The United States Soccer Federation made a major decision on Monday with the firing of manager and technical director Jurgen Klinsmann. The move follows a disastrous start to the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifying, with losses to Mexico and Costa Rica that have the Stars and Stripes at the bottom of the Hexagonal Round standings. Problems within Klinsmann’s reign went beyond simply the two recent defeats and the change was brewing over the past few years.
According to multiple reports including Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, Bruce Arena will be the next USMNT manager. His return as USMNT manager would bring the current LA Galaxy manager to familiar ground. A member of the US Soccer Hall of Fame, Arena brings vast experience and one of the most successful resumes in the domestic game.
Suspect Bruce Arena will lead USMNT through World Cup 2018, with Tab Ramos a leading candidate to take over post-2018.
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) November 21, 2016
It will be interesting to see what US Soccer says in its press conference later on Tuesday about these rumors. Will he take over on an interim basis while US Soccer considers full-time candidates, or is he the guy through World Cup 2018? There are several positives to Bruce Arena being back with the Yanks once more no matter the duration.
One of Klinsmann’s most frustrating tendencies was to tinker and experiment with the US lineup too often. Without even taking into account roster choices, the formation and approach were a constant guessing game. Klinsmann’s decision to utilize a 3-5-2 in the recent qualifier against Mexico ultimately undermined the team’s performance.
Bruce Arena will bring back a 4-4-2 formation featuring a diamond midfield and players wide on the wings. The tactic was successful during his time in charge of the USMNT from 1998-2006 and helped to win three MLS Cup titles with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The formation will see players like Christian Pulisic, Gyasi Zardes and Alejandro Bedoya able to stretch the field and work up the flanks. A defensive midfielder like Jermaine Jones or Michael Bradley in front of the backline aids in clearing out chances from the opposition and an attacking midfielder can push service to the two forwards up top.
Strikers Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood stand to benefit greatly from this approach with Bruce Arena.
CONCACAF knowledge and experience
Last week’s match in Costa Rica showcased the incredible challenge of navigating away matches in CONCACAF qualifying. Despite a good record against many Central American nations overall, games in Panama, Honduras, and Costa Rica bring an atmosphere that can be difficult to overcome.
And then there is the visit to the Azteca Stadium to play Mexico.
But Arena has not only seen this unique path in World Cup qualifying. He has been successful on the path as well. The road to the 2006 World Cup in Germany featured a fantastic run for the US, posting a record of 10-4-2 through all qualifying rounds. The run of form brought the Americans into the top ten of the FIFA rankings at the time.
With important away matches remaining in The Hex, Arena’s experience could be coming at the right time for US Soccer.
An interesting aspect of Bruce Arena’s second stint with the USMNT will be his player selection, both in the upcoming January camp and March qualifiers.
Players who Klinsmann looked to regularly may not necessarily fit into what Arena wants to see. Comments made a few years ago by Arena in regards to who should be part of the US national team have come under heavy criticism as well.
Could this be the end of Timothy Chandler and Michael Orozco as part of the defense? Will players from MLS like Darlington Nagbe and Mix Diskerud receive a closer look? Does this change the trajectory for a player like Jordan Morris in any way?
With an eye on securing the USA’s place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the enhancement of the program’s future on the line, Bruce Arena has several vital months ahead of him for the national team.