After the end of the Alexi Lalas/Ruud Gullit fiasco, the LA Galaxy have hired former DC United, New York Red Bulls, and US Men’s National Team head coach Bruce Arena to fill both the vacated GM and Head Coach spots.
Arena had enough success with DC in the early days of MLS to warrant getting selected for the USMNT job, where he guided the squad to their highest World Cup finish ever (2002 semi-final). However, since his career reached its zenith in Korea/Japan, Arena has been in charge of the Germany 2006 squad which was a catastrophe on offense, and a stint in NY that saw him get fired after one season and change yielded a .500 record.
There are many positives to Arena’s hiring. He is a well-known and mostly well-respected name in the US soccer community, his signature sarcasm when dealing with the press will lend itself better to media coverage than most other MLS head men’s vanilla approach to public exposure, he has a good relationship with Landon Donovan from their USMNT days, and he has plenty of experience, both domestic and international. Finally, Arena has longtime right-hand man and former Chicago Fire head coach David Sarachan as his assistant (of whom Arena said “it will be nice to have a backup plan when I get assassinated”. Arena apparently plans on a few more public attacks like the ones he loosed in New York).
Unfortunately, the negatives surrounding Arena’s arrival are almost as plentiful as the positives. Arena hasn’t really enjoyed any success since 2002. His colorful media personality is accompanied by a notoriously large ego, which will have to share locker room real estate with David Beckham’s and Landon Donovan’s egos (unless a successful Premier League team that plays “free-flowing” football decides to buy Landycakes’). Finally, Arena inherits a woeful LA team that is well into a second half free fall. The Galaxy haven’t won since beating the old San Jose Earthquakes on June 14th, well before San Jose’s rejuvenation. The potent offense that recorded 10 goals in 4 June games has only scored 8 since then in 6 games (and that’s WITH Becks and Landycakes, who won’t be around during this week’s international friendly/World Cup Qualifying fiesta). The defense has been especially bad, even with experienced MLS defenders Greg Vanney and Chris Klein, and it doesn’t help that the old regime passed on their chance in the allocation lottery to sign former Feyenoord, Charlton, and USMNT defender Cory Gibbs in favor of chasing 34 year-old midfielder Eddie Lewis. Although Lewis has had more USMNT experience (80 caps to Gibbs’ 19), as well as quality experience in the English FA (Fulham, Preston, Leeds, Derby), when your team’s defensive struggles have underlined your lack of success and an internationally-capped defender comes along, the common sense move seems to be taking the defender (although maybe Gibbs made it known he didn’t want to play in LA; I wouldn’t blame him for that one).
It will be interesting to see if Arena can turn the Galaxy around fast enough for LA to make the MLS Playoffs. They currently reside in 5th out of 7 in the Western Conference, with Chivas USA a point behind in 6th with a game in hand. The West is going to be quite a dogfight at the end of the season, so Arena will need to be able to redevelop the team’s chemistry quickly. Houston is one of the hottest teams in the league right now, Salt Lake is unbeatable at home, Dallas is finally finding their groove under new boss Schellas Hyndman, Colorado has been almost as steady at home as Salt Lake (despite microscopic attendance figures), and San Jose has been hot since adding Francisco Lima, Scott Sealy, Arturo Alvarez, and Darren Huckerby.
Another intriguing feature in the landscape of Arena’s hiring is his dual role as both Head Coach and General Manager. Very few MLS Head Coaches are also in charge of personnel moves, although the league’s emerging power, the Houston Dynamo, employ Dominic Kinnear in both roles. I would like to see more MLS teams moving towards eliminating their General Manager positions. In the rest of the world, Managers assume all responsibilities in managing the team itself. The only reason I can think of that the MLS wouldn’t do the same is the coaches’ inability to do so. However, most MLS Head Coaches are former collegiate coaches, so they have experience in juggling the roles of recruiter and coach. Having a General Manager make personnel decisions seems to create a gap between the Head Coach’s desires for what his squad looks like and who actually joins the team. Perhaps the product on the field would improve, maybe only slightly, if Head Coaches were bringing in players for themselves.