CARSON, Calif. – It’s tough to wipe the smile off Dave Sarachan’s face in the days leading up to yet another career milestone.
The LA Galaxy associate head coach is knocking on the door of his fifth appearance on the sideline of an MLS Cup, tied with his longtime coaching confidant Bruce Arena and Houston Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear for the most Cup appearances for a coach in MLS history.
At 57 years old and now finishing up his 13th season in the league, Sarachan’s seen just about everything. He’s tasted success – a 1999 MLS Cup championship as an assistant with D.C. United and a Supporters’ Shield in 2003 as the head coach with the Chicago Fire come to mind – and he’s seen the other side, namely the Galaxy’s MLS Cup 2009 loss to Real Salt Lake and when he was sent packing from Chicago during a rough patch for the club in 2007.
Through it all, Sarachan has remained one of the steadiest presences in the league, albeit more recently quietly coaching the league’s best team from Arena’s shadow. That’s a bit of a mixed bag for Sarachan, who said this week he wants to someday return to head coaching but doesn’t quite know how that will actually come to pass.
“I’d like to be a head coach still,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “But when some of these jobs open up in the league, I’m not exactly quick to jump. Things here are great – the ownership, the weather, the players, the success – and I’m content. But that doesn’t mean I’d ever turn away a phone call or an opportunity.
“If you want to continue to coach, you always have to keep those options open.”
Interestingly enough, though, teams aren’t exactly banging down Sarachan’s door. On paper that seems ridiculous, considering his success as an assistant with D.C. United and then a solid run in Chicago, including the 2003 MLS Coach of the Year award, a berth in the MLS Cup that season and US Open Cup titles in 2003 and 2006.
But Sarachan admits he might be considered around the league almost unapproachable by this point in his career, given his camaraderie with Arena and the relationship and success they’ve mastered over the years. The Galaxy’s recent triumphs – two straight Supporters’ Shields and a vastly different identity and club culture than when Arena and Sarachan began their overhaul in 2008 – are even more proof that it could be tough to pry Sarachan away from LA.
“I haven’t really gotten too many calls, personally,” Sarachan said. “People know I enjoy it here, I’m well-paid here, I enjoy the pressure to win here. I’ve got a good gig.”
If Arena is all business in Galaxy camp, then Sarachan is a bit more of his friendly mediator, laughing with players while working hard to develop personal relationships that last. He’s a players’ coach with an eye more fixed on the nuts and bolts of the Galaxy’s success, and he offers relatively light-hearted contrast to Arena’s well-defined glare.
“Dave is a little lighter in a few ways, but they’ve got a good thing going,” said defender Dasan Robinson, who played for Sarachan in Chicago. “Dave has a good knack for MLS. If a job came open, I’m sure he’d think about taking it, but it works here for him.”
Sarachan was fired in Chicago midway through the 2007 season, possibly the only lasting personal setback of his professional career. The Fire started slowly that season while hampered with injuries, and Sarachan was abruptly sent packing before Cuauhtémoc Blanco arrived in the summer to help right the ship.
But despite that experience, Sarachan admits he could embrace the limelight of being a head coach once again, and even face the potential pitfalls that come with it.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it,” Sarachan said. “I don’t dwell on my years in Chicago because I think we had success there and I enjoyed leading that team, and I still have a lot of responsibility with my role here. But it can be a little frustrating at times, and I do miss some of those little things.”
The only coaching spot currently open is in Colorado, after the New England Revolution last week chose former player and coaching newcomer Jay Heaps as the head coach to lead the way in 2012. Jesse Marsch, who played for Sarachan in Chicago, recently landed the Montreal Impact job and MLS newcomer Martin Rennie will lead the Vancouver Whitecaps, giving the league five coaches in their 30s.
“Every one of the guys who gets into this business, once they’re given the position, they realize how hard it’s going to be, and that it’s going to take a while,” Sarachan said. “Maybe people assume I’m going to be out here a while, or that I’ll be the next coach of the LA Galaxy. I don’t know. I don’t dwell on it. I’ve got a good thing going here.”