October 17, 2002

U.S. Soccer Head Coach Arena '73 Reflects on C.U.

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Though the 2002 World Cup is over, don’t think that the members of the U.S. National Team can take things easy. Several players are hitting the peak of their European seasons, while others are working hard to better their MLS teams. Also hard at work is their coach, Cornell graduate Bruce Arena ’73 .

Arena came to Cornell from Nassau Community College in 1971. Throughout his four years of collegiate competition, Arena was three times an All-American in soccer and lacrosse. His defensive skills helped lead the 1972 Cornell soccer team to the NCAA semifinals, earning him the defensive MVP award along the way.

He first began his coaching career here at Cornell while still an undergraduate. He began his work in the spring of 1973 as the men’s freshman lacrosse coach.

The fall of 1973 saw his beginnings with soccer, as Arena worked with the Red’s goaltending unit for the next two seasons.

Arena then went on to coach men’s soccer at Virginia, where he recorded 15 winning seasons and five NCAA titles. More recently, Arena won the Major League Soccer cup twice as the coach of the D.C. United. He also earned Coach of the Year honors for his efforts.

1996 provided Arena’s first international coaching appearance, as he led the U.S. Under-23 National Team in Olympic competition. In 1998 he was named head coach of the U.S. Men’s national team.

While an earlier plan set 2010 as the goal for producing a competitive U.S. soccer team, Arena was able to pool his resources and speed things up a bit. However, he is the first to admit that there were many tangible differences between other World Cup competitions and the one held in 2002 — primarily MLS.

“I think we can attribute our development to the fact that we have a pro soccer league, so we have more players to choose from,” he said.

Compared to previous years, when the U.S. team was composed of collegiate players, the 2002 World Cup was different. Half of this year’s U.S. players were from MLS, and the other half from European leagues.

Though extremely pleased with his team’s play, Arena doesn’t dwell on the past, particularly the uncalled handball during a quarterfinal match with Germany.

“Those things happen,” said Arena. “The referee in my opinion probably didn’t see the play. I moved on immediately after that game. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

One thing Team USA’s coach will do, however, is try again. Some of his current starters will be too old to return for a cup run in 2006, so Arena has already returned to actively scouting talent. Still, don’t count out players such as Eddie Pope or Claudio Reyna. Arena feels that both players still have plenty of time left where international play is concerned.

As for Arena’s future with the U.S. team, he is currently in negotiations for another four-year cycle. However, the upcoming contract may be his last.

“I imagine that would probably be the end at that point,” said Arena. “Very rarely do coaches do more than four years at this level.”

What will he do with his free time after 2006? Arena has expressed interest in coaching overseas. Then again, he could end up at Pebble Beach. The decorated coach and player said that if he were involved in any other professional sport today, it would be golf.

“The way golf is today, I’d love to be a professional golfer. It’s just the technology and the skill of the players today — I think it’s pretty remarkable.”

Despite an interest in golf, Arena does not regret any of the decisions he has made, noting that he has been “very satisfied” with his opportunities. He also looks back fondly on his time at Cornell. Still, Arena’s most prominent memories are not necessarily tied to the playing field.

“I look back at my experiences at Cornell and Ithaca and enjoy them greatly,” he said. “I think what I enjoyed the most were the people that I met from different parts of the country and world. It was really an education in itself.”

Archived article by Matt Janiga