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Arena: "I'm All For Mexico..."

Former USMNT Coach talks qualifying failure, future

Bart Winkler
June 26, 2018 - 6:05 pm

Former United States Men's National Team Soccer Coach Bruce Arena joined 105.7 FM The FAN's Chuck & Winkler (Milwaukee) as the 2018 installment of the Men's World Cup kicked off in Russia. Throughout the discussion, Arena gave his thoughts on his former players rooting for Mexico, why the pay to play system in youth soccer isn't going anywhere, and if he thinks the promotion/relegation model can succeed in America. Transcript and full audio are to follow. 


Bart Winkler, host: I don’t know where you’re at, at this point as far as watching these World Cup games. When I watch these games, every time there is a moment where I am enjoying watching these games, I remind myself and become furious that the United States didn’t qualify for this tournament. Where is your head at when you watch the World Cup?

Bruce Arena: Clearly I have my regrets. My plans were to be in the World Cup coaching the U.S. team. We’re all disappointed. I can’t say I have anger, but I clearly have disappointment in not being there.

Bart: Sometimes when the American soccer fan sees an interview that you do, when we hear that you don’t have anger, people get mad about that. Do you feel like you are being judged too harshly when your reactions are being scrutinized like that?

Arena: Well… (laughs). I don’t believe there is a whole lot in life to be angry about. There is a lot of stuff going on in this world that (we shouldn’t) be expressing anger over athletic competition. But, we’re all disappointed not being in Russia.

Bart: Obviously the World Cup is coming to North America in 2026 but we want to make sure we get back there in 2022. We also want to get one step further and go deeper into the tournament than we have ever been before. Now Coach, you have been very successful in the MLS with the five titles there. I’m starting to feel like the MLS is almost working against US Soccer while at the same time helping strengthen the other countries in our region. Is the MLS best set up to do for US Soccer what it was intended to do 20 years ago?

Arena: Well, 20 years ago I think it was intended to grow the sport in the United States and grow the domestic players, but today it’s very much an international players league. That is some(thing) that has to be worked out with US Soccer and Major League Soccer and that’s what I talk about at the end of the book. We need better coordination by these two entities to help grow the league and the sport in the United States but also develop our players as well.

Bart: One of the things you also talk about in the book was about those in charge of Soccer in America. I wanted to see either Kyle Martino or Eric Wynalda take over the presidency of US Soccer, but I feel like (the election of Carlos Cordeiro) we’re doing more of the same, more status quo.

Arena: Well, to be elected President of US Soccer it’s very political. And a newcomer is not going to be able to step in and get elected. It’s a very political organization and no offense by any of the former players but if you look at the end, the people with the best experience on the technical side were nowhere in the election at the end. And the two people that were there in the end were there for political reasons and supported by Major League Soccer and others. Having said that, the leaders in both those organizations can help grow the game by hiring people with more experience on the technical side.

Bart: I feel like with US Soccer and the way that it is positioned, the bottom line is to make as much money as possible, which of course is part of capitalism. But I feel like the money making far outweighs trying to actually better the growth of the game in America, getting the game to kids that can’t afford it, circumvent pay for play and really grow the game on a grassroots scale. I feel like soccer is more focused on the finances than the game. The goal is to make the World Cup, Coach, but I want to see the goal be to win the World Cup, and I don’t think we’re on that path.

Arena: Well, a lot of countries in the world want to win the World Cup, understand that. There are about 210 countries in the world competing to win a World Cup, so first of all, that’s not easy. The pay for play thing is very confusing for people. Every sport in this country is pay for play, for the most part. If you thought US Soccer could pay for everybody in the United States… there are millions of kids playing. It’s not possible. Pay for play just happens to be how our sports work in this country at every level. There are young kids paying to play in hockey, football, baseball, etc.. So I can’t knock US Soccer about that. US Soccer actually identifies the best young players in the country and they are part of these academy programs which is about 100 clubs. They can’t take care of every kid, but it takes care of the elite players. And the other part I would say, in all fairness, any young player with exceptional skill that is identified, if they don’t have money there is a way to pay for those players. So in all fairness I’d like to correct that part of it…… Is US Soccer very commercial in what they do? Yeah, a little bit. But they are a non-profit organization and they need to spend the money they have. Right now they got a big bank account so they can allocate funds a little bit better to help the sport. (But) as the governing body of soccer in the United States, they have to do a better job of putting demands on Major League Soccer and getting domestic players on the field. Every league in the world takes care of their own. They put in their own rules and regulations to allow for domestic players to play. And in our case, we need to do that, but we also need to get our young players on the field. There are very talented players and we have to have rules in place to get them on the field. We’re bringing a lot of players from Central America, South America, young players that they are paying a lot of money for them and getting on the field. (Therefore) the American player is not getting on the field.

Bart: Does pro/rel in Major League soccer build towards future success or is that not something that we can pull off?

Arena: Well I think many years down the road they can do that. Right you see there is expansion where new ownership comes in and they pay a franchise fee, they build stadiums, they build training facilities. You’re in about half of a billion dollars to start. To tell those teams in one year you could possibly go down in the second division is not feasible. I think what they can do is in the second and third division, start utilizing promotion and relegation. The teams that finish in the top in the second division (wouldn’t) move up to Major League Soccer but the teams that finish in the bottom of the second division go down to third, the teams that finish in the top of third go up to the second. Start experimenting in that for our country, and then say perhaps, 10 or 15 years down the road that we want to start implementing this format for first division as well.

Bart: How do you feel about Landon Donovan rooting for Mexico?

Arena: I’ll be honest with you, it doesn’t bother me a whole lot. We’re going to hopefully support our teams out of CONCACAF in the World Cup. We compete real hard against Mexico. During the World Cup, if we’re not in the World Cup, I don’t mind that. I think some of the discussion was, “do you support them in commercial activities?” That’s another question. But I’m all for Mexico, Panama, and Costa Rica doing well in this World Cup.

Arena's book, What's Wrong with US?: A Coach's Blunt Take on the State of American Soccer After a Lifetime on the Touchline, is available wherever books are sold.





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