A major sticking point of Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as the US national team coach was his focus on improving the style of play of the nation's soccer program. That is not something that Bruce Arena seems interested in.
While the US are fighting for their lives in terms of qualifying for the World Cup, the new US head coach also commented on the significance of the USMNT having an American style or identity in their play during a roundtable with the media on Tuesday morning.
“I think it’s a lot more difficult in our country," Arena said. "When you talk about a style of play, obviously Brazil would be a bad analogy because Brazil is geographically a big country, but the other countries are small: Germany, Holland and Spain. We have a country that’s huge. It’s almost 3,000 miles from east to west, whatever it is north to south, different time zones, different climates. It’s challenging. Having one style of play in your country is difficult to establish.
“I think for whatever reason, everyone has been insistent on that we have to have a style of play. I just think it’s difficult to accomplish. Big isn’t good, in the case of soccer. If we had a smaller country, we’d probably have a better chance at having a style of play and better cohesiveness from top to bottom. I think we’re just too big.”
While establishing a style of play is not a priority for Arena, he does feel that his job is important in having the national team’s qualities trickle down to the lower levels.
“It is because we have all these good young players playing today," he said. "They observe the national team. What they see is what they mimic. I hope they see a good team, good professionals, and young players aspire to be like our players -- and if you can do that, you’re accomplishing something. I think that has changed considerably since I was last coach.”
Arena’s LA Galaxy teams have been some of the highest-scoring in MLS history, with players like Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Giovani dos Santos and Gyasi Zardes proving to be some of the most potent attacking players in the league. Despite this, LA did not have a defined style of play like the New York Red Bulls’ high press or Columbus Crew SC’s possession-based identity.
What's more important to Arena is for his US side is to have a strong mentality. He focused especially on some players not being consistent from game to game.
“We and countries around the world have players that are spotty," he said, "and it’s troubling because they’re very good one game and the next game they’ll disappear. I’d like to see players that are more consistent. Perhaps if they’re not at the top, their game is consistent, and that’s a good quality to have in terms of trying to establish a team, knowing what you can get out of a player each and every game. Ours is too many peaks and valleys of players. We’ve got to get them to even out their performance a little bit more.”