U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati and U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Bruce Arena addressed members of the media via a teleconference on Tuesday, Nov. 22.
Sunil Gulati: “Welcome everyone. It’s been a long couple of days and in some ways a long week since the second result in Costa Rica. We made a difficult decision yesterday in ending our relationship with Jurgen Klinsmann. Before I go further, I want to thank Jurgen for everything he’s done for the program, not only for the senior National Team but in all of our programs. There were many, many successes, many of which were outlined in the press release yesterday, certainly not all recounted. But some of the most recent results have put us in a difficult position vis-à-vis World Cup Qualifying. As I’ve said many times, we don’t make any decisions based on one or two games, but over a long period of time. Some of those things raised some concerns for us, which is why we decided to make a change.
“The second part of the situation is welcoming Bruce back to the program. I don’t view it as ‘Bruce 2’ but more of ‘Bruce 2.0.’ He has far more experience than he did when he had the National Team the first go-around. He’s proven and re-proven many times at all levels of the game in the United States that he’s an extraordinarily capable and successful coach. His record, whether it’s at the University of Virginia, D.C. United, the LA Galaxy, and with the Men’s National Team program, are rarely paralleled in college, professional, and National Teams in the U.S. With that, we welcome Bruce back and we’re happy to take any questions you may have.”
Bruce Arena: “Sunil, thank you for your comments. I’m thrilled to be back with the National Team, I think it’s the greatest honor for a coach in our country. I know we have a great challenge ahead, but I believe we have a good pool of players to make our team successful and reach our ultimate goal of qualifying for Russia in 2018. I’m really excited for the opportunity and I really look forward to getting to work and getting our team ready to play in 2017.”
On how far the team has come during the past decade:
BA: “Well, that’s not an easy question to ask, but I think U.S. Soccer has made great progress. With the growth of the league and our players who are playing abroad, we have a very good pool of players. Winning a World Cup is difficult, there’s only a few select countries in the history of the World Cup that have actually won it. I think the United States is edging closer to that day. I have a lot of confidence in our domestic pool because of Major League Soccer, and the pool of players who are now playing in Europe and Mexico are very talented players. I believe since I left in 2006 the pool of players has certainly expanded.”
On the length of Bruce Arena’s contract:
SG: “We have an agreement through the World Cup, with various contingencies as all contracts have.”
On his thought process during the past 10 days and whether Jurgen Klinsmann’s comments affected his decision:
SG: “You’ll remember from the round table that we had two consecutive questions, the first being ‘What would be the case if we lost those two games regarding Jurgen?’ and the next was ‘Would we consider renewing him if we did really well at the World Cup?’ That’s a pretty wide range, and I did say that I fully expected Jurgen to coach us through the Hex and beyond. None of us expected the two results we got, and that doesn’t mean a single loss or a single goal, but overall those two games and the history is what we took into account. It is never based on a single game, but you weigh individual games and in this case with those two games, combined with everything else we had, we felt that we needed to go in another direction in order to maximize the chances for success on the field, both in March in Qualifying, at the  Gold Cup, and then subsequently at the World Cup itself.
“Regarding the comments, we didn’t make a decision regarding our coaching situation with the Men’s National Team on any recent comments that I’ve read.”
On comments he made in 2013 regarding foreign-born U.S. National Team players:
BA: “I don’t know how that came about, I guess we did that interview together three years ago from what I’m told. If I made those comments, I certainly don’t believe that’s my attitude. As a starting point, one of my favorite players in my eight years as National Team coach was Ernie Stewart. I believe that anyone that has a United States passport is certainly eligible to play for our National Team. I embrace all players that are eligible to play and I just want to make sure their heart’s in the right place and when they put the U.S. jersey on they’re playing for that crest on that shirt. It’s important to me; I have a great passion for this National Team and I expect the same out of all players. I am all for any players that are eligible to play for us and I really look forward to working with our foreign-nationals as well as our domestic players."
SG: “I’ve talked about that, not only in the last 24 hours but quite often, and I want to reiterate what Bruce’s views have been and what mine certainly are. If you’re eligible to play for the U.S. National Team, you are available for selection. After that, the coach makes those decisions, but we’re open to anyone, whether they were born abroad or born here. Some of the discussion that Bruce and I have had in the past is if we have players primarily developed abroad, then while they’re still absolutely eligible in every possible way to play for the National Team, they don’t reflect in the same way on the development programs that we’re going through in the U.S. We are trying to evaluate our own development programs, and pretty clearly, a player like Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson, is different than some younger players that have grown up in the U.S. They’re both eligible to play for us, there’s no thought pattern that one has an advantage over the other, as long as they’re committed to the U.S. National Team, which Bruce has reemphasized before and again just now.”
