Even as the bitterly disappointed members of the U.S. men’s soccer national team trudged off the pitch after a heart-wrenching 1-0 loss to superpower Germany, their countrymen halfway around the globe had reason to be proud of the 23-player squad. After finishing last in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, the Yanks stormed onto the world stage by advancing to the elite eight of the 2002 edition, capturing the imagination of an American public thirsting for heroes.
The Americans’ unprecedented run into the quarterfinals was made possible by the blend of an exuberant, talented squad, a touch of luck, and one of the best coaching staffs in the tournament. That staff, led by head coach Bruce Arena ’73 and top assistant Dave Sarachan ’76, seemingly made all the right moves, putting its players in prime position to succeed.
The value of the American brain trust was most prominently displayed in the U.S.’s 2-0 win against rival Mexico in the Round of 16. Using an unexpected formation and juggling his lineup, Arena, a former Cornell All-American goalkeeper, led his fatigued troops to victory over a much fresher Mexican team.
“Ultimately, you always judge by your players,” said Sarachan, Cornell’s head soccer coach from 1989-1997. “From that as a starting point, [all the coaches] get good grades. As a coach you make those changes and hope it works.”
According to Sarachan, the friendly confines of South Korea also contributed to the U.S.’s historic accomplishments, which included the nation’s first win in a knockout game, and the country’s first appearance in the quarterfinals since 1930.
“All the outside important influences were outstanding,” Sarachan explained. “Hotels and food were first-class in Seoul. We had a good infrastructure.”
While Sarachan does not believe that the American performance earned the country superpower status among soccer nations, he feels that the U.S. has earned something perhaps as important — respect.
“I clearly would feel comfortable in saying we have put ourselves in a position to compete on the world stage,” Sarachan noted. “The way we went out in the tournament was a testament to the fact that we have a good team that can compete against the powerhouse teams.
“There are no teams that would take the U.S. lightly.”
Having established itself internationally this summer, the U.S. now turns its attention to Germany 2006. It is certain that several key players will return, including the pair of 20-year-old youngsters, Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley. The future of the coaches, however, is uncertain, with their contracts expiring this December.
Yet, with the success of the team, it seems likely that the U.S. Soccer Federation would try to extend the contracts of Arena and his staff. Whether the coaching staff decides to return for another four years is another matter.
Sarachan, for one, thoroughly enjoyed his experience on soccer’s biggest stage.
“It was fabulous professionally being involved with the World Cup team competing against the best players of the world,” he said.
And while Arena has publicly stated his desire to return, Sarachan, who has assisted Arena at the University of Virginia, the MLS’s D.C. United, and the U.S. National Team, is non-committal.
“I’d like to entertain any options on the MLS or international level,” Sarachan said.
Archived article by Alex Ip