernet: You made your mark in the MLS with D.C. United, the New York franchise's chief rival and the team that knocked New York out of the 1996 playoffs. Your team went on to win MLS Cup that year, and New York has seemingly never recovered. How does it feel to take over a team you once shared a bitter rivalry with?
BA: I don't look at it that way and I think every team in MLS has a rivalry with each other because of the size of the league. Those days with D.C. United were fantastic. I recall the games in '96, the MetroStars had a very good team. But that's all part of the business in dealing with big games and difficult opponents. I have nothing but fond memories of those days and as I have said a number of times, I'm really excited about trying to move the Red Bulls in the right direction.
ESPNsoccernet: Are you pleased with the talent level of the team as it stands right now? The team is now essentially in its third overhaul in the past four years. What areas does the team need to improve in to compete with the elite of the league?
BA: That's a tough question to answer since it is just the beginning of the season. But I think we can improve ourselves everywhere. I think we need to see some games before we really understand both our strengths and weaknesses in this year's team. We're not able to completely change our roster in one year but we've made some moves that have improved our team. I think on paper, we're stronger in every position this year than we were in 2006.
ESPNsoccernet: In a recent interview with Michael Lewis, Tony Meola, someone you've coached with both the national team and in college, bashed you as a coach and your handling of several situations with the club. Notably, he said that you informed him of being benched via e-mail instead of face to face. Is this criticism warranted? What is your status with Tony right now?
BA: First of all, I'm not completely in agreement with the comments that Tony made, but it doesn't matter. The point with Tony is that he has had a fantastic career in MLS, a fantastic career with the U.S. national team and we have the greatest respect of what Tony gave to our franchise.
ESPNsoccernet: Finally, Bob Bradley has started strong with the national team, leading the squad to a 3-0-1 mark in his first four outings. Should Bob Bradley be the next national team coach?
BA: Obviously, it's not my decision to make. I'm of the opinion that this decision should've been made long ago. The longer the national team goes without a leader, it's going to hurt the ability of the team to move forward. In the case of Bob, I think he's demonstrated that he could be a good leader for the National Team and I would certainly support him as the next permanent head coach. However, at the end of the day, a coach needs to be named and named sooner than later.
Kristian R. Dyer covers U.S. Soccer and MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He appears regularly in the New York City newspaper Metro. He can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com.