Sounders FC

Western Conference coaches’ rivalry dates back to college

When the Seattle Sounders meet the Los Angeles Galaxy, the subplot of the two coaches becomes almost inevitable.

Seattle coach Sigi Schmid managed to put his respectful rivalry with L.A. coach Bruce Arena into some perspective this week in the days leading to the start of their Major League Soccer Western Conference championship series Sunday.

“If it was him and I kicking the ball, it would make for an ugly game,” Schmid said.

Still, when they stick to the sidelines each ranks among the most successful coaches in MLS. Schmid had the most regular-season career wins (207), with Arena No. 2. Arena has the most postseason wins (28), with Schmid No. 2. Between them, they have five MLS coach of the year awards, and six MLS Cups.

Their relationship dates to their college days, when Schmid played for UCLA and Arena was a goalkeeper for Cornell.

“We won, 1-0,” Schmid said. “But … under the new concussion protocol, I would have never finished the game because I got concussed early on in that game, and I cannot remember anything about that game. I wish I could.”

Arena claimed his own case of amnesia.

“I don’t honestly remember Sigi playing in that game,” he said, joking. “I remember at the time UCLA had a bunch of talented Ethiopian players that were outstanding. We lost in the NCAA semifinals. I was the most valuable player in the tournament, so I wasn’t looking at Sigi. …

“All kidding aside, UCLA had a great team. Sigi was an outstanding player, as he is a coach. It was a lot of fun. They were two teams that were pretty similar, but I think at that time UCLA was certainly ahead of Cornell. Cornell was a group of pretty academic-oriented players with one exception: myself, and maybe another player. … It was a lot of fun. It was my first time that I probably crossed paths with Sigi, and I admire everything he’s done since.”

After his college career, Arena played just one professional season: in 1976 with the Tacoma Tides of the American Soccer League. While in Tacoma, he also became coach at the University of Puget Sound. That started a career that took him to the University of Virginia, the United States U-23 team and in 1998 the U.S. men’s national team. In MLS he has coached D.C. United and New York before moving to the Galaxy in 2008.

That’s the same year that Schmid won his second MLS Cup with the Columbus Crew. Schmid turned that negotiating position of strength into the job with the expansion Sounders.

Arena has four MLS Cups — two each with D.C. and L.A. — and three coach of the year awards. Schmid has two MLS Cups – one each with the Galaxy and Crew – and two coach of the year awards.

Schmid could receive a third coach of the year honor this season after being named Friday as one of the three 2014 finalists, along with Gregg Berhalter of Columbus and Ben Olsen of regular-season Eastern Conference champion D.C. United.

“He’s a good manager of players, a good tactician,” Sounders veteran Chad Barrett said of his coach. “Even if I didn’t know Sigi, coming to a league where a guy has won that many games and coached that many great teams, you already have a certain amount of respect for him. … He’s one of the top — if not the top — coach in MLS.”

ADDED TIME

The Sounders trained Friday at one of the practice pitches around StubHub Center. It was 70 degrees and sunny, and Schmid admitted that was one of the reasons the club decided to leave its Tukwila training facility a day earlier than they might have otherwise. … Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (upper leg) and defender Leo Gonzalez (back) both traveled and participated. Schmid indicated that Gonzalez was full-in, while Alonso was limited and remains questionable for the match. … Roger Levesque was introduced Friday as the club’s director of community outreach. Levesque spent almost six seasons with the USL Sounders before playing with the MLS Sounders from 2009-12.

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