Santa Clara, Calif. — Bruce Arena bites his fingernails religiously, a habit he has had since age 10.
Among some other unmentionables.
“Are you kidding me? I’m sure there’s plenty of those,” the U.S. coach acknowledged with a chuckle, “I don’t make that public information, though.”
Arena walks across midfield soaking in the California sun and surveying the scene as his players take a lap and begin stretches ahead of training on a practice field adjacent to Avaya Stadium, home of the San Jose Earthquakes.
He crosses his arms and paces — side to side, forward and backward — eyes up always. He shifts his hands to his hips and steals a glance downfield to where the goalkeepers are doing individual work.
“I’m thinking about my investments and retirement and things like that,” Arena cracked, then added: “I’m observing the players and looking at their habits, trying to learn as much as I can about players on a daily basis. It’s not only game day. When you have a team and there’s 23 players, every player is important. So sometimes your contributions aren’t only on game or on the field and it’s other things. You look at the qualities of players both on and off the field.”
With his quick wit off the field and demanding nature on it, Arena has instilled a calm and a swagger the U.S. squad needed, and that has bred success again after fans reached panic mode. Now, Arena can become the first to coach to win three CONCACAF Gold Cup titles if the Americans can beat surprising Jamaica tonight. The U.S. won under Arena in 2002 and ’05.
“I came in with Bruce in January and I think initially you saw someone who’s trying to get points across and be pretty serious about it, but as we realized his demands and his intentions he’s been able to kind of dial it back a little bit,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “Very dry, good sense of humor. It’s important, especially in these long camps, to have some kind of comic relief as well.”
On Monday, Arena reminded his players it was here in the Bay Area where the Americans regained momentum in March by beating Honduras, 6-0, in a World Cup qualifer.
Arena, a member of the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame who turns 66 in September, has led the team to an 8-0-5 record since he returned in November for a second stint as coach, replacing Jurgen Klinsmann.
“Four months ago we were rebuilding our program, a program that was in desperate shape of being in a position to qualify for a World Cup and all other things,” Arena said. “We’ve made great strides over the last four months.”
The U.S. is seeking its sixth Gold Cup title and first since 2013. Nine different players have scored so far this tournament.
CONCACAF Gold Cup
Who: Jamaica vs. United States at Levi’s Stadium, San Jose California
What: Championship game
When: 9:30 tonight
USA road: Tied Panama 1-1, beat Martinique 3-2, beat Nicaragua 3-0. beat El Salvador 2-0, beat Costa Rica 2-0