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- It Seems To Me. . .-

Conflicts between MLS, USSF best interests can hamper U.S. cause.

U.S. failure in World Cup is easy to understand -- other teams were better.

MLS ability to develop top players must be examined.

FIFA must examine World Cup policies.

Referees might have been harsh, but U.S. was not cheated against Italy.

Injuries have trashed conventional wisdom on Cup Group E.

Injuries have trashed conventional wisdom on Cup Group E.

At the World Cup, Arena chooses to do things his way.

With U.S. team in Germany, Adu makes gains at home.

MLS should lead the way by using second referee.

Arena's World Cup selections were made with a purpose.

Arena's selections for World Cup roster are fairly evident.

Arena needed to make no apology for loss to Germany.

Contiguglia presided over U.S. Soccer period of progress.

MLS business model is being eyed by European leagues.

Arena selections for Poland game give hints of World Cup roster.

Arena still doesn't get the respect he deserves.

It Seems To Me . . .

Arena was not fired for failure, but need of new direction.

By Robert Wagman

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Saturday, July 15, 2006) -- United States Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati has decided not to renew the contract of men's national-team manager Bruce Arena when it expires at the end of 2006.

Gulati seems to be doing so with some reluctance and that is reasonable because Arena has accomplished a great deal in his eight years as head coach. But it also seems, regrettably, the correct decision. In making the move, Gulati cited a need for freshness, a fresh approach. That appears to be a necessity.

Gulati said Arena was not being replaced because of any failure as a coach, specifically the showing of the U.S. at World Cup 2006 in Germany where the team did not advance out of group play after one draw and two loses.

"It comes down primarily to eight years being a long period," Gulati told a telephone press conference. "I'm not going to say we felt the need to change directions. I think the direction that Bruce set has been very, very positive. But I think having a fresh approach after eight years, which is a very, very long time to be with a national team, is the strongest factor.

"Obviously we didn't get the results we wanted at the World Cup, but as I've said repeatedly, Bruce Arena didn't become a bad coach in three games or with a bad bounce of the ball. It's got more to do with eight years and time for a fresh look."

After the defeat by Ghana ended the U.S. hopes in Germany, Arena said he was not sure he wanted to continue as coach, but it appears he decided he did and so indicated to Gulati and USSF secretary-general Dan Flynn in a long meeting in New York on Thursday. As Gulati put it, Arena "expressed a desire to continue." But Arena said it quickly became apparent that Gulati and Flynn wanted to go in a different direction and that what he was involved in was essentially an exit interview.

In fact, Arena has said, he suspected this would be his last year as national-team coach as early as March when Gulati took over from Bob Contiguglia. Eight years ago, Contiguglia insisted on hiring Arena over the objections of a number of U.S. Soccer board members, including Gulati who favored Portugal's Carlos Queiroz. But over the years Gulati and Arena became close friends and Gulati became one of Arena's biggest boosters.

There are probably a couple of reasons why Gulati decided not to renew Arena's contract. There was obviously a lot of disillusionment among fans and probably more importantly sponsors when the U.S. did not do as well this year in the World Cup as it did in 2002. To an extent, that disillusionment is the fault of U.S. Soccer and the media, in raising expectations to unreasonable levels. But in this, Arena himself is also complicit, as he said over and over this was the best team the U.S. had ever assembled. It wasn't and that was even before injuries weakened the team further.

There is also what Gulati calls "fatigue in the program" and the need for "maybe a different way of approaching things that is international."

But Arena was more than just the national-team manager. He was in charge of overseeing the coaching of all men's national teams, including the various youth national teams and, much more importantly, player development. In is in this latter area that, I think, Gulati thought Arena was most deficient.

Almost from the moment Gulati was installed as president in March, he has been outspoken in his belief that the process of identifying potential national youth team players is deficient, especially in regard to identifying young Hispanics and African-Americans.

Gulati sat down with SoccerTimes an hour after being elected and said in part: "Do I think there is a player in some ethnic league in the U.S. who could be on our national team in Germany who we know nothing about. No, I don't think that player exists. But do I think there are many, many young players who should be in our development programs and who are not, and some, perhaps many, players who are every bit as good or better than the players we have in Bradenton (in the under-17 boys residency Program). I think there probably are and we need immediately to find a better way of identifying them and bringing them into our programs."

In Germany, talking about what he sees as his priorities, Gulati spoke again about bringing more young black and Hispanic players into U.S. Soccer's development programs. In yesterday's conference call, he said, "I think you will see in mid-fall us roll out some new programs. . . There will be some different approaches in the Hispanic community and the African-American community. Frankly, it's a high priority issue for us; it's not a short term fix, but I think we'll see the benefits two, four, six, 10 years down the road."

There is a general belief that the youth development program in the U.S. is all not that much better than it was eight years ago when Arena took over. And in the end, that might well be his biggest failing.

Interestingly, when Gulati was asked what he is going to look for in a new coach, he said "track record, commitment to the American game, knowledge of the American game, success, motivated, hard working, integrity." He did acknowledge that pretty well described Bruce Arena. So it will be interesting to see how the job search goes and who ends up being hired.

Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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