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No question who is Coach of the Year
by Ridge Mahoney, August 22nd, 2009 1:45PM



Whether or not he makes his return to RFK Stadium Saturday a winning excursion against the team he led to three MLS titles and other crowns in four seasons, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena has no serious rivals for Coach of the Year honors.

This is hardly a radical choice, yet by transforming a dysfunctional under-achiever that had missed the playoffs three straight years Arena has broken new ground once again.

In shoring up the league's worst defense and simply plowing through subplots such as nearly weekly episodes of "David Beckham, The Nightmare That Wouldn't Die," Arena has proven success in MLS is a matter of working within the boundaries of salary-cap restrictions and player acquisition mechanisms while making good decisions. It's also a matter of hard work, shrewd evaluation, and ultimate confidence.

Some people say he's re-established his credentials after a disappointing 2006 World Cup and fiasco in New York, but in my eyes, he never slipped very far, if at all. He suffered acute burnout in Germany and jumped too soon into an absurd situation for his MLS return. Did he make mistakes in both positions? Of course. Nobody gets it right every time, but somebody who transforms college soccer by turning Virginia into a national power and sets standards as yet unmatched in his first pro gig can't be dismissed as having lost it.

About a year ago, not long after Arena had taken over in LA, someone returned from a trip to Galaxyland disdainful of Arena's prospects. "A lot of the players don't like Bruce," he muttered. He also predicted Arena would be out at the end of the 2009 season.

I replied, "Well, then he'll get rid of them, and his contract is only for 18 months, anyway." I'm not saying every Galaxy player from 2008 no longer with the team got the boot as a malcontent. But in signing veterans he's coached in the past, he instilled a core of players familiar with him and his methods, and, most importantly, his demanding standards. The Arena Way is not for everybody but everybody knows how it works, or learns soon enough.

"He definitely did his research," says Galaxy attacker Mike Magee, who played a season and a half for Arena in New York. "He got guys he could trust. We really didn't miss a beat in the locker room and it translates onto the field. If you watch us play, there are still situations we're not sure what to do because we haven't played together that long, but in terms of everyone batting and fighting for each other, it's been second to none." In MLS, solidarity and cohesiveness can take you a long way.

Meld that with his prowess at spotting talent and acquiring it, through the draft and trades and other processes, and an attention to detail that can drive you nuts yet is essential for efficient management, and you have perhaps the only person on the planet who can keep the Galaxy organization, his staff, the players, AEG, MLS, U.S. Soccer, and the Beckham brigade moving in the right direction. I can't imagine anybody else taking last year's shambolic defense and rebuilding it with two rookies - Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza - into one of the league's best.

I'm glad to see that journalists and pundits and observers have concluded recently that Beckham's importance to winning and losing is most important. That's the standard we've applied since day one, and seeing how his antics have escalated - taunting fans, berating referees, going recklessly over the ball to stud a former teammate - this weekend's game at RFK against D.C. United presents another hostile setting and yet another chance to act up and alienate Galaxy fans and teammates. Maybe he'll drill a ball into the Barra Brava, or use the same bent-arm gesture he delivered on national TV last year, or toss a water bottle at the fourth official.

If Becks flips out in this game or next weekend before he leaves to play for England, how will Arena handle it? He'll do whatever's best for the team, not the AEG management team, not Beckham's business team, but the soccer team. For a franchise that boasts of its financial performance, it's been painfully oblivious to abject performances on the field. Getting Arena aboard has addressed that deficiency, and the dramatic changes he has wrought are without parallel in MLS this season.



  1. William White
    commented on: August 23, 2009 at 8:37 a.m.
    "Shambolic"???????????? Ugh.

  1. Mark Zylker
    commented on: August 23, 2009 at 11:25 a.m.
    Many questions about who should be coach of the year. Day in and day out Dominic Kinnear does the job. Just ask the players and judge based on the teams performance. Dynamos play the best quality soccer in the league and the team appears to be handicapped more than most due to the call-ups. The players give 100% for him no matter what their position and they play 100% for each other. If there is a team with better team unity I would like to see it. Not just this year but ever since he has had the helm. By far he should be the next in line for the MNT.

  1. Andrew Naudin
    commented on: August 24, 2009 at 11:57 a.m.
    Your love for Bruce is obvious and not without merit but give me a break. It is nice to see another post touting the most overlooked coach in MLS. Dominic Kinnear does more to manage at the top of not only MLS but delivers a team approach that will compete week in, week out against the best the REGION has to offer.

  1. Adam Burrows
    commented on: August 31, 2009 at 3:38 p.m.
    I beg to differ. Yes, both Arena and Kinnear deserve mention, but consider the job that Steve Nicol - along with sidekick Paul Mariner - has done in New England this year. He's contended with a slew of injuries - Taylor Twellman, Chris Albright, Gabriel Badilla, and Mauricio Castro have been out for virtually the entire season, plus the midline axis of Matt Reis, Shalrie Joseph, and Steve Ralston has been lost for considerable stretches; he's assembled a solid back line with two rookies and an unknown Ghanaian import; he's brought along youngsters Niassi, Mansally, Dube, Thompson, and Videira, all of whom have become more consistent and skilled under his patient tutelage; he's introduced a quality Lithuanian cast-off in mid-season; and he's made creative moves out of desperate circumstances, like moving Joseph up top when a target was otherwise lacking. And now the Revs are on the cusp of a playoff spot, with games in hand. Plus you gotta love the Scottish brogue and no-nonsense plainspeak.

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