On making the decision to part ways with Jurgen Klinsmann considering the connection to him:
SG: “Jurgen is somebody that we tried to contract a couple of different points along the way and invested a lot of time and resources in doing that. His track record over the last five and a half years… The track record of our last three coaches, win-loss percentages, is by far the best we’ve had among any coaches in our history. That’s Bruce in his first go-around, which is actually the highest win-loss percentage, Jurgen Klinsmann, and Bob Bradley. These decisions are always hard, because in the three cases we’re talking about, all either were or became close personally, which makes things harder. In the case of Bruce, we’ve known each other now for the better part of 30 years. That was a hard decision because of everything that not only I had invested, but the Federation had invested. As it has become clear, we don’t make these decisions based purely on emotions or at all on emotion. We try to be methodical about them, to give our coaches the appropriate amount of time to make sure that what they’re trying to implement in our program is given sufficient time and that players are given sufficient reaction time. So that wasn’t easy yesterday, in a personal or professional level, but something I thought we had to do in order to put ourselves in the best possible position going forward for the next 18 months."
On how he begins the process of taking over the U.S. Men’s National Team mid-cycle:
BA: “Although I’m very familiar with the pool of players, the most important thing right now is to have conversations and meetings with as many players as I can before we start January camp. I want to touch base with our entire pool of players by the time we get together again in March. I think they need to know who I am and what my thoughts are, where they fit into the program, and the challenge that we have together as a team. We will develop an identity over the next couple of months and hopefully feel comfortable working with each other and understanding that the goal we have is important for the entire group. We will work together in the next couple of months to build our team to be the best team we can be and be ready for Qualifying when March 24 comes around.”
On the long term impact of Jurgen Klinsmann on American soccer and his legacy in the way players approach the game and development:
SG: “I think it’s a number of things that you just mentioned. The commentary about the seriousness with which players may approach the game and their craft is one of those things. I think you will see some things that have happened in terms of our grass roots programs and what we call our ‘Zone 2’ programs, whether that’s the [Development] Academy, all those programs. The shorter term issues, things like new players that have been brought in, whether it’s Christian [Pulisic] or Bobby Wood or Jordan Morris, or some of the players that are currently playing in Germany, I think those are obvious ones. But I think another important one is, kind of off the field, is exactly what you started with: the awareness of the program, the attention to the program. Jurgen, by who he was as much as by what he did, elevated the program in terms of publicity, its awareness, not only in the United States, around the world. That’s a positive thing for the sport and for the National Team. I think those are all pluses and we’ll see some of the dividends of those. He came in to a program that had a very solid foundation, in my view, a foundation that Bruce had been an important part of building, that Bob Bradley had been an important part of building, and I think in his own way he’s built on that and Bruce will continue that process.”
On who would be named U.S. Soccer Technical Director:
SG: “We’re not in a rush on that. The priority of the two positions, the two roles that Jurgen had was certainly on the National Team manager. That’s where the urgency is in timing. Tab Ramos is our Youth Technical Director and a lot of the work that goes on falls under his jurisdiction in any case; so Bruce has got one very clear focus, as you’ve already mentioned, which is the National Team, and that means qualification, Gold Cup and performance at the World Cup. We’ll sit down over the days and weeks to come and make a decision on how we’re splitting up the role in terms of the technical direction of the overall program.”
On his separation from the LA Galaxy and whether he is planning a January camp:
BA: “In terms of the Galaxy, I think they’re in very good shape. We developed a plan for 2017 and we’ve been moving along and checking the boxes. I think they’re in really good shape with the returning group and the designated player prospects as well as the team’s internal player prospects. We have an extensive list and have done a lot of work. We’re only looking at this point at two or three players to sign and I think the team will be ready to go and have a successful 2017 season.
“In terms of the staff of the National Team, it’s early. I just took on this position today and I’ve discussed with Sunil and Dan Flynn and Jay Berhalter some possibilities with staff but we’re going to take a week or two to think this out a little bit and select the strongest staff we can have, and a staff that I can work with and feel comfortable we can complete the objectives that we have with the National Team program.
“Lastly, your question regarding the roster. I don’t think the roster is going to have radical changes from the last couple of camps but there will obviously be some changes. I’ll use our January camp to identify the domestic players, I’m obviously well aware of the pool of players in Major League Soccer, and then continue to keep an eye on our players that are playing abroad and consider them on their strengths and weaknesses and certainly have the opportunity to communicate with them as well. I’m hopeful by the time the first qualifier comes around, we can field the strongest team possible.”
