Monday, November 6, 2006
Bruce Arena is arrogant. He's certainly not the cheerleader that US Soccer, Nike, adidas, MLS and everyone else out there with a financial stake in the success of soccer in this country would like to have leading the charge.

Can we all agree, though, that Da Bruce isn't the villain that the media made him out to be after all was said and done, and that he still has a big role to play in the advancement of the game here in the States?

Lest we forget, before he was over-hyped by the media as the celebrated coach of the 2002 World Cup "miracle" and then destroyed by that same media as the arrogant idiot who blew it on the big stage in 2006, he was the common thread connecting a lot of the talent that helped create the roots of the growth of the game in the 1990's.

Now that he is out as coach of the national team, his highest and best use to US Soccer is in reclaiming his role as a major part of the production line feeding the USMNT roster.

Sure, it would be great for MLS to have a successful team in New York City to build some excitement, but for what we REALLY care about - success in 2010 - and for the good of the game in this country, Arena must add to his legacy of players who he has helped mold into major US Soccer contributors. Just to recap, the list reads something like this...

[bullet]Jeff Agoos
[bullet]Chris Albright
[bullet]John Harkes
[bullet]Tony Meola
[bullet]Ben Olsen
[bullet]Eddie Pope
[bullet]Claudio Reyna
[bullet]Tony Sanneh

And those are only the players who made a major splash. Throw in the Richie Williams' of the world, who ultimately didn't have the talent to contribute at the national stage, but wouldn't have even been in the conversation if Arena hadn't helped get the best out of them and fostered a winning attitude.

Before you get the impression that I'm going too far in praising Arena, don't get me wrong. I'm not under the impression that Bruce CREATED all of the players above. They were mostly highly coveted recruits who brought talent to the table.

What Arena has been as successful as anyone in the US at doing is refining that talent and pushing it to it's limit. The younger he got them, the better the results have been.

The reason I mention this now - despite the fact that the Red Bulls lost in the first round of the playoffs this past weekend - is that right out of the gate, Bruce has the chance to mold some players who have - forgive me Bill Simmons - Tremendous Upside Potential.

On his current roster, Arena has four players who are, in my mind, candidates for roles on the USMNT somewhere down the line: Jozy Altidore, David Arvizu, Marvell Wynne and Todd Dunivant.

Of the group, Altidore is the one getting all the buzz - and rightfully so. Not until I saw him in person at during the United/Red Bulls playoff match did I really get an appreciation for what everyone was buzzing about, but he was REALLY impressive.

He seemed bigger than his listed 5'10" height. At 16 years old, he has a man's body and speed to match. The move he made about halfway through the second half to get to the touchline and cross the ball across the goalmouth was something you just don't see in MLS very often, and even less so from an American.

Arena is getting Altidore at a younger age than he got any of the players he helped develop in the early 90's, so hopefully, he will be able to propel the obviously gifted Altidore to heights that no US striker has seen so far.

It wouldn't hurt if the Red Bulls played a little wider next season and had a smaller forward to work off Altidore rather than the space-clogging John Wolyniec.

That brings us logically to David Arvizu who is just the sort of player to be able to exploit the spaces created by a physical presence like Altidore. He's quick, he's fast, he's clever with the ball and he can shoot it.

He's another extremely young and raw player and might share too many qualities with Amado Guevara for anyone to expect that he'll be starting next year, but he has the talent to be a small/fast striker next to Jozy or play in the "hole" behind the strikers in a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield alignment - so long as there is a defensive minded midfielder playing in front of the backs.

The US has a lot of players with potential in this spot - Freddy Adu and Lee Nguyen being the most prominent - but if Arena can add Arvizu to that mix, we'll all be happier for having the good types of problems (ie, too many to choose from).

Those who know me (or have been reading my stuff) know I'm in the bag for Marvell Wynne. I think he's going to be an excellent player, both in Europe and for the USMNT, in the next couple of years.

He's built like a wall, can run for days, and his crosses and moves forward are getting better. I'm not sure you can ever develop that Messi-like feel for the game if you aren't born with it (and he wasn't). but there are a LOT of high quality players out there who weren't born with it and are still doing pretty well for themselves and their countries.

What Marvell needs is some good ol' fashioned coaching up. He needs to be pushed beyond the point where his superior athleticism will take him, and Bruce is just the man to do it.

I'll be shocked if Marvell doesn't start getting some national team attention by next summer - if not then, certainly by the summer of '08.

Finally, the closest of the group to being the "finished article" - Todd Dunivant. Obviously someone who Arena respected enough to call up over the course of the run up to Germany 2006.

I don't think Dunivant was ever really in the consideration set unless there was a rash of injuries, but with a need at the wing defender position spending time in Arena's finishing school will help him challenge the likes of Heath Pearce for a job on the left side of defense in 2010.

He may end up being more of a Chris Albright-type role player on the national team scene than a starter, but we need quality role players as much as stars. I know I'll be happier if some of those role players have Bruce's seal of approval before they head off to South Africa.

Regardless of the fates of any of these four specific players, we should be looking with an optimistic eye towards the Bruce Arena era in New York. It increases by one the group of MLS teams that are likely to do a good job in nurturing talent for the US National Team.

It will improve career arcs for Red Bulls players given that Arena has something of an international profile after his long and successful career with the USMNT. This puts Da Bruce in more of a position than most MLS managers to get the word out with some weight behind it if and when these guys outgrow their current surroundings.

Sunil Gulati may not have been Bruce Arena's biggest fan in July, but if he's smart, he's got his pom-poms on now and is cheering for Arena to do his magic again for the benefit of the cause in 2010.

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