Updated at 12 p.m. ET
Bruce Arena, two-time coach of the U.S. men’s national soccer team, announced Friday that he is resigning from his position. The decision comes mere days after the program hit a historic low on the field, losing to Trinidad and Tobago in a shocking upset — and at the same time, losing its chance to play in the World Cup for the first time in decades.
Arena’s second stint at the helm of the national team lasted just under a year.
“When I took the job last November, I knew there was a great challenge ahead, probably more than most people could appreciate,” Arena said in a statement released Friday. “Everyone involved in the program gave everything they had for the last 11 months and, in the end, we came up short. No excuses. We didn’t get the job done, and I accept responsibility.”
During his first stint at the helm, from 1998 to 2006, Arena steered the U.S. team to a surprise appearance in the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup — the best result for the U.S. in more than 70 years and a seeming harbinger of even better things to come. But those high hopes were dashed by a disappointingly early exit from the World Cup four years later, and Arena’s first tenure at the top of the team ended shortly afterward.
Still, the national team would find that move did not prevent future disappointments. Succeeded by two coaches — more recently Jürgen Klinsmann, a former German national team manager before being hired (and later fired) by the U.S. — Arena was brought back last November to rekindle the magic of 2002.
Then came the team’s rocky showing in World Cup-qualifying matches this year: losses to Costa Rica and frustrating ties in matches they probably should have won, against Honduras and Panama.
But it was a stunning 2-1 loss against Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday that marked the coup de grace.
“It was a debacle. It was an Armageddon. It was an apocalypse,” Roger Bennett, co-host of Men in Blazers, told NPR’s Robert Siegel after the game. “And I know that it’s only a game of football. I keep telling myself that. But it feels so much more. It’s simply devastating, the result, to those of us who care about the game in America and its future.”
Tim Webber offered NPR a glimpse of the terrible impact of missing the 2018 World Cup in Russia:
- The loss of at least $10 million in prize money, according to CNBC.
- The loss of lucrative sponsorships, merchandise sales and TV licenses, likely to total tens of millions of dollars.
- And the difficult-to-quantify — but no less difficult to swallow — erosion of morale for a country still trying hard to cultivate interest in the sport.
“Obviously the biggest disappointment is for our fans. As a person involved in the sport for more than 40 years, to see how support for soccer in the United States has grown is incredibly gratifying,” Arena said in his statement.
Still, he expressed optimism about the months and years to come.
“While this is a difficult time, I maintain a fierce belief that we are heading in the right direction. I believe in the American player and the American coach, and with our combined efforts the future remains bright.”