- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 15, 2006

Bruce Arena’s eight-year run at the helm of the U.S. national soccer team is over.

After a poor performance last month at the World Cup in Germany, where the Americans failed to advance from the opening round, Arena’s contract — which runs through the end of the year — will not be renewed, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said yesterday.

According to Gulati, Arena, who lives in Fairfax, wanted to stay with the team, but U.S. Soccer wanted a different coach.

“I’m not saying we need to change direction, the direction Bruce set is very positive,” Gulati said. “But having a fresh approach, after eight years, which is a very long time, is the strongest factor. … The difficult part is we have an extraordinary guy as our coach. We weighed that against the eight-year issue and decided we needed the newness.”

Arena, 54, is by far the most successful coach in American soccer history. The highlight of Arena’s tenure was guiding the Americans to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan.

The U.S. team ranked fifth in the world heading into the 2006 World Cup. Drawn into a tough group in Germany, the Americans were stunned in a 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic. The team regrouped to tie eventual champion Italy 1-1 after having two players sent off, but then lost 2-1 to Ghana on a controversial penalty.

“I am proud of how far the organization has come over the last eight years, and I am extremely optimistic about the future of the sport in our country,” Arena said in a statement released by U.S. Soccer. “As for me, I am planning to take some time off to weigh my future opportunities.”

U.S. Soccer will immediately begin searching for a new coach.

The leading candidate to replace Arena is Juergen Klinsmann, who retired Wednesday as the German coach, after leading Germany to the third-place spot at the World Cup. Klinsmann, who is married to an American and lives in Huntington Beach, Calif., said that after coaching Germany for two years he was “burnt out” and looking for “half a year’s holiday.”

Gulati said the search for a new coach would be worldwide but noted that it would be an advantage if the candidate had an understanding of America’s “unique” soccer situation.

“Does Juergen Klinsmann fit the criteria? He probably does.” Gulati said. “He has a much better handle on the U.S. soccer scene and more importantly is a very inquisitive guy … he has a lot of very positive qualities. … I’m sure I will talk to Klinsmann. We have exchanged e-mails.”

There are reports that Arena has been approached for the vacant coaching job with the cash-flushed New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer, where Richie Williams, who played under Arena for three seasons at D.C. United, is the interim coach. Arena also has expressed a desire to coach in England.

Arena took over the U.S. team on Oct. 26, 1998, after leading United to two MLS titles in three years. He earned a 71-30-29 record and helped the U.S. team qualify for the World Cup twice.

The Brooklyn native used 117 players throughout his tenure with the American team, giving 80 players their first caps. He also coached the 1996 Olympic team.

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