After a horrific start to the hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying late last year, then USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the U.S. Soccer federation appeared headed for splitsville at over 100 miles per hour. A 2-1 home loss to Mexico was followed up by an ugly, painful 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Costa Rica, and a team that seemed like a sure lock to appear in the 2018 World Cup was on the outside looking in, needing a lifeline to get back on track towards its number one goal.
So after the departure of Jurgen Klinsmann, rumors began to swirl as to who could be the next USA coach, and instead of going with a new face, it went back to the man that helped build the nation's senior men's team into one that is respected worldwide -- Bruce Arena.
The coach spoke with CBSSports.com ahead of Friday's qualifier with Costa Rica to explain why he came back, his future and more:
Getting results and improving form
It's been just over nine months since Arena rejoined, and in 14 matches the team has won nine, drawn five and lost none. It started with zero points in qualifying with those two losses, and it now has eight from four matches and is currently sitting in fantastic position to make the 2018 World Cup. There's a renewed spirit and hope, an obvious confidence and happiness in the players and the determination to keep improving.
"We had zero points at the end of November 2016, and in last place with a minus five goal differential," Arena said.
"[Now] we are in third place with eight points and a plus-3 differential. We are in much better shape but those things can change quickly."
Why'd he come back?
Arena stayed in coaching following his dismissal after the 2006 World Cup, where the U.S. finished 25th out of 32 teams, failing to win any of its group stage matches. In fact, he did just fine for himself. After having won two MLS Cups with D.C. United prior to his first stint with the national team, he went on to win three more with the Los Angeles Galaxy, but that itch to get back into coaching on the national team level was always there. And then the call came.
"I thought it was definitely something I would do," Arena said on returning to coach the U.S. "Given the situation with the U.S. team and what I had seen at the start of qualifying, I think the team needed to get fixed and fixed quickly."
And he has. Sticking with the majority of MLS-based players and letting Christian Pulisic be the engine in the attack, the team has found its form and has been impressive, from a 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca against Mexico to the 6-0 smacking of Honduras, the U.S. has gone from unlikely to make the cup to closing in on qualification.
What happens after the World Cup?
With four matches left in qualifying and with Panama and Honduras on its heels, the. And it's in great shape to do it. Its three most difficult matches (home to Mexico, at Mexico and at Costa Rica) are out of the way, and four points in the coming days home to Costa Rica and at Honduras will be enough for USA fans to start making their World Cup plans. But what about after the World Cup?
It remains to be seen whether he is offered an extension and continues, and it surely seems like at this point he deserves one. But Arena is open to anything after the cup, be it continuing or moving on, as his lone objective was to get this team to the World Cup, which is close to happening.
"I'm glad to consider anything," Arena said. "At this point in time, it's not my focus."
His mind is only on one thing -- Friday night in New Jersey against Costa Rica, where the stakes are high.
"We have to win that game," Arena said.