CARSON, Calif. – Bruce Arena was back in his element Sunday night, much to the dismay of the LA Galaxy.
The legendary coach proved he hasn’t lost his touch in leading his new team, the New England Revolution, to a 2-1 victory over his old team in front of a crowd of 20,828 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“It was nice,” he said of returning to the place where he coached from 2008-2016 and totaled three MLS Cups and two Supporter’s Shields. “I have nothing but great memories win, lose, or draw.
“This is never going to be an environment that I don’t feel comfortable in. And proud that I’ve been here.”
Arena, who turns 68 in September and is the oldest head coach in MLS history, hadn’t been on the stadium’s sideline since late in the 2016 season,, when he left the five-time MLS Cup champions to take over the U.S. men’s national team in an ill-fated attempt to qualify the Americans for the recent World Cup in Russia.
He had been out of Major League Soccer, let alone a job, until just over two weeks ago when he was named head coach and sporting director of a franchise that had been going nowhere under previous head coach Brad Friedel. The Revolution, in fact, were ahead of only expansion side FC Cincinnati with 13 points (to Cincinnati’s 11) entering Sunday’s match, but they looked nothing like an Eastern Conference also-ran, thanks to goals from Christian Penilla (in the 45th minute) and Teal Bunbury (60th) to extend the Galaxy’s home losing streak to three consecutive games.
The Galaxy’s last victory at Dignity Health Sports Park, by the way, was a 2-1 decision over Real Salt Lake on April 28.
“I’m proud of this group,” he said of the Revolution. “They’ve had a tough run this year, and they’re beginning to become a team, so that was a positive.”
Arena, who has been coaching the club since Tuesday, was non-committal when he was asked if he missed the daily grind.
“Yes and no,” he said. “When you coach, you always like to think you can still coach and you always have the thought process that coaches have. To get the chance to get back on the field is always rewarding, for sure.
“This team has not been great. That’s probably why I have this job and not relaxing in Manhattan Beach right now.”
He appears to be relishing the chance with New England, although he acknowledged he faces a difficult task in rebuilding the once-proud franchise.
“We’ll look to try to make the team better,” he said. “It’s challenging mid-year to do that. But we have our eyes on some people, and we’ll attempt to make the team a little bit stronger in the transfer window as well.”
In the meantime, he’ll not only savor a win over his former club but the reception he got Sunday. He received an extended round of applause as he walked onto the pitch prior to kickoff.
“Some lady was nice enough to come up to me and apologize for her husband yelling at me,” he said. “I think I was yelled at more when I was coaching here than I was tonight.
“So that was good.”
One reporter went so far as to compare him to Sir Alex Ferguson, who retired as coach of Manchester United in May of 2013 and has long been recognized as one of the greatest managers in history.
Arena wasn’t sure he would go that far in describing his coaching acumen which already appears to be paying dividends for the Revolution.
“I thank you for your nice comment,” he said, “but I would question your credibility for comparing me to Sir Alex Ferguson.
“I wish I was.”