Bruce Arena will always be the coach who took the USA past Portugal and Mexico and into the quarterfinals at the 2002 World Cup. He’ll always be the coach who launched so many legendary careers at the University of Virginia and who managed MLS’s two great dynasties in D.C. and Los Angeles. He’s among the most pivotal people in the history of U.S. soccer. He’s on its Mt. Rushmore.
Christian Pulisic is 19 years old. He’s the face of the American game’s new era, which is now kicking off a bit earlier than most would’ve preferred. Pulisic wasn’t yet born when Arena coached D.C. United to the first two MLS Cup titles, and he probably doesn’t remember those giddy days in South Korea a few years later. That temporal disconnect highlights the strain Arena’s legacy now faces following his failure to qualify the USA for next summer’s World Cup.
The sport has grown. American soccer isn’t what it used to be, and that’s not only a good thing but a testament (in part) to Arena’s contributions. But the years are flying by, and the number of people reading about Arena’s accomplishments eventually will surpass the number of people who remember them. Charlottesville, RFK, Jeonju and Carson will fade away, while Tuesday’s nightmare in a place called Couva, Trinidad, will resonate. That’s the unfortunate, uncompromising nature of sports and an inevitable consequence of the passage of time.