MIAMI— The LA Galaxy have used their week in Miami to complete their participation in the Guinness International Champions Cup while also fortifying themselves for the stretch run of the MLS season. But the trip has had special significance for head coach Bruce Arena.
Arena’s son Kenny, daughter-in-law Jennifer, and their infant son Wayde all live in Miami due to Kenny’s position as the head coach of the Florida International University Men’s Soccer team. So in-between training sessions and team meetings, the Galaxy boss has taken every opportunity to catch up with his family, who live nearly 3,000 miles away.
Kenny’s post as the head coach at FIU has other benefits as well as the Galaxy have had the chance to train on the Golden Panthers’ field in preparation for their match against AC Milan earlier in the week and Sunday’s match at FC Dallas.
Even the normally reserved Arena admits that it has been an emotional experience to bring his team to train on his son’s field.
“I’m proud of him. This is nice to be here,” said Arena, who admitted that he saw his family each day that the Galaxy spent in Florida due to the close proximity of Kenny’s home to the team hotel. “I think that he’s done a nice job with the program here and it’s good to see that he’s so excited moving forward in his career. It’s nice to see my daughter-in-law and my grandson.”
And as for his son Kenny, who was the coach of the Galaxy Under-16’s and an assistant with the UCLA Men’s Soccer team before joining FIU in March of 2012, his father’s visit has been valuable for a multitude of reasons.
“I’m just really fortunate that this international tournament happened. It was a nice surprise when I got the call that no matter what they were going to play a game in Miami and even better, were going to play a game against Dallas on Sunday so it made sense to stay,” said Kenny. “Professionally, we’re very lucky that we get to host the best team in our country and a lot of my players have gotten to see practice and I’ve gotten to learn by watching training as well.
“They say that coaches are the greatest thieves,” Kenny added. “I’m observing any drill or even just how the coaching staff organizes the week because it is very helpful to learn from and incorporate into my coaching career.”
While the chance to observe the Galaxy training session is a professional boost for Kenny, the greatest benefit of the trip has been the time that the Arena family has gotten to spend together.
Before Kenny took the job at FIU, the 32-year-old had intended to allow his mother Phyllis to take care of his new son daily, so that the loving grandparents would have an opportunity to see their grandchild on a consistent basis. However, once Kenny’s coaching career sent him to Miami, those plans were scrapped, leaving the Arenas to find other ways to communicate.
Just like any other grandparents, Bruce and Phyllis have been eager to spend time with their grandson, making this week in South Florida something of a godsend.
“This week was great because on the day off [on Thursday] they got to watch Wayde all day,” Kenny said. “He’s growing up so fast, thank god that there’s FaceTime [Instant Messaging], the greatest invention for families that live far away from each other.”
You might remember Wayde from the iconic photo of the Galaxy head coach lifting his newborn grandson over his head as LA celebrated their second straight MLS Cup championship last December. Following the victory, Arena beamed that he got a chance to share another professional milestone, not only with his team, but his family as well. The Galaxy boss even described the chance to lift his grandson over his shoulders in celebration of the title as his most “gratifying” experience of 2012.
“It was amazing. Something that my son will get to see for the rest of his life,” Kenny said of his father’s gesture. “Once he can understand what is going on, my dad can remind him constantly that he did that for him. That was kind of a symbol of the family atmosphere that the Galaxy have.”
However, that iconic moment –and plenty of other family moments shared as LA won the title– almost never came to fruition.
“When we were trying to get on the field, the officials from MLS didn’t want any kids or any family members on the field. Essentially, the families just broke through—and if you notice that on stage, everyone had their kids,” said the FIU boss. “The Galaxy were like ‘this is our championship, this is how we are, and we’re going to celebrate it with the people that we love.’ [Wayde] being held up there is a symbol of the way that their culture is.”
As his father looks to lead the Galaxy to an unprecedented third consecutive MLS Cup victory, Kenny is attempting to resurrect Golden Panthers much like Bruce restored the Galaxy back in 2008. Expectations are high for Arena as FIU’s men’s soccer program has fallen hard times of late. The last decade has been a difficult one for the Golden Panthers as the team that had won two Division II titles in the 80’s and finished as Division I National Runner-up in 1996 while also producing MLS greats like Robin Fraser, Greg Vanney and Steve Ralston have not qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 2004.
In his first season, Kenny’s side went a respectable 8-8-2, but finished eighth in Conference USA due to their 0-7-1 record in conference play. Displaying his father’s fierce competitiveness, Kenny admits that mediocrity won’t do for his side as he believes that his program has the talent and circumstances to make them champions.
“I wanted to see if I could bring that [success] back. It was obviously a little bit of a leap of faith, but after a year, I’m confident that we can recruit very talented players here, and you have the infrastructure to be very successful,” he said. “We’re trying to bring a lot of great players and help them move on, but first and foremost win some championships.
“We essentially have this radius of hundreds of miles where we are the closest division I men’s soccer program,” the FIU head coach added. “And we’re the only one in one of the biggest cities in the country. The opportunity is there based on the circumstances.”
And the Galaxy boss believes that his son will be able to create a top notch program much like he did with the University of Virginia in the 1990s.
“For me, it’s great personally that I’ve had that opportunity this week and I know that he’s really inspired to build a great college program at FIU,” Arena noted.
But Kenny admits that none of his success would be possible without his father’s guidance.
“He’s extremely insightful. So if you have a question of how you do something, you’re going to get a really simple and clear answer. Now as I’ve gotten older, it’s been really valuable in regards to things both on and off the field,” Kenny admitted. “He’ll tell you himself that you need to practice. He can tell me everything that he knows, but once I practice it and make it my own then it’s not going to matter. The advice that I’ve gotten has been great.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com