His footballing life began, as a player at Tacoma Tides in 1976, and during his playing career he managed to earn one cap for US - as a substitute goalkeeper in a 2-0 loss to Israel in Beersheba, Israel.
He has undoubtedly made his name as a coach, and like most began learning his trade at a fairly low level beginning as Assistant coach at Cornell University in 1973. By 1978 he was the Head Coach at the University of Virginia (in between he sandwiched a two year stint at the University of Puget Sound) and it was here during an 18 year period that his reputation as one of the States' best coaches came to the fore. Whilst at the University, he turned them into the dominant force – winning 5 NCAA Division I championships with an incredible 80% winning percentage – incredible when you consider the length of time involved. This is reflected in the fact that the University has 15 consecutive winning seasons, which included him winning the ACC Coach of the Year 7 times and the National Coach of the Year Award in 1993.
It was not long before the professional game came knocking, and he brought the curtain down on his academic sporting career when he took charge of DC United, and the National U23 team – it was 1996, and the Atlanta Olympics were around the corner, and Arena was the chosen one to lead his country into their home games. Though the team did ok (they won 1, drew 1 and lose 1) he was credited with developing a number of U.S. National Team players (including midfielder Claudio Reyna and Eddie Pope).
It was at D.C. United where he grew as a coach, leading the club to the league title twice, and a Cup win. He even took the club onto an international stage winning the CONCACAF Champions Cup final (the North American Champions League equivalent) and then incredibly to a two legged win against Brazil's Vasco da Gama. The killer fact behind this however is that DC United didn't even exist until 1996 – meaning he built a club from scratch that within two years had been crowned Champions of the Western Hemisphere – in any league, by anyone's standard's that is incredible.
By the time his country came calling, he had won 4 NCAA titles (university league), 1 U.S. Open Crown, and 2 MLS Cup victories, he had been named MLS Coach of the Year (1997) and had managed the U23 national team for 44 games – it was no surprise he was selected to take over from Steve Sampson on 27th October 1998. But that was only the beginning – in his first year as national coach, he had a record that read P13, lost 2 – and that included 2 wins over Germany, a 1-0 win over Argentina and a 3rd place in the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup in Mexico.
Unsurprisingly he was the first ever American coach to be given a 4 year contract, to take in a complete World Cup cycle. His commitment to developing young talent in his own country has and is bearing fruit with Freddy Adu being the latest star to emerge from over the pond – with allegedly both Manchester United and Chelsea fighting over his 16 year old signature.
His first World Cup tournament was no disgrace, as in the 2002 World Cup in Japan he led the States to the Quarter Finals (losing 1-0 to eventual finalists Germany). Highlights of the tournament include a 3-2 victory against Portugal and a 2-0 victory against Mexico.
He then managed the side in Germany 2006 – and a group that contained Italy, Czech Republic & Ghana.
Arena then left the position after the tournament. During his time in charge, he recorded the most wins as national coach from 1998-2006 in their history. He also significantly improved their FIFA World Cup ranking during his time in charge with the US being as high as 4th.
Since managing the US National Team, Arena managed the NY Red Bulls before joining the LA Galaxy. During his time with the Galaxy, he has already won the MLS Coach of the Year Award in 2009.