Soccer

August 20, 2006

Running of theBulls

After being let goas U.S. coach, Bruce Arena believes he can turn a feckless franchise into amodel for MLS

Why would BruceArena go from the pinnacle of global soccer (the World Cup) to the most haplessteam in MLS (the New York Red Bulls)? The answers are complex, and they reveala still-hungry coach who's eager to assuage the pain of the U.S.'s first-roundexit in Germany. "I would not have come back in this league to any otherteam," Arena said last week before his debut, a 4-1 friendly loss toEuropean champion FC Barcelona. "But [the Red Bulls] want to make the sportbetter in this country. They want to give you the things necessary to besuccessful, and I've never heard that in this league."

Arena's goal is tobuild, as he puts it, "a real professional club in the United States."Since purchasing and renaming the MetroStars in March, the Austria-basedenergy-drink company has contributed at least $75 million toward a 25,000-seatsoccer stadium in Harrison, N.J. (groundbreaking: Sept. 19) and green-lighted atraining center that will house the team's growing youth-development system."I don't need to say I need X amount of dollars," says Arena, who wonthe 1996 and '97 MLS titles in his three seasons with D.C. United. "I'lltell them what we'll need, and we'll get it done."

Realizing anyobjectives at all would be a triumph for Arena's new outfit, which has neverreached an MLS Cup final and was 5-6-9 at week's end. No doubt motivated tosucceed where other respected coaches haven't (see Carlos Alberto Parreira,Carlos Queiroz, Bora Milutinovic, Bob Bradley), Arena will build aroundHonduran midfielder Amado Guevara, the 2004 league MVP. As for his formeremployers at U.S. Soccer, who showed him the door despite his reaching the 2002World Cup quarterfinals, Arena can't hide his bitterness. "What am I goingto show them?" he says. "I've probably showed them the finest eightyears of the national team they're going to see for a long time. I don't needto prove anything to them."

At a time when MLSis making gains off the field-adding teams, building stadiums, signing itsfirst television-rights fee deals-Arena's arrival should further lift theleague's profile. But as the recent sold-out U.S. tours of Barcelona, Chelseaand Real Madrid suggest, MLS owners have to invest some of their TV windfall inwhat matters most. "They need to get better players," Arena says."There are people in America who are interested in seeing soccer. We're notgoing to have a league right now with teams the caliber of Barcelona, but wecan make the product better. And the people are saying, 'Make the productbetter and we'll support it.'"

Arena's task won'tbe easy. In fact, building a successful MLS team in the nation's mostsophisticated soccer market might be an even bigger accomplishment than takingthe U.S. to the World Cup quarterfinals.

• More analysisfrom Grant Wahl at SI.com/soccer.

TWO PHOTOSDAVID BERGMAN (2) EYEOPENER
In the debut of Arena (inset), Ronaldinho (with ball) and Barcelona showed howfar New York has to go.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)