PANAMA CITY — Bruce Arena addressed a wide variety of topics during a roundtable with traveling reporters Monday. Some of his comments appeared in my formal story online earlier Monday and in print Tuesday. Many others landed here:
Managing a team over a long qualifying schedule will have its ups and downs. “There is a swing of emotions and mentalities all the time. It’s a roller-coaster. We don’t want it to be a roller-coaster; we want it to be a little bit of a flat line. But that’s sport.”
The weather at kickoff will be 80 degrees with high humidity. Advantage: Panamanians? “It’s going to be challenging for both teams. There’s no difference between Panama’s team and ours.” His point: Eleven Panamanians are employed by MLS or European clubs, the rest in Central and South America. He also cited Mexico’s growing number of players based overseas. “The advantage they have at Azteca isn’t the same anymore; they’re not adjusted to the altitude.”
Should the Americans brace for a Panamanian side further motivated by the last-minute home defeat in 2013 that killed its World Cup dreams and sent fourth-place Mexico to the intercontinental playoff? “We’re not smart enough to be thinking like that. If we were smart enough, we wouldn’t have broken their hearts. You think Mexico would’ve scored a goal at the end of that game” to keep the United States in contention for a World Cup berth?
The American player, he said, is more sophisticated than ever. “They are not as raw as they were years ago. They are all good players and have good experiences. In the past, a number of them were pretty inexperienced and didn’t have the club experience they do today. They are not as naïve as they once were. Maybe they now have all of the baggage that some of the well-known players [around the world] have. At the end of the day, with any national team program, there needs to be guys with real good qualities to carry the program and get it the right away.”
Speaking of American players, does Arena see qualities in Christian Pulisic that were clearly learned and absorbed because he joined Borussia Dortmund at such an early age? “Don’t attribute all of his success solely to Borussia Dortmund – not that they don’t deserve a lot of the credit. He was growing as a player in the U.S. [in the U-17 residency program]. Don’t piss on our system, which everyone wants to do.”
[Sarcasm alert.] “It’s not possible we could have a good player that came out of here! There has to be a reason for it, and the reason is obviously because he went to Germany.” [End sarcasm alert.] “He was going to be a good player wherever he went. Maybe that was the perfect environment for him, but when he left here, he was a good player.”
Arena likes his group. “You’ve got to have a passion about doing this. We’re fortunate we have a group of guys who want to be here.”
Arena doesn’t think he would last long as a college coach again. “I’d be fired because of too many rules. The college environment is insane. It’s the amount of pressure on coaches and student-athletes and universities. In my day, there’s nothing wrong with having a beer with one of your players. Today, you’d get fired.”
Coaches are different, just like … writers. “Everyone does things differently. There’s not one rule on how you do anything in life. Some of you guys write differently than others. Some actually tell an actual story.”
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