Coaches Sigi Schmid, Bruce Arena two of best in U.S. soccer history
Legendary coaches Sigi Schmid of Seattle and Bruce Arena of Los Angeles are meeting for the first time in the postseason in the MLS semifinals.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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TUKWILA — There isn't a Mount Rushmore equivalent for American soccer coaches, but if there was, the faces of Sigi Schmid and Bruce Arena would be proudly displayed.
Schmid, the Sounders FC head coach, and Arena, his Los Angeles Galaxy counterpart, have more than 60 years of combined coaching experience dating to their college starts. Tally up the many successful seasons — Schmid at UCLA, then with MLS's L.A., Columbus and Seattle; Arena at the University of Virginia before D.C. United, New York and the Galaxy — and they have totaled 12 championships at the NCAA and MLS levels and nearly 900 wins.
Both have U.S. men's national-team coaching experience, Schmid at the youth level and Arena for eight distinguished years with the senior team. Each has also won two MLS Coach of the Year awards, including Arena in 2009 and Schmid the year before.
The list of accolades is longer, it seems, than a Kasey Keller drop kick.
"Both are Hall of Fame coaches for sure," said Sounders FC technical director Chris Henderson. "I think if you're going to name the top coaches in American soccer history, those two are in the top five."
Despite dominating the soccer landscape in the same era, this year's Western Conference semifinal is the first postseason meeting between Schmid and Arena at any level. Each expressed mutual respect for the other in the buildup to what they called a "fun" matchup, but now the formalities are over.
Now it's back to what they've done throughout their entire careers: winning.
And after L.A.'s 1-0 victory in the first of the two-game series, advancement toward the MLS Cup comes down to one deciding game Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
"I don't think there's a lot between the teams, where one is far better than the other," Schmid said. "Obviously right now we have played each other four times (this season) and we've won one and they've won three, so it favors them. ... Hopefully this is a game where it evens out."
Even is about how the coaches' résumés have looked so far. Schmid ranks first in NCAA wins with 322, but Arena isn't far off at 295. Arena is also playing catchup in MLS wins — his 109 rank third behind Schmid's league-leading 139.
On Sunday, Arena pulled two wins behind the MLS playoff record (Schmid: 19) with his 17th.
"They have a lot of similarities in the way they coach," said Henderson, who played for both. "They're both winners. They both know how to get the most of out their players. They're both good at building groups of players who want to win."
Said defender Jeff Parke to SoundersFC.com: "They're both intense and both get their points across by the respect that the players hold for them."
The admiration cuts between the coaches as well.
"Everyone that knows Sigi away from Seattle finds him to be a really good person," Arena said. "He's extremely bright, and we have the greatest respect for him."
Schmid called Arena a "legend."
"He is probably considered America's best coach based on what he did with the World Cup team, the titles he won with Virginia, et cetera, and early on in our league," Schmid said.
This week that respect turned to competitiveness. Arena's team gained the upper hand in the conference semifinals with a conservative approach, playing offensive standouts Landon Donovan and David Beckham more defensively than in the attack. In response, Schmid must devise a scheme to unlock an organized Galaxy backline that he expects to sit back and protect the one-goal lead.
From the sideline in training this week, Henderson has enjoyed watching Schmid's coaching gears turn.
"I think he wants to make sure everyone is at the top of their game," Henderson said. "He's pressing all the right buttons to get the most out of every player, and Bruce is doing the same thing. ... There's a lot of pride for both of them, and it will be interesting to see what happens after Sunday night."
Whatever the result, however, two illustrious legacies will remain intact.
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