A long time assistant leaves. Is Dave Sarachan only the first to depart the LA Galaxy?

Dave Sarachan, Associate Head Coach and longtime assistant to Bruce Arena is leaving the LA Galaxy. Originally rumored by Ives Galarcep and confirmed by Kevin Baxter of the LA Times, Sarachan leaves the Galaxy after joining Arena on the staff when Bruce took the job back in 2008. In fact, hired on the same day as Arena.

For his part, Sarachan has been one of the smartest soccer minds in the United States for awhile. Having coached at numerous levels including NCAA, and with DC United and the Chicago Fire in MLS and even joining up with Arena to help coach the US Men’s National Team, Sarachan is an experienced and talented coach. So losing Sarachan, who I would’ve put as the number one person to replace Arena if that ended up happening, is a huge loss to the organization.

Sarachan’s Coaching History, Via LAGalaxy.com:

A veteran coach with experience in college soccer and MLS as well as with the U.S. National Team, Sarachan, 59, began his coaching career as an assistant at the University of Rochester (1976-77) and Cornell (1983) before joining Arena’s staff at Virginia in 1984. After five years with the Cavaliers, Sarachan returned to Cornell to become the school’s head coach in 1989. In nine seasons with the Big Red, Sarachan compiled a 64- 63-16 record, a pair of NCAA Tournament berths and an Ivy League Championship before moving to the professional game as an assistant coach with D.C. United.

After two seasons with United, during which he helped lead the club to an MLS Cup title in 1999, Sarachan joined forces once again with Arena, this time with the U.S. National Team. Sarachan helped the U.S. qualify for the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan/Korea where they had their best finish since 1930, reaching the Quarterfinals before losing to the tournament’s eventual runner-up Germany. Following the 2002 MLS season, Sarachan was named the head coach of the Chicago Fire, a position that he held for four and a half years, helping lead the Fire to the 2003 Supporters’ Shield and that year’s MLS Cup Final, while also winning the MLS Coach of the Year award that season. Sarachan also helped lead the Fire to a pair of U.S. Open Cup Championships in 2003 and 2006.

If you’ve listened to the podcast for any number of years, you’d recognize Dave Sarachan as a wonderful guest and a man who was always gracious with his time — answering any questions I threw at him and always being thoughtful with his responses.

When talking to Kevin Baxter, Sarachan stated “I don’t have anything specific lined up. I just felt like the time was right.” But there are jobs available, as Baxter mentions. Including a high profile job with LAFC who will be joining Major League Soccer in 2018.

“I want to coach. I want to be on the field,” Sarachan told the LA Times. Something that should come as an obvious intention that he’d want to find a head coaching job where perhaps he could separate himself from the shadow of Bruce Arena. Although it should be noted, Sarachan has only ever had nice things to say about Arena. And perhaps it’s been Sarachan who’s done the best to explain the often perplexing personality that is the LA Galaxy General Manager and Head Coach.

A LIKELY SCENARIO – BRUCE ARENA LEAVES

But why make this move now? What has changed recently to spur Sarachan on to this decision? Baxter noted in his LA Times article that Sarachan said this move was unrelated to any of the US Men’s National Team rumors that seem to be increasingly stirring. And a couple of weeks ago I would’ve believed Sarachan.

But it seems that the smoke that is building over the possible firing of Jurgen Klinsmann continues to grow and that the only reasonable replacement, in the middle of World Cup qualifying, would be Bruce Arena. He could be an interim manager with the knowledge and experience to guide the USMNT through the remaining games of qualifying in hopes of resurrecting a team that is at the bottom of the six-team group.

Brittany Campbell

Photo by Brittany Campbell

And when you consider the possibilities, Arena has no significant downside. If this US team fails, it’s not his fault. He can blame the former manager, who I don’t believe he cares for, and he can look to retire after the cycle — something that may have been on the table throughout this year.  And if Arena can rescue the USMNT he would only grow his considerable legend in the United States. He’d become the savior of US Soccer. A moniker that he almost holds right now. He’s already one of the most successful soccer coaches in United States history. This can only help him.

Plus, it’s been rumored that Arena wasn’t happy with how his last stint with the US team ended. An embarrassing World Cup and a last-place finish in their group in 2006 — something he would love to erase from memory.

WHO REPLACES BRUCE ARENA?

So if Arena is leaving then why would Sarachan say that his leaving didn’t have anything to do with the US Soccer and their wish to have Arena as their next coach?

In theory, Sarachan was always a likely successor for Arena’s job if Bruce decided to hang it up. Afterall, Sarachan would run the team anytime that Bruce was away on business or otherwise couldn’t make it to training. But his long history with the LA Galaxy, it’s staff, and it’s players probably would mean a relatively seamless transition. And seamless transition would be important.

But there are some excellent coaches on the LA Galaxy’s bench. Pat Noonan, Matt Reis, Kenny Arena, and Curt Onalfo complete one of the strongest coaching benches you could assemble. Former players, former coaches all knowledgeable about the game. But if you really want to point to one man who is almost on equal footing with Sarachan, it’s Curt Onalfo.

Onalfo has held head coaching jobs with Kansas City and DC United and he’s assisted the US National Team as well. He’s been coaching LA Galaxy II, the Galaxy’s USL team since it’s inception in 2014 and he’s been sitting on the bench next to Bruce and Dave since January of 2011. He’s also a former LA Galaxy player — a Galaxy original playing 13 games in the league and teams inaugural season, in 1996, in case you really wanted to tie him to the club.

Onalfo has spent his time developing younger talent with “Los Dos,” a direction the LA Galaxy seem to be leaning toward. He checks a ton of boxes for a team that may see a very large portion of their roster turnover. Onalfo is generally adored by LA Galaxy II players and I’d imagine that carries over to the Senior Team as well.

And if Onalfo is now the number one coach in line to replace Arena, why would Dave Sarachan want to stay?

ALL SPECULATION

Yes, almost all of this is speculation. And two weeks ago I don’t think I could imagine connecting the dots in this way. But I quickly believe most of this is very possible, and even very likely. There’s too much smoke and we’re sure to see the fire very soon.

It wouldn’t surprise me if you see some other players starting to defect from the team. Possibly retiring, possibly looking for a new place to play. After all, Arena has inspired players to be loyal for so many years. It’s probably difficult for some veterans to think about starting over with another coach.

And the LA Galaxy have so much work to do. Replacing at least one Designated Player, possibly (read: likely) two. And a core of older players who may be at the end of their careers. It looks to be a busy off-season, and hopefully, some of this will shake out very quickly. There’s simply too many things to do this offseason to have any of this up in the air.

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