NEW YORK – When you’ve been around MLS as long as coaches Sigi Schmid and Bruce Arena, you’d figure they would have met at this stage before.
But even after more than 500 MLS matches coached between the two, this Sunday’s Western Conference Semifinal match between the LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders will be the first time these coaches will have met in the MLS postseason.
It’s a match-up of US coaching legends who have won all there is to win on the club and collegiate level in the United States.
However, Schmid is happy to pass on the title of "best ever" to Arena, given his US national team success.
“He is probably considered America's best coach based on what he did with the World Cup team, the titles he won with Virginia, and early on in our league,” Schmid said about Arena this week. “It's fun to coach against a coaching legend like that."
[inline_node:314989]It’s not only fun for Schmid. Interestingly, Arena used the same word – “fun” – to describe the upcoming 2010 MLS Cup Playoff series. Then again, with this much experience, was anyone really expecting any trash talking?
Entering the 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs, the all-time record in matches between the two is dead even — and that includes their college days. They have a 4-4-2 record in MLS regular season play, while each won a match in their only two encounters in the NCAA. Schmid’s UCLA beat the University of Virginia 2-1 on Sept. 9, 1984, and Arena reciprocated four years later to the day with a 3-0 win by the Cavaliers.
Although their careers have not crossed paths all that often, there are some interesting parallels. On the international scene, during Arena tenure as men’s national team coach, Schmid had the reigns of the U-20 squad at the same time. They also both spent 17 years in the college ranks, collecting eight titles between them.
In MLS, the two have coached three MLS clubs in their careers and each has made it to four MLS Cup finals, both winning two.
WATCH: Schmid vs. Arena
But the similarities stop there.
MLSsoccer.com spoke to two players who were coached by both managers and they outline a very different coaching style.
“Sigi is well prepared,” KC Wizards Jimmy Conrad said. “He really tries to look for the subtleties in his opponents, breaks them down and tries to make subtle adjustments so that a weakness in the other team is a strength on his own.”
Fox Soccer Channel broadcaster and host Kyle Martino, who was traded under Schmid’s tenure in Columbus for reasons he says were unrelated to the coach, attests to the detail-oriented, thorough approach of the German-born manager and trained accountant.
“I liked Sigi and respected him,” Martino said. “He is very protective of his players and definitely micromanages at times. But with his track record no one could argue that he’s not one of the better coaches the US has ever produced.”
[inline_node:320804]Martino draws the contrast with Arena.
“To date Bruce Arena is the best coach I’ve ever had,” Martino said. “He gets players thinking together and gets them coordinated. But it’s his ability to manage individual personalities which makes him a great coach.”
Conrad played for Schmid at UCLA and earned 28 caps for the US under Bruce Arena, including at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
“Sigi makes his guys feel like it’s the biggest game of their lives,” Conrad said. “With Bruce it’s the opposite: It‘s not the biggest game of your life, but let’s win it anyway, even at the World Cup. [Arena] seems to be a bit more casual and confident in how he works, but the team knows exactly what they have to do when they step on the field.”
Nothing helps a career like success. But on the human side, there is likely another reason that explains why the pair has enjoyed such longevity in the ever-revolving carousel that is the coaching world.
“For any kind of image they try to project about themselves from a coaching perspective, they both have really, really big hearts,” Conrad said. “They are hard and tough, but when you get to see them in their true moments, you see their real character. They’re probably softies when it comes to a lot of stuff.”
Both Schmid and Arena are among the top three all-time winningest coaches in MLS history. When they face off in the Western Conference Semifinal series—which begins this Sunday at Qwest Field (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2/Deportes) and wraps up on Nov. 7 at Home Depot Center (9 p.m. ET, ESPN/Deportes)—everyone will be watching to see which legend comes out on top. Even their peers will be watching.
“The word you would attach to both of them is ‘winner,’” Conrad said. “They know how to win games and build teams. The coaches trying to emulate them are still trying to figure that out.”