2012 in Review: Q&A with Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena
MLSsoccer.com continues to take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 16-12-6 (54 points); 59 GF / 47 GA (+12 GD)
Bruce Arena became the first Major League Soccer coach with four MLS Cup titles and the first to win back-to-back titles twice – and with different clubs – when the LA Galaxy toppled Houston in a rematch of last year's championship game.
It was a gratifying finish to an exceedingly difficult season during which LA overcame a horrid start with a superb final five months, climbing from the Western Conference cellar to the club's fourth league championship. MLSsoccer.com chatted with Arena about the 2012 campaign and what's to come in 2013.
MLSsoccer.com: What was the most gratifying thing about this season?
Arena: Holding my grandson up on the stage [after winning MLS Cup]. That's the truth.
MLSsoccer.com: How about in terms of how the season played out?
Arena: Obviously, it's gratifying, but it was a long, hard season. Difficult. I think we managed through a poor schedule. The schedule was put together poorly. It was incredibly challenging, incredibly awkward, and it was just a very, very challenging year. What more can I say? We had a lot stuff thrown at us, and we somehow survived in the end.
Actually, at the end we had two objectives. One was to win the MLS Cup and we wanted to qualify through [to the quarterfinals of] the [CONCACAF] Champions League, and we did that. The only thing we fell short on was Supporters' Shield, but we really conceded that in the early going. That was really no longer a goal. It wasn't obtainable. The rest that we accomplished was pretty remarkable.
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MLSsoccer.com: Galaxy VP Chris Klein, during the fan celebration two days after the MLS Cup final, called this the greatest team in American soccer history. If we take that to mean the past four years and everything you achieved in that time, would you agree with that?
Arena: I've never in my life compared one team to another. I don't know how you can. They're all in different settings. I was asked to compare D.C. United teams [I coached] to this team – I can't do it. I don't know how you can compare, say, the Cosmos teams to teams in Major League Soccer. I think it's a nice statement, but it's very hard to qualify those statements. All I could say is this team turned out to be the best team in the league this year. Last year's team was the best team from start to finish. And I think the league was much better this year.
There's a lot of factors that I think most people don't understand in terms of our competitions and will continue to be a factor as we move down the road. The scheduling in MLS is very difficult. We don't have a balanced schedule. Teams that are in outside competitions, such as CONCACAF, are behind the eight-ball. It's very difficult for them to play with the number of games. In the West, the travel is greater. You play in altitude in the West. You play on artificial fields in the West. It's just extremely difficult. So from one year to the next, it's highly unpredictable, it doesn't get any easier, and sometimes at the end of the whole thing it doesn't make for a fair competition.
So, having said all that, it's hard for me to even say: Is the 2012 team better than the 2011 team? The 2011 [side] didn't have to face some of the obstacles that 2012 had to. So it's really difficult for me to try to qualify those kinds of statements.
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MLSsoccer.com: At one point during the season, as you were turning things around, you said you knew what was wrong behind the scenes but you wouldn't tell us until the season was over. Well, the season's over.
Arena: I don't know what you're referring to, [but] I'll be honest with you. Every year with every team there's a lot of things going on behind the scenes. I think our challenges were getting things right in our locker room, just making sure we had all that stuff right. And I think that was a little bit of an issue in the beginning of the year.
My personal opinion now, as I look back on the 2012 season, is as an organization, as a team, we never let go of that 2011 Cup. Every day since the end of 2011 at MLS Cup, we were celebrating, we were setting engagements and we were fully occupied with everyone being aware of the fact that we won the MLS Cup in 2011. And I think it impacted us on the field and off the field. And I think it's a great experience for us. I'm hopeful this year we pat ourselves on the back for it and get on with work in 2013. So I think for me personally, closure came when we visited the White House [in May]. Once that happened, I think we were able to get on with 2012.
MLSsoccer.com: What are the greatest challenges you face in 2013?
Arena: I think that's something that doesn't change. It's maintaining a good roster, bringing in some new players that can help and finding a way to make the team successful. Those are the same things you face every year.
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As you know, if we were foolish enough to believe that 2012 was going to look like 2011, we had another thing coming. And that certainly bore itself out. I think 2013 is not going to look like 2012. It's just going to be a new challenge, and all we can do is everything we can to try to maintain our roster the best we can, try to improve our team in certain areas and then go out and compete. And we all know the challenges in the league are such that all this stuff is difficult. We're well aware of it. We're not going to complain about it, it is what it is, and we're going to try, obviously, to field the best team we can in 2013.
MLSsoccer.com: How big will the salary cap have on decisions going forward?
Arena: Like it does every year. It's a challenge. It's one of the big areas that our league has got to come to grips with as we move forward. We cannot project our league improving from year to year or to ultimately reaching a point where we're very competitive with other top leagues in the world if we continue to have the challenge of rebuilding rosters every year. It's a major obstacle. And it doesn't get any easier.
That's a decision our ownership is going to have to make as we continue to move forward. As you see around the league, there's always been some great challenges some of the clubs have because of their salary-cap issues. So hopefully we'll move forward in a way that allows us to maintain the kind of quality we want to have on our rosters.