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Arena asked to rescue American World Cup effort from the depths. He receives unprecedented four-year deal.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

Bruce Arena (Tuesday, October 27, 1998) -- Bruce Arena, long regarded as the country's premier coach and acclaimed for his work in collegiate and professional soccer, was finally rewarded today by the United States Soccer Federation, which appointed him to lead the national team back from the ashes of a dead-last finish in the 1998 World Cup.

He received an unprecedented four-year contract (financial terms not disclosed, but reported in at least two major newspapers to be $500,000 per year) and also was named technical director in charge of developing youth players.

"It has been a goal of mine to coach internationally at the highest level, and it's a challenge I'm ready for," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in the ability of the American player. This is a great honor. The support around the country was overwhelming."

Arena, 47, who led (Washington) D.C. United to two championships and one runnerup finish, said he would concentrate initially on developing a new base of young players, primarily from Major League Soccer.

"We are going to have young and exciting players that the fans will identify with," he said. "We're not ruling anyone out, but we need to start building with new players. We can be successful. We will use what's left of 1998 and 1999 to develop a broad pool of players, mixing the young with the veterans so we will be in good position to qualify (for the 2002 World Cup) in 2000."

He stressed that domestic-based players "must be among the best players in MLS," without naming names.

Several national team veterans have not filled that role in Major League Soccer the past two years. He said he is very happy with the goalkeeping (led by Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel, both in the England Premier League). "We need some young defenders . . . need some help at midfield . . . and up front," he added.

Arena said he did not know how much time he would devote to the two U.S. Soccer jobs, though it is presumed by the time World Cup qualifying arrives in two years that the national team coaching position would be full-time or close to it.

He said he did not contemplate "radical changes" in the U.S. Soccer coaching staff, "providing we agree on philosophy," which presumably means Clive Charles continues as Olympic (under-23) coach and Sigi Schmid as under-20 coach (providing he doesn't go to MLS).

"I want to be actively involved as technical director, working with the staff, the coaches. I'm not here to micro-manage other teams, but I want to be involved in youth development."

Arena said "wins and losses" won't be that important for the first year as he tries to develop young players. "They lack international experience, but not ability," he said, again without naming names -- though later he praised midfielder Ben Olsen and forward Josh Wolff as examples.

He predicted that by 2010 -- the U.S. Soccer goal for being a competitive team in the World Cup, fueled by millions of Nike development dollars "we will be a soccer-playing nation that can compete with anyone in the world."

Said U.S. Soccer general secretary Hank Steinbrecher: "Bruce Arena will get the most out of the American player."

Said MLS Commissioner Doug Logan, who has sparred verbally with the outspoken Arena: "We are giving U.S. Soccer our best. He has an eye for talent. He has the ability to mesh different talents on the field better than anyone. He is not prone to overcoach."

Said D.C. United general manager Kevin Payne: "He is a very hard worker, with fanatical attention to detail. U.S. Soccer had better buckle its seatbelts. You must get the little things right, and he will be pushing for that every day."

Arena has not been shy in voicing disagreements about U.S. Soccer in the past, which may have been a reason he wasn't selected for the top job until now.

He said Chicago Fire coach Bob Bradley will assist him but remain as head coach of the MLS champions. He is expected to announce a national team roster Wednesday for the November 6 game against Australia in San Jose, Calif.

U.S. Soccer chief operating officer Tom King said there would be a training camp December 13-20 either in Chula Vista, Calif., or Miami. "We expect then to gather in Guadalajara (Mexico) for 10 days of training starting January 1 (for the FIFA Confederations Cup)," he said.

The United States, already in the same bracket as Brazil, won't also have to meet world champion France, which has dropped out. The Americans start January 10 against New Zealand, the play Brazil on January 13, and the still-unannounced substitute for France on January 15.

King said two internationals are scheduled February 6 and February 25, along with three more in the 1999 U.S. Cup, scheduled March 11-14. No teams nor sites were announced.

Five more internationals are likely later in the year, after the Major League Soccer season.

Arena led Virginia to five NCAA championships -- in 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994 -- before joining D.C. United in Major League Soccer in 1996, where he also coached the U.S. Olympic team to a 1-1-1 record.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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