Bruce Arena has experienced plenty of sporting success against Boston-area teams, both as a player at Cornell and while coaching in MLS. Now, Arena, 67, is set to become a New Englander himself, as coach and sporting director of the Revolution.
The Revolution (3-8-2, 11 points), reeling after missing the MLS playoffs three successive seasons and off to their slowest start to a season ever, announced Arena’s hiring Tuesday. Arena will be in control of all things soccer, taking over after the firings of coach Brad Friedel last week and general manager Michael Burns on Monday.
Mike Lapper will remain interim coach through a Revolution charity match against visiting Chelsea FC Wednesday and a visit to the Montreal Impact Saturday.
Arena made his name coaching the University of Virginia to five NCAA titles, winning five MLS Cups with D.C. United (2) and the Los Angeles Galaxy (3), and taking the US national team to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. Arena has been successful nearly everywhere, but failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in his second stint with the US team and has not worked since.
Dan Wood, a four-sport athlete at Tufts (baseball, basketball, football, soccer), played a key role in Arena’s soccer career. Arena, a Long Islander, was on the lacrosse team at Cornell when Wood was coaching soccer in 1971. Two goalkeepers were injured, so Wood recruited Arena to play, and the Big Red went on to an NCAA Final Four appearance in 1972, eliminating Harvard, 2-0, in the quarterfinals.
Arena continued to play lacrosse, joining the Montreal Quebecois — he even competed against the Boston Bolts in box lacrosse at Boston Garden — while also working as a teacher in Ithaca, N.Y., and assisting Cornell lacrosse coach Richie Moran.
In 1976, Wood was named coach of the Tacoma Tides in the American Soccer League and he signed Arena.
“I think there was a big change in him in Tacoma,” Wood recalled. “We had a Brazilian guy, [Jamil] Canal, as the starter and Bruce hadn’t played in several years. But his attitude was great.
“He would take part in field drills and got much better with his feet. There was no back-pass rule, but maybe he thought the rule might change someday. He improved his skills, and the rest of the team had more respect for him and, sure enough, the No. 1 guy got injured.”
After the ASL season ended (the league folded, as well), Arena and Tides teammate Frank Gallo were named co-coaches at the University of Puget Sound. That kicked off Arena’s coaching career, and in 1978 he moved to Virginia as head soccer coach and assistant lacrosse coach.
Arena was among the few US-born coaches to transition smoothly from the college game to MLS.
“As far as guys who were native-born Americans, we were groundbreakers, and Bruce did that better than anybody,” said Wood, now retired and residing in Florida. “He had great success at D.C. United, but his players were so accomplished at Virginia that it wasn’t that big a jump.”
Arena quickly proved himself in MLS. He coached United in the first MLS game at Foxboro Stadium, the Revolution taking a shootout victory in 1996.
Arena and D.C. United returned to Foxboro Stadium for the first MLS Cup final, defeating the Galaxy, 3-2, in extra time in a driving rainstorm Oct. 20, 1996.
Arena had also proven himself on the international stage while coaching the US Olympic team, but his outspoken nature worked against him. Before the 1996 Olympics, he had claimed US officials were “too stupid to fix a draw,” and the team went on to be eliminated after losing to Argentina and tying Portugal.
But after the US team’s unimpressive 1998 World Cup campaign, officials overcame their reluctance and hired Arena as national team coach.
Arena quickly made an impact, guiding the Americans to two victories over Germany and reaching the semifinals of the Confederations Cup in his first year.
Then, the US team became the surprise team of the 2002 World Cup before being eliminated by Germany in the quarterfinals, the team’s best finish since 1930.
In those days, Arena called Foxborough part-time home as the US national team went 10-1-2 under his direction at Foxboro and Gillette.
Arena’s first stint with the US team ended with a 2-1 overtime loss to Ghana in the 2006 World Cup. Then, Arena took over the Red Bulls, the team knocked out in the first round of the MLS playoffs in 2006 and ’07.
In 2008, Arena joined the Galaxy as general manager (replacing former Revolution defender Alexi Lalas) and coach (in place of Ruud Gullit). The Galaxy were in a situation similar to the Revolution’s, having failed to advance to the postseason for three seasons.
Arena quickly revitalized the Galaxy, teaming with David Beckham and, later Robbie Keane. Arena guided the Galaxy to the 2009 MLS Cup final (penalty kicks loss to Real Salt Lake) and was named MLS coach of the year. The Galaxy won the 2011 and ’12 MLS Cups with Beckham and Keane, then captured the 2014 final with a win over the Revolution, the fifth time the Revolution lost in the final.
The US team again came calling after firing Jurgen Klinsmann in 2017. Arena set a team record by leading the team on a 14-game (9-0-5) unbeaten streak, but Team USA faltered, losing, 2-1, in Trinidad & Tobago in the final game of qualifying.
“After the national team experience, he said he didn’t think he would get back into coaching unless he was in charge of the whole soccer operation,” Wood said. “The Krafts knew he had a great record and they will put him in control of the operation. He’ll hire some good support people and staff. But he will make it clear he’ll have the final say.”