Only two coaches have won back-to-back championships in Major League Soccer, and they square off in this weekend’s MLS Cup final – with Bruce Arena looking to become the first man to pull it off twice.
He won the first two league titles, guiding D.C. United to trophies in 1996 and 1997, and there are some similarities between those sides and the LA Galaxy teams that beat Houston last year and are preparing for Saturday’s rematch with the Dynamo (4:30 pm ET, ESPN, TeleFutura, TSN/RDS in Canada).
“It was a different era, so I don’t think you can make comparisons,” Arena said during Tuesday's media conference call previewing the big game. “My D.C. United team had some outstanding stars and some players that contributed and supported them. Then we had a nucleus of players who blended in well with our star power.
“I guess you could say we have that here at the Galaxy. Guys understand their roles and understand how to play with Robbie [Keane], Landon [Donovan] and David [Beckham], which end up being a team. That’s what this is about, developing good teams. So in that way those similarities are certainly there.”
Keane, Donovan and Beckham are the pivotal figures for LA, and the supporting cast – Juninho, Mike Magee, Omar Gonzalez and Edson Buddle, to start – is pretty good, too.
Arena's D.C. United champions had Jamie Moreno and Raúl Díaz Arce up front, Marco Etcheverry pulling the strings, and great support from, among others, John Harkes, Jeff Agoos, Steve Rammel, Tony Sanneh, Richie Williams and Eddie Pope.
The partnership between Díaz Arce, who scored 23 goals, and Moreno, a late addition to the roster who was key in United's playoff run, is something like that between Keane, who has netted 19 goals in 25 matches in all competitions since returning from Euro 2012, and Donovan, who shares MLS' all-time goals total (regular season and playoffs) at 145 with Moreno.
Keane and Donovan, who also plays in midfield, provide a tough challenge for the Dynamo defenders.
“They are two good players who know how to react off one another,” Arena said of his current attacking duo. “They are technically similar, and they both understand each other well. Regardless of where we play Landon, he connects with Robbie. If he is in the midfield, it’s still the same kind of relationship. It comes down to two soccer players who understand each other.”
D.C. United was MLS' first dynasty, following the first two titles with another MLS Cup appearance under Arena in 1998 (and a loss to Chicago) and winning their third title in 1999 under Thomas Rongen.
The Galaxy, too, could be considered a dynasty after reaching their third MLS Cup in four years. But Arena doesn't quite agree with that assessment.
“Our League is not going to have dynasties,” he said. “The make-up of the league and how we do our business doesn’t permit that. There are going to be teams that are good for a couple of years, and then they fall out of it for a while, and they come back again. That’s just the reality of Major League Soccer.
“I don’t think you’re going to see the LA Galaxy be a team for the next 10 years that will be competing year-in and year-out for the championship. It’s just not possible in our single entity.”