Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena is exactly where he wants to be
Taking a stroll around Bruce Arena’s Manhattan Beach neighborhood can feel a little like walking into a SportsCenter commercial, with a sports celebrity behind every tree and lamp post.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter lives there, as do many of the players on the Stanley Cup champion team. Nomar Garciaparra and Mia Hamm have a house across the boulevard. And Galaxy teammates Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez are close by.
“It’s a nice neighborhood,” says Arena, the Galaxy’s sometimes curmudgeonly coach.
If the area has a certain hip vibe, the Arenas haven’t picked up on it. Their house, the one with the picket-fence gate, the well-tended shrubbery and the golden retriever named T.J., looks like it belongs on the shores of Cape Cod rather than facing the Pacific Ocean.
But then Arena shares many of the traditional New England values. Loyalty, honesty, family — they’re the traits that made him the most successful coach in U.S. soccer history.
They are also what has him wondering what he can do for an encore.
A win or a draw in Sunday’s Major League Soccer Western Conference championship would send the Galaxy to next week’s MLS Cup final, a result that might feel familiar for Arena, since he’s already coached in six title games, winning four.
Both are records — as are his 71 wins in eight years with the national team. In 2002, he took the team to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 1930. Four years later, the U.S. climbed to No. 4 in the FIFA world rankings. No other coach has gotten the team into the top 10.
That leaves Arena, 63, with few peaks left to climb. He hasn’t said he won’t be coaching the Galaxy next season, but he hasn’t said he will be either.
“I’m certainly not doing this for another 10 years, that’s for sure,” he says, promising to decide on his immediate future “in the next couple of weeks.”
“I don’t wake up every day saying, ‘What am I going to do next?’ I have a job. And a job that I enjoy,” he says. “There’s no reason for me to look anywhere else right now. I’m satisfied where I am.”
That’s part of the problem. By his own admission, Arena is driven by challenges, not satisfaction.
“He’s very, very demanding,” says Galaxy President Chris Klein, who played for Arena on both club and national teams.
He’s also fiercely loyal, Klein adds.
Four of the Galaxy’s five assistant coaches either played or coached for Arena before joining his staff. The fifth coach is Arena’s son, Kenny.
“He’s loyal sometimes to a fault, whether it’s players or coaches that he’s worked with,” says Klein, whom Arena handpicked for his current job.
“It keeps people wanting to come back, and it creates an environment that’s fun. But it also creates a winning environment that people want to be in.”
More than four decades after his first coaching job as an assistant at Cornell, his alma mater, Arena still rises at 5:30 each morning and is in the office by 7. It’s an example he expects others to follow.
So the day he rolls over, hits the snooze button and goes back to sleep, the decision over his future will have been made.
“If I get up and feel like I’m cheating the people I work for and work with, I’m out,” he says. “When I can’t look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘You’ve given it your best and you’re the right person to be doing this job,’ I’m gone.”
Arena insists he is being truthful when he says he hasn’t decided whether he’s ready to leave, though he already knows what he’d like to do when that does happen.
After devoting his life to playing — he played one game as a goalkeeper with the national team — and coaching soccer, Arena believes the U.S. has made great strides. However, that growth will be stunted without the proper leadership, he says.
Although Arena didn’t mention any names, in the past he’s been critical of both MLS and the U.S. Soccer Federation, where his disagreements with federation President Sunil Gulati date to his dismissal as national team coach in 2006. Arena strongly disagrees with the current coach, Juergen Klinsmann, for calling in European players with U.S. ancestry to play for the national team. He says it stunts the development of U.S. players who he believes are good enough to play internationally.
Arena, who was preparing to teach a graduate-level class in sports leadership at Virginia when the Galaxy hired him in 2008, says he can help remedy the situation.
“To make the sport work in this country, it has to work from within,” says Arena, whose success stems from a confidence that borders on cockiness. The idea that “we have to take from Europe, what they do, is completely false. We are unique to the rest of the world. Our problem is ... going to be solved in this country with our resources.
“And our resources are our dollars, our players, our leadership.”
So the question lingers: Should he stay or should he go?
“When the time is right, he’ll know,” says Phyllis, his wife of 38 years. “And I’d rather it be that way. It’s not a black-and-white answer. It has to be when it feels right for him.”
That’s not to say family won’t play a role in the decision. Arena has found renewed purpose in his two grandsons.
“This is one of the highlights of my career, having the grandchildren,” says Arena, who frequently brings 2-year-old Wayde and 1-year-old Holden to training sessions and carries the older boy off the field after home games.
“I don’t know why. It’s such a proud feeling. I don’t know how you explain that.”
As Arena leans forward on the living-room sofa to give his attentive dog a light pat on the head, he smiles as his wife gives away a secret.
Bruce Arena isn’t going anywhere.
“Listening to my grandsons cheering for the Galaxy at games, this is the best time of my life,” she says. “I watch Wayde run to Bruce after games that haven’t been the greatest games. And [I see] the smile on Bruce’s face when he jumps into his arms.
“This is stuff that I could have only dreamt of.”
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.