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Op-Ed \ John Haydon

Take some time, then name Arena U.S. national coach.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Monday, July 6, 1998) -- United States Soccer Federation president Alan Rothenberg seems in a rush to hire a coach to replace Steve Sampson, who resigned following the U.S.team's 0-3 performance at the World Cup in France.

Rothenberg, whose term ends next month, has talked to potential foreign candidates, including former U.S.coach Bora Milutinovic. But he would be wise to move more slowly because a consensus is building in the soccer community for an American to get the job.But when it comes to qualified American coaches the choices are limited.In fact, the list begins and ends with one name: Bruce Arena.

The (Washington) D.C. United coach, who won five NCAA championships at University of Virginia and the first two Major League Soccer titles with D.C. United, is clearly the only American who could take over from Sampson. Arena is smart and has a proven record.He commands respect and is not easily intimidated. And if not Arena, then who?

Arena certainly is no diplomat like Sampson.Although he has detractors who consider him aloof and stubborn, Arena is a man of ideas with a vision for the American game. The national team job would seem the next logical step in his productive career.

"Every time we select a foreign coach, the development of coaches in this country goes back," Arena said. "Do we have coaches that have the background and experience of [former Brazilian coach] Carlos Alberto Parriera? No. But we have good coaches, and we need to get into the international environment and make our mistakes, just like anybody else."

Arena says choosing a foreign coach is similar to recruiting foreign players to become American citizens, which he believes does not help player development in the United States. "If we are to follow any model, we should follow the model of the strong soccer nations who use their own players and their own coaches," Arena said. "There are no quick fixes."

But is an American coach the answer? "You have to erase the [distinction] between foreign and American and go with the most qualified," said D.C. United defender Jeff Agoos, who has just returned from the World Cup. "At the moment, I don't think an American has enough experience. Bruce [Arena] has a lot of experience. Steve [Sampson] had a lot of experience, too, but I think you have to have someone who understands the game, who has played at that [World Cup] level and understands the mind-set going into a World Cup."

Arena believes a new U.S.coach must take on a broader range of responsibility than just the national team and must get involved in every aspect of soccer in America. "We [in American soccer] are not sophisticated at this point in time where our coach can just spend his time coaching the national team," he said. "He has to have an influence on all soccer development in the country. He has to be part of it, and it has to flow smoothly all the way up to the national team, which means you have to have an understanding with the professional league."

Would Arena like the job? "I'd be interested, but we don't know yet what the job is," he said. "What I do know is that I need to do this job [with D.C. United] better."

When pushed a little further, Arena became more direct: "I would be a candidate to be the American coach, I think so."

John Haydon is soccer columnist for the Washington Times and can be e-mailed at haydon@twtmail.com.

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