September 6, 2006

Sarachan ’76, Former M. Soccer Star, Preaches Patience to Team

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In the cool morning sunlight of late-June, on the old training grounds of the Chicago Bears in Lake Forest Ill., Dave Sarachan ’76 preaches a different brand of football to Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire.
A former player for the Red in the 1970s, Sarachan returned to coach the men’s soccer team from 1988 to 1996, compiling a winning record of 64-63-16 during his tenure and leading Cornell to two NCAA-tournaments.
Moving on from the East Hill in 1997, Sarachan built an impressive resume on his path to becoming head coach of the Fire, serving as an assistant coach to Bruce Arena ’73 first with D.C. United and then again with Arena on the U.S. national team during the 2002 World Cup.
Back on the quiet fields at Lake Forest University, none of those accolades are apparent. Sarachan looks like what he’s been since his days suiting for the Red: a footballer, and like any player worth his boots, Sarachan is out with his team practicing.
“Today I was able to join them,” Sarachan said during a morning practice this past summer. “I’m not able to be out there every day, the best learning comes from being in the middle of it, I’m not a youngster anymore but I can hang in it.”
While the 52-year-old may have a few more grey hairs than that of the young-Sarachan who helped Cornell make the quarterfinals of 1976 NCAA tournament, he still possesses the touch and vision that allowed him to play professionally for five years after college.
Wearing the black with white tongue Adidas 7406 TRX — a tribute the classic 1974 World Cup battle between the tireless West Germans and the total football playing Dutch — Sarachan leads his starters in a short bit of training, before joining his reserves as a the neutral extra-man in a game of two-touch keep-away.
With calves easily larger than half the players on his team, Sarachan glides around the perimeter of the box, doing everything except shouting instructions. This type of hands-on and yet hands-off approach to coaching is defining of Sarachan and appreciated by his players.
“He’s not someone who’s going to talk your ear off, with all these crazy formations and tactical things,” said Fire defender Logan Pause. “He’s got a lot of faith in the players and … he just kind of lets us play, and I think that’s one thing that makes him good.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by a former assistant coach of Sarachan’s, and current men’s soccer head coach, Bryan Scales.
“He is a very good man-manager,” Scales said. “He’s a people person. He’s easy to talk too. He was a Human Development, Family Studies major in the school of Human Ecology, so he’s got that degree to work with people, which is the most important thing with teaching and coaching.”
Scales joined Sarachan as an assistant coach 1994, a year in which the Red went 2-10-3 (0-5-2 Ivy).
“I inherited a program that was arguably pretty down spiritually,” Sarachan said. “We suffered a tough year in ’94, and everyone was really questioning, ‘is this really the group?’ and to their credit, I think we really got over that hurdle and put together an incredible run in ’95.”
With a core group of players that had seen rock bottom, Sarachan and Scales were able to pull together impressive back-to-back trips to the NCAA tournament, beginning with and Ivy Title in ’95.
Now, with Cornell’s soccer program having gone through a period similar to ’94, Sarachan remains confident in his former assistant to bring back some of the magic of ’95 and ’96.
“[Scales] was young head coach when he started and he’s experienced a lot, and I still have confidence given the right amount of help with recruiting that that program can bounce back,” Sarachan said. “My advice to Bryan and to the program is ‘patience is a virtue.’ Don’t give up and just keep pushing.”
Sarachan has practiced what he preached as head coach of the Fire. When Chicago opened this season with just two wins in its first 11 games, diehard Fire supporters were up in arms against their coach. Now with Chicago sitting comfortably in the second place in the Eastern Conference behind only D.C. United, those complaints are all but gone. Teams win and lose, and either way, it’s all part of the ride for Sarachan.
“Whether you’re an athlete or not, in most professions, you kind of look to the next step, and the next step, and you just do your job,” Sarachan said. “Each step of the way, it’s been better than the next for me, and that’s not always the case in the profession that you choose. Sometimes you have to make your luck, but obviously I’ve been fortunate that it’s worked both ways for me and that I was given the opportunity to make the most of it.”