CARSON, Calif. – There are 30 games in the MLS regular season, with some bigger than others, and there was no disputing the importance of the LA Galaxy’s game last Saturday in New York against the Red Bulls.
It not only was on national television (Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Español), in a new building (Red Bull Arena) and a showdown between two of the league’s top contenders for this year’s MLS Cup, but the Galaxy was without its head coach. Bruce Arena spent two days in a New Jersey hospital because of viral complications, and associate head coach Dave Sarachan was managing the team in his place. Arena watched the game from a private box.
Sarachan, a former head coach of the Chicago Fire, was helped by assistant coach Cobi Jones and was well aware of the game’s significance.
“I said to the team in the locker room before we went out, we play a 30-game schedule,” he said. “There’s some games you just circle, games you can’t wait to play, and I’ve got to believe this is one of them. And it was.”
The Galaxy, playing a Red Bulls team recently boosted by the addition of designated players Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez, arguably played their best game in weeks and won 1-0 on a 10th-minute goal by Edson Buddle. It was the club’s first clean sheet in an MLS game since a 0-0 tie at Toronto FC on June 26.
“Given everything, on a scale of one to 10, it was a nine-plus in terms of getting that result and that confidence back,” Sarachan said. “When we play the way we played Saturday, we’re a hard team to beat.”
Arena began feeling ill early last week when the team returned from its CONCACAF Champions League Preliminary Round match in Puerto Rico. Arena then flew to New York for his National Soccer Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Tuesday, but his condition worsened the following day and he was admitted to a New York-area hospital.
Sarachan, Jones and the rest of the Galaxy coaching staff had been conducting training during Arena’s absence, so it was only a matter of maintaining continuity.
“We’ve established a rhythm and system within our team from day one,” Sarachan said. “We didn’t really change a whole lot. We pretty much went over the assignments that needed to be done, and we kind of looked at this as we’re all in this together.
“We all just stepped it up a notch. I think Cobi’s grown a lot as a young coach over the last couple of years. I think the players grasped the urgency of the game, and the result was justified.”
Veteran midfielder Chris Klein, a second half substitute Saturday, said there was no real concern about the absence of Arena on the sideline or adjusting to Sarachan’s coaching style.
“They each have their own styles,” Klein said. “Even the way they conduct themselves within our team, Dave has a lot of input and a lot of say. Bruce relies on him a lot.
“The respect factor with the guys is there. I think the fact we have a lot of veteran players that know the way things work … it wasn’t much of a change, to be honest. That’s one of the reasons why Bruce hires quality people to be around him.”
Klein, like Sarachan, said the victory was particularly satisfying.
“Yes, it was,” he said. “The last three or four weeks we haven’t really played well and haven’t gotten the results in big games. This was hailed as a big game. New York had a lot of new players, a new stadium, a sold-out stadium … it was a big game for us to show that we can get back to our winning ways and win on the road.
“The way we have won on the road this year was the way we won on Saturday in New York. It was very important for us moving forward.”