On the cooperation of AEG and the LA Galaxy:
SG: “I want to mention that this doesn’t happen at the pace it’s happened and under the circumstances it’s happened without the extraordinary cooperation of AEG and the Galaxy. This has all unfolded within the last 48 hours and I want to make sure that we thank the Galaxy and AEG, Phil Anschutz, Dan Beckerman, Chris Kline, for frankly allowing us to talk with Bruce yesterday and then releasing him from his contract so he could pursue this. It’s late in the game for the Galaxy and they’ll figure that out but their response, frankly, which was support for the National Team and support for what Bruce wanted to do is unparalleled and that’s very much appreciated by U.S. Soccer.”
On whether he ever expected to be back and his thoughts on the U.S. MNT game against Costa Rica:
BA: “I never expected to be back in this role the way it came about over the last 48 hours. However, I think any coach in our country would always be thrilled to have the opportunity to coach one of our National Teams, so obviously when the opportunity presented itself—I hate to say this now to Sunil—I would have done this for free. It didn’t work out that way, we did agree to a contract.
“The game in Costa Rica was certainly disappointing for the group. Hopefully, it’s one that allows us to step back and evaluate what went well and what didn’t go well in that game and hopefully it’s something that we can use for the betterment of the team as we move forward, in how to be prepared and play games on the road in CONCACAF. Obviously, it was a disappointing result. The only thing I can tell you is that we’re going to make it better.”
On when the U.S. Soccer Federation and Bruce Arena began speaking about the possibility of coaching the U.S. MNT amidst suggestions that they have been talking with him for a year:
SG: “That’s certainly not the case. Listen, Bruce and I talk pretty regularly. We’re friends and we work in the sport, he’s coached our National Team. That’s not true just for Bruce. There are a number of active coaches that I talk to along the way, talk about recent results, talk about what they thought and so on, so those discussions happen all the time. The discussions about coaching the team started in the last 48 hours. We met with Bruce yesterday in the afternoon and concluded an agreement about two and a half hours ago. As I understand it, Dan Flynn was in Los Angeles much of yesterday afternoon. I was there for part of it and Dan and Jay [Berhalter] were there for the rest and that concluded at about 11:30 today and U.S. Soccer’s Board [of Directors] approved it at 11:45 today.”
On what he has learned in the last 10 years that has made him a wiser coach:
BA: “I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had 10 years on the field at the club level and I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented players in the world and understanding how they work and how to build a team; and I’ve continued to grow on the tactical side, continued to grow in learning how to deal with players and learning how to plan and playing away and playing in big matches. I think 10 years later I’m better prepared for this job than I was in 1998 and 2002, and ultimately 2006. I’m hopeful that the experiences that I have are going to benefit the program. You know, one of the things you learn from experience is you see things a lot clearer and a lot quicker than you did previously, and the game has slowed down a bit where I can see as a coach, and in my position, how things are happening on the field. I’m better at identifying the strengths and weaknesses of players and I think I’m better at how you build a team. Certainly, this time around it’s going to be a great challenge. I’m excited about it and, hopefully, all my experiences help us quickly get this team turned around and ready for qualifying.”
On how he would describe himself as a coach and his efforts to deal with players who are significantly younger than he is:
BA: “I don’t think the age matters, as a starting point. We just elected a 70-year-old man as president of the United States. We’re still going pretty strong in this age group. How would I describe myself as a coach? A hard worker. I believe I’m a player’s coach. I like to believe I have a good understanding of how players are thinking. What I really know is how to build a team. I understand all the qualities and circumstances that develop into making a team and, again, I’m hopeful those qualities will allow me to get this team moving at full speed when Qualifying starts again in March.”
On whether fans can expect to see players who have made their case, such as Jonathan Bornstein and Benny Feilhaber, back with the U.S. MNT:
BA: “I think they and other players are good players and we’re going to give those type of players the opportunity to be back in the National Team program. How it ends up, I can’t answer at this point. We have a lot of work ahead of us. I’m well aware of the qualities of those two and others and we’re going to look closely at those players as we begin a domestic camp in January and ultimately select a roster for the games in March. So, no names are off the table, however, I would say that its highly unlikely we’re going to bring many new players into the program. We’re at a time right now where we need to get results and we need to have a team that’s ready to go in March.”
On whether he is picking up a U.S. MNT that is more or less talented than he had in the past:
BA: “Only time will tell if this team is more talented or less talented. I don’t know how to answer that question, to be honest with you.”
