Counting down the top 11 personalities of 2011 in Southern California soccer ...
Bruce Arena has done it so many times, he makes it look simple, but the work building the Galaxy into a champion has been anything but simple.
America's best soccer coach finally brought to L.A. the trophy it most desired, with last month's MLS Cup triumph over the Houston Dynamo, and that followed successes during the regular season (a second straight Supporters' Shield) and in the CONCACAF Champions League (top spot in Group A, the only non-Mexican club to win its quartet.
It was a culmination of work begun in August 2008, when Arena -- two years removed from the U.S. national team job -- was brought in to replace Ruud Gullit (as head coach) and Alexi Lalas (as general manager). Within 15 months, he had the Galaxy playing for the title. The next year, L.A. was the best team until the playoffs. This year the club set a post-shootout era by amassing 67 points.
Yes, there's David Beckham and Landon Donovan and, by the finish, Robbie Keane. No team played better defense. Role players were exceptional. But the reason for L.A.'s success lies wholly with Arena.
“Everybody knows I'm a big believer in Bruce,” Galaxy assistant coach Curt Onalfo, who played for Arena at Virginia and with D.C. and was one of his assistants with the national team, said during the MLS playoffs. “It's not the first time I've said he's the best in the business. And he just is. He's proven it time and time again in a league that's extremely difficult, where there's enormous parity. The fact that his teams have been in first place basically for two years running, it's just a remarkable accomplishment.”
Arena, 60, has done it before. He won five NCAA championships at Virginia, led D.C. United to MLS's first two titles (and an MLS Cup appearance in year three, too), then directed the national team through its most successful eight-year span, featuring a quarterfinal run at the 2002 World Cup. He was inducted last year into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
His work this season might have been the best of his career. The Galaxy endured constant injury trouble, with nearly every important figure out at some point, and an unforgiving schedule, playing every three or four days nearly from August into November. Nobody could touch them.
“I've been around Bruce a long time now, and the one quality that stands out is his desire to succeed,” said Donovan, the Galaxy's captain, who first played for Arena with the national team. “Sometimes it gets a little annoying, because he wants it so badly. He pushes us constantly. In the moments, sometimes it's difficult, but when you look at the big picture, there's a reason why he's been so successful.
“His leadership skills are exquisite, his managerial skills, both for people and soccer-wise, are in my opinion the best in the country. And further than that, he wants to win. He wants to be successful, and that's infectious.”