After the U.S. national soccer team's successful run at the World Cup last summer, Bruce Arena wasn't sure if he wanted to continue as coach. He thought about pursuing overseas jobs -- a largely unexplored frontier for an American -- or returning to Major League Soccer. There also was apprehension about going through another grueling four-year cycle toward a berth in the next World Cup.
But in the end, Arena decided to stay, and yesterday, after months of mostly harmonious negotiations, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced Arena had signed a four-year contract to remain the coach.
Arena, 51, had agreed to terms of a new deal in October and the USSF's board of directors approved the package last month in Washington, The Post reported. Terms were not released, but sources close to the process said his base salary will be around $600,000, with lucrative incentives for major accomplishments, such as success at international tournaments and qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
This year, with the U.S. team advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in 72 years following a last-place finish in 1998, Arena earned about $1 million, those sources said.
"Once the World Cup ended, I didn't know whether I wanted to continue" with the national team, said Arena, whose current contract expires in two weeks. "Not because I didn't enjoy the job or the challenge, but the question was, 'Do I want to get back into full-time managing or coaching that you see at the club level?' Even in our negotiation process, I kept an open mind to possibly coming back to MLS, but at the end of the day, for a variety of reasons, mostly personal with my family, the decision was made that I would stay."
Arena, who lives in Fairfax, has been interested for some time in coaching in Europe, particularly England, but "in all honesty, I don't think there's the kind of respect for an American manager or American players in England. And it's quite honestly why I didn't receive any offers or many inquiries. It was something I would've considered."
USSF President Bob Contiguglia had said upon reelection in August that his top priority was to re-sign Arena, who has been praised for building team chemistry, developing young players and implementing successful game strategy against world-class opponents.
"Perhaps more important than those triumphs on the field is the blueprint that Bruce has put together for the development of the American player and the American professional game," Contiguglia said yesterday. "I think this will be Bruce's true legacy."
Arena is on track to become the first U.S. coach to guide the American squad in two World Cups. (No U.S. coach has stayed on the job for more than four years in the program's 86-year history.)
"As I reflect back on the past four years, I sure learned a lot and I'm hopeful that these experiences will benefit our team as we move forward," he said. "I'm excited about the next four years, I'm excited about the fact that I think I'm much more prepared this time around and really look forward to what is going to be a difficult challenge."
That challenge was made a little easier yesterday when FIFA, soccer's world governing body, announced that an additional team from the region representing North and Central America and the Caribbean, known as CONCACAF, will have an opportunity to qualify for the next World Cup. CONCACAF will again receive three automatic berths -- the same as for the past two World Cups -- but a fourth team will advance to a two-game playoff against an Asian squad for an additional spot.