Kenny Arena is certainly happy to be back home, closer to his family as well as his old friends from Oakton High School and the University of Virginia. But to him, the best part of the recent trade that sent the 24-year-old defender-midfielder from the New York/New Jersey MetroStars to D.C. United was the opportunity to join MLS's most successful club.
"I was excited when the trade happened," Arena said. "It's nice to be back, but I don't even think about coming home -- I think about playing for the best team in the league. That is just a great honor for me, being able to help out a great organization."
A broken big toe prevented him from joining full workouts in Bradenton, Fla., the past two weeks but he said he hopes to be running at full speed when training camp moves to Hawaii tomorrow.
Defending champion United had been interested in acquiring Arena -- the son of former D.C. coach and current U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena -- since last summer and finally made a deal this offseason. The MetroStars received future considerations, which, depending on how much Arena plays, will cost United no higher than a second-round draft pick in 2006.
United has a deep roster and most of its regulars are back from last year's championship squad, but the club does need help defensively following the departure of all-star Ryan Nelsen to England and reserve Ezra Hendrickson in the expansion draft. Arena, one of the team's biggest players at 6 feet 2 and 190 pounds, made 10 appearances (eight starts) in his second season with the MetroStars last year, most in central defense.
"I like Kenny's physical ability," United Coach Peter Nowak said. "There's no doubt in my mind he can develop as a good player. He's going to have a shot at being a part of this team and we'll see what happens. With his mentality, he's going to work hard for this team."
Arena is among a growing number of United players with local ties, joining veterans Brian Carroll (Springfield), Santino Quaranta (Baltimore), David Stokes (Dumfries) and Freddy Adu (Potomac), as well as rookie Shawn Kuykendall (Vienna). It will also give Arena the opportunity to again play in front of his parents, who live in Fairfax.
After transferring from a New Jersey private school, Arena starred for two years at Oakton and was a first-team All-Met as a senior when the Cougars lost in the Virginia AAA final to Hylton, led by Stokes, in sudden-death overtime. At Virginia, he earned a starting role late in his freshman year and maintained it throughout his career. The MetroStars selected him in the fourth round (32nd overall) in the 2003 draft.
"What precipitated [the trade] was D.C.'s continued interest in Kenny and probably [MetroStars Coach] Bob Bradley's lack of interest in him," said Bruce Arena, who guided United to MLS titles in 1996 and '97. "It's all part of being a pro; these things happen all the time. Hopefully, it gives him an opportunity to go forward as a professional."
Because of his age and experience, Kenny Arena will not count against United's senior roster or salary cap, a developmental exemption that will expire after this season. Which means he'll have to make a name for himself right away -- if not with the full team then with United's reserve squad, which, for the first time thanks to expanded rosters, will play approximately 12 games against other MLS reserve teams.
"I'm just going to be respectful and grateful for every opportunity I get," he said. "I'm just going to try to move up slowly, if that's what it takes. I'm patient and I think it's just a matter of time."
United Notes: Team officials say that season ticket sales are 10 percent ahead of last year's pace, when 7,000 seats were sold. . . . United will play the Los Angeles Galaxy twice in Hawaii next week -- a closed scrimmage and an exhibition at Aloha Stadium.