On the biggest problem with the U.S. MNT program right now and how it should be fixed, and whether he has had any discussions with U.S. MNT players:
BA: “I haven’t spoken to Michael Bradley but I have had communication with a couple of players over the last 10 hours or so and have an understanding, we need to build a chemistry with this team and have a common goal and really work on a team concept. I really believe individually and positionally we have good players and we just got to get them working together as a team. There are no real secrets in how you build good teams. It takes a lot of hard work, it takes communication, it takes discipline and it takes some talent. I think we have enough talent to build a good team and end up in Russia in 2018. It’s going to take a little time, a little bit of patience and a lot of hard work.”
On the discussions through the years regarding ‘an American style”, if there is one and what the style is that he is trying to implement:
BA: “I think that’s a difficult question to answer. Your style is dictated by the qualities of your players. Certainly, there are things we could do tactically that allows that to blossom, but we are who we are. The American qualities have certainly been teams that are hard to play against and in the modern era, that is qualities that a lot of teams take on. If you saw the European Championships last summer, Copa America, the U.S. team isn’t far behind, technically, obviously you would certainly say an exception in Copa America to Argentina and perhaps Colombia, but you look at the teams that were successful in the European Championships, they were successful because they’re teams and they have good qualities to be good teams. I think that’s what the America team has. We’re traditionally strong in the goal, we have very good goalkeepers, we have some young attacking talent and we have some experienced players in the midfield. We have to find a way to get the right balance, the right combinations on the field and the right mentality and we’ll produce a good team. What it looks like in the end, I can’t tell you now but I’m certain we’re going to develop a good team.”
On the status of Jurgen Klinsmann’s assistant coaches:
SG: “We’ll go through that with Bruce the next couple of days. He’s going to certainly have the flexibility to pick his own staff and we haven’t had a chance to sit down and go through all of those decisions, but that will happen in the next few days.”
On reasons for Jurgen Klinsmann’s dismissal in addition to the past two results:
SG: “I think what I said was the two games on top of everything else and re-emphasizing that we don’t make decisions on individual games. It’s an overall record and you get new data points. These last two games were obviously important data points because of the importance of the games, where they were played and the results. Really starting at the Gold Cup, we’ve had some very up and down results – the Gold Cup was a big disappointment for everyone, for Jurgen, for the players, for our fans. We had a chance for a reprieve against Mexico – didn’t get that done in Los Angeles and then had an upswing at Copa America, where after a bad start, we won three consecutive games and got to the semifinals and then of course finished with a disappointing game against Argentina and that last one against Colombia. All of those things are part of the evaluation. It’s not just those. It’s the most recent results, it’s talking with people in and around the team, which we do on a pretty regular basis, so it’s all of those things combined that led to the decision.”
On where Sunil Gulati had hoped the Men’s National Team would be by now and what areas it fell short:
SG: “The easiest metric, the one that’s most important for all of us in this business is wins and losses, so where we would have liked to have seen the team? In an ideal world: 2-0, but 0-2 put us in a very difficult position. Where we would have liked to see the team? We’d have liked to see the team playing in the Confederations Cup next summer, either by winning this last Gold Cup – we did win the penultimate one – or by winning that playoff game. Those are two big things. We would have liked to have seen the Olympic team in Brazil. If I could pick three things, those are the things. We would have liked to have had a better start to the Hex, we would have liked to have seen the team in Rio and we’d like to be playing in the Confederations Cup next summer.”
On Bruce Arena’s contract options after the 2018 FIFA World Cup:
SG: “We both have options to talk to each other after the World Cup and see what he’d like to do with his life and what we’d like to do. There are no contractual options in the agreement.”
On increased pressure in the American soccer community:
SG: “I don’t think there’s any doubt that pressure has increased on everyone involved in the game, whether that’s players, coaches, administrators, leaders or anything else. I think that’s a reflection of two or three things. One is, obviously changes in technology and the speed of information and social media adds a dimension of pressure that wouldn’t have been the same for Bruce in his first go-round. Two, our fans are far more intelligent about the game. They’re passionate about the game, they’re involved in the game, so our fans know the game in a way that may not have been the case in such numbers 20 years ago, or even 15 years ago.
“We’ve got a group of sophisticated and educated fans who are very passionate about our National Team. That’s a good thing. And then the last is obviously the number of people involved in the game as fans have increased dramatically. Not only do we have more fans, we have more educated and passionate fans and we have more educated, passionate fans with a way to express their views through social media. I think all of those things are important in this process and certainly do lead to more pressure. Those are all positives and we don’t view those as negatives.
“Clearly in situations where we’ve had some bad results and everyone feels pressure, no one likes to face the firing squad as it were, in terms of media or fans that are upset about something, but that’s a natural part of the growth of the game and that certainly is a very big positive.”