Oct 30, 2007

Arena's Problems May Just Be Beginning

Bruce Arena's team (that would be the New York Red Bulls) faces a must-win situation at Foxboro, Mass. this weekend. With no UEFA-style away goal rule to fall back on, the team needs a victory against the New England Revolution if it is to advance past the first round of the MLS playoffs. But Arena himself may have the most to lose if Red Bull fails--again--to advance Saturday. His entire coaching reputation, a legacy 20-plus years in the making, could essentially be thrown under the bus if that happens.

Don't believe me? Just look at the negative press Arena has received in the two days since the scoreless draw in the first leg of the series. There was Yahoo! Sport's critique of his (fictional, it turns out) calling-out of Juan Pablo Angel yesterday and today we have Goal.com doing a "look how far he's fallen" piece on Arena. And this is without Red Bulls having lost a game. Imagine what happens if and when they are dumped from the playoffs? Soccer is still not a mainstream sport in this country, but New York is the media capital and Arena is unquestionably the most famous U.S. soccer coach, if not its best-known soccer figure, period (maybe Alexi Lalas has him beat in the latter category, though less so since he got a haircut and went all corporate). Arena does not appear to have made many friends in the media, which wasn't a problem when his team was beating Portugal in the world cup. But in the words of Mick Jagger, things are different today. It's been a long time since those heady days in Japan and Korea and the court of public opinion has a short memory.

And yet, Arena could still have the last laugh. If his team wins Saturday, his reputation will emerge intact. The vultures will back off, at least until next year. Call it a stay of execution, if you will. While he won't make the short list at European clubs or national teams looking for managers, nobody will be calling for his job, either. But make no mistake: if Red Bulls loses Saturday, even if the team plays well, it will be a major disappointment and one that Arena himself will have to answer to. His rep took a knock when the U.S. Men's national team failed to advance out of the group stage in Germany last summer. It's got a lot further to fall. How much further? We're due to find out.

Update: Arena's done. I've created a label with his name if you want to get caught up on all posts on the subject.

1 comment:

  1. I remember when he was going to be the first US coach to get a decent job in Europe. Afterall, it was only a year and a half ago.

    The team he has was good enough to get around 50 points this year, but didn't come close. He'll get another season unless the Revs embarrass them on Saturday, which I doubt. If they win it all, which they still can, he'll be "back".

    That's the way it goes with the way playoffs determine everything in MLS.