Bruce Arena is a tired retread who ran out of ideas ages ago.
Bruce Arena is just the tonic the LA Galaxy needs to salvage its disastrous two and a half year run, during which it has managed to miss the play-offs in each year.
Or both, depending upon whom you ask.
Tim Leiweke, the President and the CEO of the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) surely hopes it’s the latter.
He has to. He must.
If he errs in this hire, Arena will only add to Leiweke’s already existing trifecta of abject failures. From another ex-US national team coach Steve Sampson to the two time MLS Cup winner Frank Yallop to the ex-World Player of the Year Ruud Gullit, the LA Galaxy coaching carousel has gone on with seemingly no rhyme or reason, with the exception of the reliance on a recognizable name.
But that’s par for the course for the AEG. When the conglomerate also owned the (New York/New Jersey) Metrostars, its major hire was from one of the other teams it owned, the Chicago Fire, where it poached an MLS Cup-winning (this doesn’t seem to be much of accomplishment now, does it?) coach Bob Bradley. Bradley was a local New Jersey chap with a presumably excellent reputation – he was a friend and an associate of none other than Bruce Arena himself.
Subsequently, Bradley proved to be a middling mediocrity and was dismissed after three years in charge.
Albert Einstein once wrote that the definition of stupidity was doing the same thing twice and expecting different results. Clearly, if name recognition is the only lasting premise of the AEG’s coaching search, Tim Leiweke has exceeded the aforementioned criteria for stupidity. (To his credit, Einstein also wrote that the difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has limits – attempts to reach Einstein to comment on the LA Galaxy coaching search are still ongoing.)
The practice does make some sense in this regard: when the true deep knowledge of one’s disciple is absent, it’s a common trend to rely on the opinion of the so-called experts, who of course are apt to point to the “usual suspects” if only to free themselves of the culpability for their actions.
Tim Leiweke, having at best a cursory knowledge of the game, has to depend on these experts to guide him. He has no ability to make a qualitative decision on his own. He can’t discern a cause of one’s success or the root of one’s failures. He can’t analyze whether a floundering attack is due to the lack of a midfield maestro or a penalty box scorer or whether a sieve-like defense is missing a stopper in the back four or a destroyer in front of them. He has to go by reputation and, worst of all, the American soccer press, who have never said a bad word about any American coach, Arena included.
But Bruce deserved to be scathed, if not for his excessively arrogant demeanor or a dismissive attitude toward his critics, then for his shortcomings as a head coach.
Let us not forget that he was in effect fired from his last two jobs – the US national coach in 2006 and the newly named New York Red Bulls a year later. His second and last World Cup campaign was an amalgam of poor player selection, poor in-game tactics and poor player management.
His major claim to fame was the 2002 US advance into the World Cup quarter-finals but, even in that, the US was helped on the last day of group play by the simultaneous Portuguese meltdown and the incredible determination of the South Koreans. Needing only a tie to advance, a magnificently talented Portugal lost its head, received several red cards and ended up losing to a hard-charging Guus Hiddink team, which had nothing to play for. The US, in full control of its destiny and only needing a tie against Poland, was blown out of the park 3:1 by the East Europeans.
The other part of Bruce’s padded resume were his MLS Cups with the DC United; that is undoubtedly one of the major factors in his appeal to AEG. But the four game MLS Cup contests in and of themselves are a poor indicator of one’s future success – ex-MLS Cup winners Bob Bradley, Bob Gansler, Sigi Schmid, Frank Yallop, Thomas Rongen and Bruce Arena himself have all been fired from their MLS jobs at some point of their careers. Furthermore, MLS has been markedly improving since its old amateurish days and Bruce is going to have to compete against the current MLS king Dom Kinnear (two consecutive MLS Cups with the Houston Dynamo), 2007 MLS Coach of the Year Preki (Chivas USA), an experienced Frank Yallop (San Jose Earthquakes) and resurgent Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids.
Arena’s first task would be to make the play-offs. At the moment of this writing, the Galaxy has 24 points after 20 matches, twelfth out of fourteen teams with only eight making the grade into the postseason. The standings in this parity devised league are tight and only a point separate Los Angeles from the last available spot.
Parity, including the team salary cap, works in Arena’s favor. A hot streak to end the season can easily take them to one of the top seeds.
What works against him is the curiously staffed Galaxy roster. Of the approximate $2.4M cap, three players (Donovan, Beckham and Ruiz) eat up half of the available amount. The remaining half is divided among the less-than-stellar supporting cast. Such disparity among the players quality was one of the major reasons for Gullit’s frustration with his plight. Beckham can bend it as well as anyone but he needs someone who doesn’t treat a soccer ball as if it were a live grenade.
A notoriously thin-skinned Dutchman also butted heads with Landon Donovan and the other Galaxy players. It’s hard to make an omelet without cracking some eggs, but the resistance of the players towards coaches tolerant of mediocrity was to be anticipated.
Arena is not as nearly as tactically adept as his predecessor but with similar delusions of grandeur.
He will now have to figure out tactical adjustments while dealing gingerly with the fragile egos of his stars.
And crossing David Beckham may be a lot more damaging to one’s career than calling Landon Donovan a few unprintables.