Column: Bruce Arena, Sigi Schmid and Bob Bradley aren’t too old to chase dreams

U.S. coach Bruce Arena gives instructions to his players during a World Cup soccer qualifying game in Mexico City.
(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)

Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez was both a fervent soccer fan and a tireless writer who rebelled against the idea that age should lessen his love of either pursuit.

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old,” he said. “They grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

In that case, soccer has been like a fountain of youth for Bruce Arena, Sigi Schmid and Bob Bradley, three Hall of Famers who haven’t tired of pursuing dreams despite a combined 114 years of coaching.


In the last five days Arena, 65, won a CONCACAF Gold Cup title as coach of the U.S. national team while Schmid, 64, and Bradley, 59, signed on for new challenges of their own in MLS. None of the three has anything left to prove -- yet none wants to stop trying, either.

Arena could have retired last year confident in the fact he would be remembered as America’s greatest soccer coach. No one has won more games with the national team or more championships in MLS. No coach in the modern era had taken a U.S. team further in the World Cup than Arena, who made it to the quarterfinals in 2002.

But when U.S. Soccer came calling last November and asked Arena to rescue a team that was in danger of drowning in World Cup qualifying, he immediately accepted.

“You take on challenges that are interesting. And this has certainly been an interesting challenge,” said Arena, who added another record to his resume last week by winning his third CONCACAF Gold Cup title as a coach.

“It’s been a lot of fun to try to put some of the pieces of the puzzle together. And at this point in my coaching career, this is probably the best challenge I could have undertaken. That keeps me going every day.”

Schmid was retired – involuntarily – after the Seattle Sounders fired him a year ago.

“He told me that he didn’t think he was going to get a job,” Sounders defender Brad Evans said of a conversation he had with Schmid last month. “That wasn’t in the cards.”

Then the Galaxy decided to shuffle its coaching staff last week, and Schmid, the winningest coach in MLS history, got the call he wasn’t expecting. Would he like to coach again?

Schmid negotiated a deal with the team by text during his wife’s birthday dinner last Wednesday. But the Galaxy really had him at hello.

“I always wanted to coach again because my desire to want to do it was still there,” said Schmid, who has been asked to turn around a team buried near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Bradley is a different case. He’s been a winner at every stop in his professional career, so despite last year’s struggles at Swansea City, where he became the first American to coach in the Premier League, he had many suitors. Last week he gave his hand to the fledging Los Angeles Football Club, choosing to chase the dream of building something from nothing rather than trying to rescue a failing team as Arena and Schmid are doing.

“I’ve always been one that appreciated challenges and experiences,” he said. “I’ve always looked at it that way. The opportunity to build a team that fits with how you see the game and those kinds of things.”

“This is,” he later told ESPNfc “what I want to do from here on out.”

Ageism may be a problem in the corporate world, but in the soccer world qualifying for an AARP card is proof of wisdom and experience. The ability to adapt to changing times is important too.

Consider Arena, who coached his first game for the University of Puget Sound more than four decades ago. He still fumbles with social media but has accepted many other aspects of the job that didn’t exist when he left the national team a decade ago.

“The national team landscape has changed,” said Stuart Holden, a former U.S. midfielder and now a Fox Sports analyst. “The way the team travels and the facilities and the gear and everything that goes with that has all been elevated a level. All these different elements change the dynamic of how a team operates.

“Bruce will certainly be comfortable navigating it. I’ve seen evolutions in him. He realizes now that that’s a big part of being the manager.”

So is success. And while Arena is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, he’s never been better, going unbeaten in his first 14 games with the national team, winning the Gold Cup and lifting the U.S. from last in the qualifying table to third, which would be good enough to win a spot in next summer’s World Cup.

“I like what I do. And I’ve always been a competitive person,” said Arena, who has managed more than 1,000 games for club, country and college teams, losing less than a quarter of them.

“You work every day to try to be successful.”

Bradley, who worked under Arena in college, with the national team program and in MLS before replacing him as U.S. coach 10 years ago, is driven by similar goals after 36 years in the job.

“With all of the different experiences that I’ve had in the game, my ideas, my vision on a club, what kind of football to play, how that club has to have an identity and be something that people can feel part of — those are things that mean so much to me,” he said in the ESPN interview. “I love going into every situation and trying to take my ideas and create something that’s different and special.”

Schmid, whose two titles trails only Arena among MLS coaches, also remains passionate about pursuing dreams 37 years after coaching his first game for UCLA.

“I love being out here. I love what I’m doing,” said Schmid, who returned to the sideline with the Galaxy on Saturday.

“I have three hobbies. I like watching soccer live. I like watching soccer on TV. And I like talking about soccer. It’s really that simple.”

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11