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With World Cup qualifying on the line, Arena is right for the U.S., right now

If the need for U.S. Soccer to part ways with men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann became glaring in the end, the choice of who should replace him was just as obvious.

As expected, LA Galaxy boss Bruce Arena was introduced as U.S. coach on Tuesday, returning to the job he held from 1998-2006, a run during which he took the Americans to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals.

The news was met with mixed reactions, with some fans expressing displeasure that federation president Sunil Gulati hadn't gone with someone new. But hiring Arena was a no-brainer for a variety of reasons and the man himself was delighted to be back.

"Ten years later I'm better prepared for this job," Arena said. "It's going to be a great challenge. I'm excited about it and hopefully all of my experiences help us quickly get this team turned around."

Before Gulati fired Klinsmann on Monday, the national team had not changed coaches in the middle of a World Cup qualifying campaign for 27 years.

While there are more than four months to go until the U.S. plays its next two qualifiers against Honduras and at Panama, losses to Mexico and Costa Rica earlier this month, which ended up costing Klinsmann his job, make the upcoming matches close to must-wins.

Given those stakes and the slim margin for error, Arena's previous experience in successfully guiding the Americans out of CONCACAF qualifying was crucial in the decision.

"When we considered the possible candidates to take over the men's national team at this time, Bruce was at the top of the list," said Gulati in a statement. "His experience at the international level, understanding of the requirements needed to lead a team through World Cup qualifying and proven ability to build a successful team were all aspects we felt were vital for the next coach."

Arena has won five MLS Cups in all, three of them this decade. He's popular with players, too; since ESPN FC began its annual survey of Major League Soccer players two years ago, he's the coach respondents have most wanted to play for by a considerable distance.

Most importantly, Arena has a proven track record of orchestrating quick turnarounds and/or cleaning up other people's messes.

Arena took the helm of the national team after it imploded under Steve Sampson at the 1998 World Cup and led it to a Confederations Cup semifinal (after a 2-0 group stage win over Germany) the following summer. In 2009, his first full year with the Galaxy, he coached a team that finished tied with the second-worst record in the league one year prior to the title game, where it lost on penalties.

Overall, the Brooklyn-born Arena's approach differs greatly from that of Klinsmann, although there are some similarities. Both, for example, are outspoken: Arena clashed with MLS commissioner Don Garber during his first stint with the U.S. in much the same way that Klinsmann did during his tenure.

Any concerns that Arena won't retain German-born starters like John Brooks or Fabian Johnson because of comments he made -- and later retracted -- to ESPN The Magazine in 2013 are probably overstated. Arena had several foreign-born and dual national players on his 2002 team, including starter Earnie Stewart, who captained the side in the World Cup opener against Portugal.

"If I made those comments, I certainly don't believe that's my attitude," Arena said Tuesday on a conference call. "Probably one of my most favorite players in my eight years as the national team was Earnie Stewart. I believe anybody who has a passport for the United States is certainly eligible to play on our national team. I embrace all players who are eligible to play. I just want to make sure their heart is in the right place and that when they put that U.S. jersey on they're playing for that crest on the shirt. It's important to me. I have great passion for this national team and I expect the same out of our players."

In any case, Arena doesn't have the luxury of jettisoning World Cup vets and Bundesliga standouts like Brooks and Johnson. They aren't going anywhere.

Others, though, might not be so lucky. One has to wonder what the future holds for Klinsmann favorites like Jermaine Jones, who just turned 35, and defender Michael Orozco. Still, the squad will remain mostly intact.

"I don't think the roster is going to have radical changes from the last couple of camps," Arena said. "But obviously there will be some."

Arena, whose 2002 team was energized by a pair of 20-year-olds named DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan, has seemed to favor older players with the Galaxy in recent years, a trend that could continue with the U.S.

This isn't a long-term project; Gulati confirmed that Arena's contract runs through 2018. He was hired to quickly restore confidence, provide badly needed stability, get the national team to the World Cup and, if all goes to plan, do well in Russia.

Doing so would cement the 65-year-old's legacy as the greatest American soccer coach and there's no reason to think he can't accomplish it. After all, he's done it before.

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.


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