Arena: USA can close the gap real quick

30 Nov 2016

Bruce Arena has defended his USA side’s 2006 disappointment by juxtaposing them with France’s legendary team of the 1980s and insisted they can rapidly revive their Russia 2018 qualifying fortunes.

USA travelled to Germany for the 18th FIFA World Cup™ having finished top of regional qualifying and won the previous year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. Despite an unexpected 1-1 draw with Italy, however, they finished bottom of Group E due to a 3-0 defeat by Czech Republic and a 2-1 loss to Ghana.

"National teams can get caught in an awkward cycle,” said Arena. “In 1984, France won the European Championship, had a great team. By '86 they were a year too old. In '85 they could've won the World Cup; '86 they couldn't.

"The US team in 2005 was good. In 2006 it was too late. It's a real fine line. Things can change real quick."

US Soccer elected against renewing Arena’s contract after that tournament, so his eight-year reign ended. Now, though, the former goalkeeper is back.

"I didn't have to do this,” said the 65-year-old. “I feel that it's my responsibility in the sport, given the opportunity to do it. I find it challenging and I find it critically important for the growth of our sport."

USA are bottom of the six-side hexagonal in Russia 2018 qualifying, having lost 2-1 at home to Mexico and 4-0 in Costa Rica. Arena will get a group of around 30 players – excluding ones who play club football in Europe and Mexico – together in January.

"Our ability to communicate and get on the same page before we're together is going to be critical, because when March comes around, it will be the first time we'll have the team together since the Costa Rica game.

"It's important from now until then that we're communicating – although we will not have been together as a group until then – that they know what I'm about and I know what they're about."

Arena revealed he has, since retaking the reins last week, already spoken to “close to ten” players, will try and catch up with Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore in Toronto and will soon head to Germany to meet the likes of Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood.

The former LA Galaxy coach dismissed the notion that the US team is too old or that it will become too defence-conscious, although he admitted "we’re not going to look like Barcelona”. Arena also insisted USA turning their Russia 2018 qualifying fortunes around is simpler than people are making out.

"Two games in a ten-game schedule, we're not in terrible shape. We can close the gap real quick. If we get six points in the next two games, the gap is closed. I don't think the task at hand is that difficult. We just have to, for lack of a better word, get our s--- together."