CARSON, Calif. – Sitting atop MLS is nothing new for Bruce Arena. The former D.C. United boss won the first two MLS Cups and came within reach on two other occasions.
But Arena finally reclaimed the throne in 2011 when the LA Galaxy stormed past the rest of the league en route to a 1-0 win over Houston in MLS Cup 2011.
While the club made it look easy on the field, it certainly was not as simple as it appeared. But with Arena pulling the strings, the club found success unlike any kind the team had enjoyed in a long time. The following is a compilation of the LA boss’ comments in his final press address of the year at the Home Depot Center just before Thanksgiving, as well as from a recent media conference call.
Q: How rewarding was it winning MLS Cup 2011 to culminate what had been a three-year project?
Arena: If we’d won in ‘09, I wouldn’t have been complaining about it, but it is a lot of work. It’s not like we worked that much harder than anybody else. I think anyone that wins championships, there is a great work ethic behind that. It is rewarding. I think we’ve actually done quite well in postseason. People aren’t actually aware of it. Our record is impressive. We’re 8-1-1 in 10 [playoff] games in the last three years yet somehow people have managed to attach failure to all of that which is odd, I think, but we haven’t been that bad, actually.
Q: What was the single biggest challenge the team faced in 2011?
Arena: You can’t single out any one thing. Every day there is another issue you’re dealing with. It’s challenging. Certainly the travel was up there with Champions League and dealing with that competition. There are a lot of factors. I don’t think we ever got our starting lineup on the field this year. There were a lot of injuries, suspensions, national team call-ups. We never really got into a rhythm where we got our full group together.
We lost Leonardo right at the start and no one kind of remembers that, but maybe our team would have looked like Leonardo and [Omar] Gonzalez at center back, [Donovan] Ricketts in the goal, [A.J.] DeLaGarza right back, [Sean] Franklin right midfield, [Landon] Donovan and [Robbie] Keane up top – none of that stuff ever happened which is highly unusual.
Q: How rewarding was it to have won MLS Cup at home?
Arena: It’s great. I’d like to win it anywhere, but certainly it’s much sweeter at home.
Q: How much has MLS grown and how much progress is really being made in the league?
Arena: It’s great. We’re making a lot of progress. There is still a long way to go, but I think you can see the progress is being made and we’re hopeful that the league continues to grow and we begin to challenge the big leagues over the next 10 to 15 years.
Q: How did the postseason Asia Pacific tour help the younger players?
Arena: They are all good experiences, even if the player didn’t play a lot of minutes. They continue to grow in the game, get experience on the field and off and start to understand the expectations that are made of them – and we’re hopeful that they realize that there are some pretty good opportunities here with this club and they have to work at getting better if they want to get on the field, they have to work hard and if they can do that and do what’s asked of them they could have a real good future in the game.
We used this trip for a lot of things. It wasn’t solely for the young kids but it was to give our team the opportunity to go abroad, visit new markets and get our name out there and it was to give our young kids experience, and I think we accomplished that.
Q: How difficult has it been to deal with the salary cap and make moves around it?
Arena: That’s obviously the reason why we had to make the move for Donovan Ricketts, which opened up some space. Donovan Ricketts was a player we would have loved to have stayed with the Galaxy, no question about it, but he was an asset. He was sought after and we were able to move him, which saves us some money on the cap plus the allocation money we received. The move of Donovan to Montreal is allowing us to have a lot more room on our salary cap.
Q: What will your strategy be heading into the SuperDraft?
Arena: When you pick [19th], you are in a position where you’d like to fill a void you have – however, it may come down to picking the best player available at that point. When you pick that late, you don’t have the luxury of customizing your choice. It will be a combination of a lot of things when you’re looking at the 19th pick.