Arena told ESPN's Taylor Twellman he understood the decision of athletes to take a knee during the U.S. anthem in protest of police brutality, but admitted he struggled to understand the anthem's relevance prior to pro sporting events in this modern era.
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"I think it puts people in awkward positions," Arena said. "We don't use national anthem in movie theaters or on Broadway, or for other events in the United States. I don't think it is appropriate to have a national anthem before a baseball game or an MLS game. But having said that I want it understood that I am very patriotic, but I think it is inappropriate."
Arena said he felt that since MLS was a more diverse league, the tradition of the U.S. anthem prior to matches made even less sense for the players. The league has a total of 722 players across its 26 clubs. More than half, 422, were not born in the United States.
"Think about it," Arena said. "In Major League Soccer, most of the players that are standing on the field during the national anthem are international players. They are not even Americans. So why are we playing the national anthem? With all due respect, I live in the greatest country in the world but I think it is inappropriate."
Bruce Arena talks 'challenging' WCQ for the USMNT
Bruce Arena believes the USMNT's young squad could face a difficult challenge in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying.
Arena managed the USMNT through two separate stints (1998-2006, 2016-17), amassing the most wins in the program's history with a record of 81-35-32. He led the team to a quarterfinal finish in the 2002 World Cup -- the country's best showing since 1930 -- as well as to an appearance in the 2006 World Cup. Under Arena, the USMNT also won three Gold Cup titles (2002, 2005, and 2017).
Arena also spoke about the challenges current USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter will face amid a signficantly altered FIFA calendar due to the cornavirus pandemic. CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani said in April that the qualifying format for the World Cup from the confederation may have to change due to the crisis.
Montagliani added that the September international window, which is scheduled to contain the first round of games in the World Cup qualifying competition, was in danger of being postponed, which could further complicate decisions about the format.
"They are very talented young players but they don't have the experience at that level and it is going be challenging," Arena said. "Who takes the lead? Is it Christian Pulisic? Is it John Brooks? Is it some of the younger guys? I don't know the answer to that question but it will certainly be challenging.
"You know, generally a coach has about two years to prepare his team for qualifying games but this is not going to be the case. Hopefully the format works out where the U.S. is allowed to grow into the competition. You never know what happens with the format, they may be tested right away and that will be challenging.
"As we all know, playing in CONCACAF when you go on the road is extremely challenging. Some of these young players will not have been placed in those situations before. So it is going to be interesting to see."