Bruce Arena (pictured) was previously in charge of the U.S. national team from to 1998-2006. (Photo: Victor Straffon/Straffon Images)
CARSON, California -- As the United States trained for the first time under new head coach Bruce Arena on Wednesday, there was a new attitude and vibrancy in the team.
“Any time you come back from a period of time off, any time there’s a new coach, it gives the whole thing new energy, new life,” captain and midfielder Michael Bradley said. “I can see it in everybody’s eyes that we’re excited for the next few weeks.”
With the U.S. (0W-0D-2L, 0 points, GD-5) sitting last in the final CONCACAF qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, there is an urgency.
"Our goal is pretty clear: We need to qualify for Russia in 2018," stressed Arena.
After the Americans fell 4-0 at Costa Rica in the second Hexagonal matchday on November 15, 2016, Jurgen Klinsmann was relieved of his managerial duties.
Arena, who resigned as LA Galaxy coach to take the position, previously guided the USA to the quarterfinals and the round of 16 in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, respectively. The transition of his return has been helped by the fact that the U.S. national team training center is at the StubHub Center complex, where the Galaxy practices.
"I'm having the time of my life," Arena commented. "I haven't had to move. The hotel is about a five-minute drive from my house. I've been coming here for the last eight years. I had to move about 30 yards from my past office, so life could be worse."
It could be worse, however, if the Americans don't book a ticket to Russia. Their next qualifying encounters against Honduras (March 24, home) and Panama (March 28, away) have a “must-win” feel.
During Klinsmann's tenure, players were unsure of their roles as lineups and formations changed. They are welcoming the new atmosphere under Arena.
"He’s going to create an environment where guys are going to compete, guys are going to enjoy themselves and there is going to be a real spirit, a real feeling that we are all in something together," concluded Bradley. "But when it’s time to work and time to compete, we’re going to do that. He’s going to be very clear and tell it exactly like it is, which is exactly what we need.”