Tacoma, WA – Anthony Arena is an intelligent, athletic defender whose poise and leadership on the pitch are as recognizable as his charisma is off the pitch. Arena comes from a family with an athletic pedigree; his grandfather played football at Notre Dame and his father played at football at UNLV.
Arena began playing soccer at the age of five, when he picked-up the game from his older sister. Within a few years, Arena began his ten-year club career with Crossfire Premier where he won eight straight state championships.
"I tried out when I was seven for a U11 team and I didn't make it, but I tried out again when I was eight and made it," said Arena.
While playing club soccer, the team had traveled to a Pateadores soccer camp where the best teams from around the country had the opportunity showcase their talents and be coached by top university coaches.
One of those coaches, Wake Forest head coach, Jay Vidovich, said, "I thought he was a very good soccer player, he's a defender that could read the game, he was technically clean, he's got a good first touch and is passing and distribution is something that would allow us to play soccer the way Wake Forest is known for playing soccer."
Anthony made a strong impression on coaching staffs; however, it was the staff at Wake Forest that made a lasting impression with the young defender.
"The Wake Forest coaches were just good guys, and they showed a lot of interest in me. [They] talked to me a lot and pulled me aside," recalls Arena.
Shortly after, Arena decided to attend Wake Forest University.
"I took a couple visits and saw what kind of program they were building there, the dynamic around the university, and I fell in love with it right away," said Arena.
In high school, Arena featured as a kicker for his football team during his junior and senior years, and actually garnered interest from a few programs.
"I didn't really know much about it and my high school coach kind of kept it under wraps because he knew I was already committed to Wake [Forest]," said Arena. "Around the time I was signing my letter of intent my Dad asked my (football) coach if there was any interest, and there were some PAC 12 schools that had some interest but I never talked to anyone about it."
Anthony Arena leaves an attacker on his back (photos by Chris Coulter, SoundersPhotos.com)
Going into his freshman year (2009) at Wake Forest, Arena suffered a knee injury during the summer that kept him from playing in the preseason. He worked hard to rehab the injury and made it back in time for the regular season, where he was a fixture in the lineup, starting every game on a team that went all the way to the final four of the NCAA tournament.
In the classroom, Arena had always been a good student and admits he was never really challenged academically prior to Wake Forest and had a bit of an adjustment upon his arrival.
"You get to Wake Forest and it's a pretty grueling academic school. It took me a semester to transition into what it would take to be a student as well as an athlete. After my freshmen spring I grabbed it by the horns and was able to maintain good grades. It was a growing experience, it took time; it took tutors--lots of tutors! That first year, year-and-a-half, it was challenging," said Arena.
He has taken summer classes every year at the university and is scheduled to graduate in December, a semester early, with a degree in Psychology.
Over the past few seasons at Wake Forest, Arena has honed his skills and become a veteran presence on the Wake Forest soccer team.
"Anthony is a good guy, he's done great in school, he's likable, charismatic, he gets a long with all the guys," said Jay Vidovich about Arena's presence off the pitch.
"He's learned to play under a little bit more pressure, he's learned to read the cues and how to defend and match up. His individual defense has improved, he's also quicker on the ball, his distribution is good, and he's become two-footed," said Vidovich of Arena's performance and development since arriving at the Wake Forest.
In his junior season, Arena suffered through an injury and transitioned into playing the left back position. Now, heading into his senior year at Wake Forest, a lot remains up in the air for the talented defender. He has a lot to prove going into his final year with the program. He has spent most of his collegiate career playing center back; however, there are some that think outside back or defensive midfielder may be a better fit to play at the next level.
"I’m trying to work on versatility because it pays dividends at the next level to be able to play more than one position," said Arena.
Since joining the Sounders FC U-23 a few games into the season, Arena has established himself as a stalwart on the back-line, anchoring the defense and providing veteran leadership to one of the youngest teams in the league.
"The big thing that drew me to this team is when I talked with Darren (Sawatzky) is the group of guys that are coming in. It's a group of guys that all share the same aspiration to go on to the next level," said Arena.
Arena has been putting in double training sessions over the summer, working on the Wake Forest fitness package as well as training with the Sounders U-23 team; all in preparation for his upcoming college season where he hopes to propel both his team and himself to success.
"It's been my dream for awhile [to play MLS]. It all depends on my performance individually and our team. One of the biggest things for guys that move onto the next level is how their team does. If the team does well then it's better for the individuals on the team," said Arena.