Considering how Bruce Arena has made a career out of being gruff and intimidating, the way he accepted his fate as New York Red Bulls coach with little more than a whimper was somewhat disappointing.
No explosive retort, no outspoken rant, no defense of his performance in his year and a half in charge. Just a curt (and frankly hard-to-believe) statement claiming the decision to end his tenure on Monday was mutual.
Despite more reports citing more sources than you can shake a red card at insisting he had been fired, Arena was adamant he had left on his own terms. But hey, maybe everyone is wrong. Maybe this is all part of Arena's master plan. If he has somehow fooled everyone, then we will surely see him turn up in some high-profile coaching position over the next few months.
What is more likely, though, is that he will emerge with microphone in hand, ready to let rip with a stream of acidic comments from the sanctity of the television commentary booth. There, he will have the license to sound off all he likes and it won't matter.
Yet if Arena does decide that his future lies in the media rather than on the sidelines, it would complete a spectacular fall from grace.
After all, this is the man who led the United States to No. 4 in the FIFA world rankings during his eight-year stint in charge of Team USA and gained respect around the world for his efforts. However, the U.S.'s dramatic failure in the 2006 World Cup dealt a blow to his credibility and credentials, and it certainly soured his legacy.
In New York, there is no doubt that the expectations of the Red Bulls organization are based around those in Europe, where a speedy return on financial investment is expected. After Red Bull took control of SV Austria Salzburg (now Red Bull Salzburg) in 2005, success quickly followed, with the team winning the Austrian league title this year.
The club owners need to understand that, due to the financial restrictions imposed upon Major League Soccer teams, the injection of the Red Bull company's money in the Big Apple may not have the same energizing effect as its famous soft drink, at least not straight away.
Even so, Arena still had one of the most salaried rosters in MLS at his disposal, including two designated players in Juan Pablo Angel and Claudio Reyna and arguably the league's most exciting young talent in Jozy Altidore.
Reyna was held back by persistent injury problems. However, Angel quickly established himself as one of the league's elite performers, and Altidore, who turns 18 on Tuesday, developed enough to attract the attention of several European clubs. Despite that offensive firepower, the Red Bulls failed to finish among the top four seeds for the MLS Cup playoffs or conquer an organized and efficient New England Revolution in the first round.
The cracks started to appear following the first leg against New England when Arena mysteriously criticized Angel for the Red Bulls' poor play at home rather than accept he had been unable to find an answer for the Revs' resilience in a 0-0 draw. A 1-0 road defeat in the second leg continued the club's historically poor playoff record and effectively sealed Arena's fate.
Only time will tell what the future holds for Arena, but this is certain: After being mentioned in the same breath with some of the world's top coaches as recently as early last year, he may now be considered damaged goods.
- Bruce Arena
- New York Red Bulls
- Red Bull