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MLS Cup: Coaching aces Arena, Kinnear aiming for record third championships

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Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIphotos.com

By AVI CREDITOR

CARSON, Calif. — Standing atop the winner's podium following MLS Cup is nothing new for Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena and Houston Dynamo coach Dom Kinnear. Whichever one gets the opportunity to do that again following Sunday's final, though, will make history in the process while further etching his name in U.S. Soccer coaching lore. 

The coaching matchup is one of the more intriguing subplots of the 2011 MLS Cup, as either Arena or Kinnear will win a record third MLS Cup championship to stand alone atop the all-time MLS coaching mountain and move past Sigi Schmid and Frank Yallop, the other coaches with two titles to their names. Their meeting is the first in a final between multiple-title winning coaches in American sports since 1987, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The amount of mutual respect that the Arena and Kinnear have for each other has been a prevalent theme throughout the build-up to MLS Cup, one that can best be described as professional and smooth and one that has lacked any sort of bulletin-board material from either end.

"I have a ton of respect for Bruce," Kinnear said. "What he's done within MLS and outside of MLS is unrivaled by any coach in Major League Soccer or an American soccer coach."

While Kinnear's comments tend to be the consensus perspective in the U.S. Soccer community, Arena is quick to recognize his counterpart's accomplishments and cast them in a similar light.

"I think (Kinnear)'s really the most successful coach in this league in maybe you term it 'The Modern Era,'" Arena said. "He wins Sunday, that's three championships in a short period of time. That's pretty special." 

As has been his platform throughout his coaching career, the unselfish Kinnear, who won his MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007, is quick to deflect attention from himself while focusing on his team's goals.

"For me, I'm not really too concerned about getting the first to three, I want my team to win," Kinnear said. "We want to be the best team in MLS at the end of the day."  

For Kinnear, the ability to adapt to personnel turnover and bounce back from disappointments — such as last season's horrific Houston campaign — has perhaps been the most underrated aspect of his achievements.

"I don't think Dom gets enough credit for the amount of changes that this team has been through," Dynamo striker Brian Ching said. "You look at how a lot of teams in this league come in and struggle, expansion teams a lot of times, and that's because they're creating whole new teams. I think that's something that Dom has had to do the past year and a half.

"It's something he did when he inherited the team again in '04. We didn't have a particularly good season in San Jose there. He overhauled the team the next year and won the Supporters' Shield." 

Personnel turnover is a natural part of the game for all teams, but the players that Kinnear has seen leave his locker room in particular — whether through team decisions or the lure of European contracts — comprise a list of some of the top talent MLS has ever seen.

Players like Dwayne De Rosario, Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark have left holes over the years that have forced Kinnear to adjust on the fly while working within the constraints of the league's salary restrictions.

Sly player acquisitions in the middle of this season — including revamping the starters at central midfield by acquiring Adam Moffat and Luiz Camargo — have helped the Dynamo get to the cusp of their third championship in six years.

Those additions also allowed Kinnear to move Geoff Cameron from the midfield to centerback, which has stabilized what has become one of the league's stingiest defensive units.

"You could argue that this year has been his best coaching job," said Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, who played under Kinnear in San Jose. "To make the difficult decision to move one of your best players back to centerback has worked out very well, and I think he's done a fantastic job. I don't think anybody's surprised that he's been successful."

The fact that Arena, who last won an MLS Cup in 1997 but took U.S. Soccer to new heights in his term as international boss, has maintained his level of success is hardly a surprise, as well.

After taking over at the helm of a Galaxy franchise that was in the dumps even after the acquisition of David Beckham, Arena rebuilt the storied club's reputation and has guided it to consecutive Supporters' Shields.

"I've been lucky enough to have played under some of the best coaches in the game, and Bruce is definitely up there," Beckham said. "I'd heard of Bruce before I came to this league, and to hear he was coming to the Galaxy, I was excited because of his history of success."

While some could argue that Arena has had the luxury of working with a bigger checkbook than most other coaches in the league, Arena's undertaking has been far from a walk in the park.

Managing the egos, expectations and needs for the higher-profile players is no easy task, and dealing with constant spotlight, international absences and need to cultivate depth behind those stars has been a hallmark of Arena's success.  

"I've been around Bruce a long time now, and the one quality that stands out more than any other is his drive to succeed," Donovan said. "He pushes us constantly. His leadership skills are exquisite. His management skills, people and soccer-wise, are the best in this country."

Comments

  1. even w/o Davis will test LA with their own set pieces and crosses. I don’t believe LA give up many fouls but they’ll have to stay disciplined since Gonzalez can only mark one player at a time

    Reply
  2. No kidding.

    I mean… it rains here 5 days out of 365 (slight exaggeration), and one of them lands on MLS CUP day.

    Of course, it favors Beckham and his long, swerving crosses. And Keane will feel right at home. But it will definitely be uncomfortable for the fans who paid big money to get soaked.

    Hopefully things taper off by then.

    Reply
  3. The criticism of Arena that focuses on the financial resources available in LA can be countered by a great example of a team with deep pockets that hasn’t had anywhere near LA’s success: NY Red Bulls. Arena built a great team with a lot of American players, as well as Beckham, Keane, and others from abroad.

    Should be a good game tonight…

    Reply

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