Bruce Arena on Friday resigned as coach of the U.S. men’s national soccer team, three days after the American squad suffered a stunning defeat at Trinidad and Tobago and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
“No excuses,” Arena said in a statement issued by the U.S. Soccer Federation. “We didn’t get the job done, and I accept responsibility.”
The Hall of Fame coach, who had guided the program to the 2002 and ’06 World Cups, was summoned last winter to rescue a 2018 qualifying campaign that had gone awry under Jurgen Klinsmann. He restored stability, steering the team back into contention, but couldn’t finish the job.
The Americans needed only a draw in the last match to secure the final automatic berth from the CONCACAF region, but fell behind by two goals in the first half to the worst team in the six-nation competition and lost, 2-1. Coupled with two other results in group play, the United States finished fifth and also missed out on a playoff berth against Australia.
“When I took the job last November, I knew there was a great challenge ahead, probably more than most people could appreciate,” Arena said. “Everyone involved in the program gave everything they had for the last 11 months, and in the end we came up short.”
The United States had been among seven countries to participate in every World Cup since 1990.
“This certainly is a major setback for the program, and questions rightly should be asked about how we can improve,” Arena said. “No doubt this process already has started and will continue so that U.S. Soccer can progress. Having said that, it also is important to recognize the tremendous growth and accomplishments we have achieved over the past two decades in all areas, including player development, coaching education and a stable domestic professional league. That work is ongoing, and despite the result in Trinidad, the sport is on the right path.”
In a conference call with reporters after Arena’s announcement, USSF President Sunil Gulati said he would not follow suit and step aside. He also said he hasn’t decided whether to seek reelection in February.
The federation will appoint an interim coach in seven to 10 days, Gulati said, for two proposed friendlies next month. A broader search for a long-term replacement will also commence soon, he added.
Arena, 66, is the most successful coach in U.S. men’s history with an 81-32-25 record, including 10-2-6 this year. His 2002 squad advanced deeper in the World Cup (the quarterfinals) than any American side since 1930, and this summer, he won the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the third time.
Arena has also won five MLS Cup trophies (two with D.C. United and three with the Los Angeles Galaxy).
“While this is a difficult moment, I maintain a fierce belief that we are heading in the right direction,” he said. “I believe in the American player and the American coach, and with our combined efforts the future remains bright. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I can say this from the bottom of my heart: from the high of reaching the quarterfinal of the 2002 World Cup to the low of a few days ago, I have appreciated every minute of being a part of this program.”