U.S. plays in Bolivia as Arena takes helm

Coach seeks talent pool for World Cup in 2002

January 24, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- Bruce Arena, the new coach of the U.S. men's national soccer team, does not have a rebuilding job ahead of him. It is more like buying a new house that is a handyman's special. The foundation is there, but there is much work to be done.

The amount of refurbishing needed became obvious last summer at the World Cup in France, where the overrated and underachieving U.S. team lost all three of its first-round games and finished last in the 32-team field.

Steve Sampson, whose attempt to integrate younger players into the team blew up in his face, resigned as coach after the debacle. Arena, 47, who was born and reared in New York, has had success wherever he has coached: his University of Virginia teams won five national titles, and his D.C. United club won major-league soccer's first two championships and this past year captured the Concacaf Champions Cup and the Interamerican Cup.

For at least the next year, Arena will be the man in the white lab coat, merrily experimenting with new players and new combinations. He has directed the national team in one game, a 0-0 draw with Australia, since being named coach in October, but his debut on the international stage truly begins today when the United States plays Bolivia in a "friendly" match in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Arena's 18-man traveling roster includes some national team veterans (Tony Meola, Jeff Agoos and Claudio Reyna), but also eight players who have appeared fewer than five times for the United States and two who have never played for the senior national team (goalkeeper Tom Presthus of D.C. United and Imad Bab of the New England Revolution).

"The national team program accomplished a lot in the 1990s," Arena said recently by telephone from the team's training camp in Orlando, Fla. "We were one of only a few countries to have played in the last three World Cups. But at this point I'm not concerned totally with results. I am concerned with building a team that is prepared to qualify for 2002, whether that means by winning games or by developing a new team. It's about developing a new pool of players, and with that there needs to be patience."

That new pool of players is certain to be a fluid one as Arena prepares for the 2002 World Cup, which will be in Japan and South Korea. The first regional qualification matches will be played in November 2000.

The Americans will face Germany on Feb. 9 in Jacksonville, Fla., and Chile on Feb. 21 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., then play in the four-nation Nike U.S. Cup '99 in March in Southern California.

Arena is not shy about selecting players he is familiar with: Roy Lassiter, Tom Presthus, Eddie Pope, Agoos and Richie Williams all played for Arena's D.C. United club.

Pub Date: 1/24/99

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