Deft touch, stability underpin Bruce Arena’s success

Bruce Arena will remain in charge of LA Galaxy for the forseeable future after extending his contract with the club on Thursday.

Steven Bisig/Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t anything left for Bruce Arena to accomplish. He doesn’t need to claim a fifth MLS Cup, a fourth Coach of the Year award or a second Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup to cement his legacy. His place as the preeminent manager in the MLS era remains intact even if he fails to win another game.

Not that Arena or anyone else with LA Galaxy is much worried about that particular occurrence. The team devised and tweaked by Arena looks primed for another title push this year with a stable foundation reinforced by close season acquisitions Rob Friend, Stefan Ishizaki and Samuel.

Arena plans to stick around for the next few years to see the task through after signing a multi-year extension on Thursday. The terms of the deal were undisclosed, but its outcome is stark enough for everyone to grasp. The veteran boss remains engaged enough to continue his work in southern California for the foreseeable future.

It is a decision sure to keep the Galaxy competitive and trouble the opposition. Other managers at this stage of their careers might ponder retirement or wonder if something else might satisfy them just as much. Arena’s decision reaffirms his priorities and sets the stage for one of the league’s top sides to retain its perch for the next few years.

Arena consistently finds a way to connect with his players and place them in a position to succeed.

Arena’s continued success stems from his ability to acquire and manage players. He cobbles together the best players he can procure within the salary budget (and he stretches to its limits and then some). His consistent track record for signing capable contributors extends back to the start with D.C. United. Once he locates the right pieces, he molds them into a cohesive unit. The stars have their place, of course, but they function within Arena’s overall structure. Everyone buys into the concept, plays their part and understands their role within his preferred 4-4-2 setup.

Too often the focus on the Galaxy’s success rests on the club’s resources. Money certainly helps, but the travails of other big-market clubs with similar freedoms show it is not merely enough to have it. Arena harnesses its power without losing sight of the overall objective. The recent shift toward consistency in the Designated Player ranks with Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Keane reflects how to deploy those advantages for the greater good.

Make no mistake: those sorts of decisions have played an integral part in Arena’s success. He stumbled from time to time along the way – the homecoming in New York did not proceed according to plan, while the disappointing excursion to the 2006 World Cup fell prey to the weight of expectations after the quarterfinal finish four years earlier – without wavering from his convictions. The results serve as a testament to his ability to make them.

Arena’s continued desire to pursue more of them makes life more complicated for the rest of the league. As long as Arena sticks to the task at hand, he’s going to keep his team in the hunt. And that fact places a heavy burden on the rest of the league to prevent Arena from adding to his list of honors in the coming years.