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It Seems To Me . . .

Arena still doesn't get the respect he deserves.

By Robert Wagman

SAN FRANCISCO (Thursday, February 16, 2006) -- The United States men dominated Japan for 65 minutes Friday night on the way to a 3-2 victory that was not nearly as close as the score would indicate. Afterward, the most surprised person at SBC Park seemed to be Japan's Brazilian coach Zico, who fumbled for an explanation. He fell back on the oldest of soccer excuses "You know my best players are in Europe and not here tonight. It's like we have two separate teams."

Listening to Zico got me thinking. To an extent, U.S. manager Bruce Arena has become the Rodney Dangerfield of international soccer coaches -- he just doesn't get the respect he deserves.

The better team didn't necessarily win Friday night, but the better-coached team certainly did. As he almost always does, Arena had his team well-prepared for the match. Zico has installed a Brazilian-type short passing offense, and using six midfielders and only one striker, he tries to over load defenses and push balls through to attackers running out of the midfield.

Arena, using three defenders and five midfielders, countered perfectly. After the first couple of minutes, the aggressive American midfield pretty much destroyed the Japan's organization in the middle and pressured the Japanese defense into mistakes which turned into goals.

One might have also noticed the U.S. had a few European-based players missing. Simply put, this was a coaching win.

Arena raised his record at the U.S. helm to 67-26-27. He has been a winning coach at every level -- college, Major League Soccer and now internationally. He is the longest-serving coach among the 32 who will be at the World Cup this summer in Germany, and one of the longest serving in the world, period. National-team coaching usually does not have a great deal of job security.

After the match, as I was leaving the stadium, I fell in behind three Brits. One said "I hear Arena would like to coach in the Premiership." His companions scoffed at the idea and all had a good chuckle.


Yes, some of the managers in England -- Manchester United's Alex Ferguson, Chelsea's Jose Mourinho and a couple of others -- function much like coaches in the National Basketball Association. Their main function is to keep all the super egos in check and make sure the bus gets to the stadium on time.

Truthfully, I don't see Arena excelling in that environment. But for a so-called "middle-table" team, at Blackburn or Fulham, for example, I think he would be very successful. His teams would be prepared for every match and his players would be as fit as possible. Moreover, he is clearly a player's coach and I would expect he would get on quite well with the players over there, especially the blue-collar players.

This coming summer will be Arena's toughest test. The U.S. can play much better in Germany than it did in the 2002 World Cup in South Korea -- where the Americans got to the round of eight and came within an eyelash of making it into the semifinals -- and still not get out of group play. Very probably, Group E opponents Czech Republic and Italy both are better than any the U.S. faced four years ago. So to advance, Arena must find a way to take points away from either the Czechs or the Italians, or both. If he does, and if the U.S. advances, it should stand as proof positive he can coach anywhere.

Maybe then he'll get the respect he deserves everywhere.

Robert Wagman is a SoccerTimes senior correspondent. E-mail Robert Wagman.

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