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Kenny Arena, Ian Sarachan are following in their fathers' footsteps

The sons of Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena and assistant Dave Sarachan are working to make names for themselves as they take on the challenges of coaching soccer.

August 24, 2013|By Kevin Baxter
  • Son of Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena, the successful coach in U.S. Soccer history, Kenny Arena lead Florida International to its most wins in seven seasons in his first year as a college coach.
Son of Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena, the successful coach in U.S. Soccer history,… (FIU Athletics / Handout )

MIAMI — The first thing you notice are the names.

Arena and Sarachan are not the most common of monikers, but in U.S. soccer they are considered the gold standard of coaching. So when Kenny Arena and Ian Sarachan decided to follow their fathers' career paths they knew their surnames alone would create both opportunity and expectation.

"It's great. Everybody should have a high standard in whatever professions they're doing," says Arena, son of the Galaxy's Bruce Arena, a Hall of Famer and the most successful coach in U.S. soccer history.

"If I'm given an opportunity because of my last name and because of what my dad's done, I'm going to take the opporttunity and run with it and prove that I deserve to be there," agrees Sarachan, son of Galaxy assistant Dave Sarachan, a former Major League Soccer coach of the year and Bruce Arena's assistant at four stops, including with the U.S. national team.

But neither young man really needs the help.

In 2012, his first year as a college head coach, Kenny Arena, 32, led Florida International to its most wins in seven seasons. That followed stints at the Galaxy youth academy, where he won three championships and sent four players to the first team, and four years as an assistant at UCLA, where he helped the Bruins to three conference titles, three NCAA quarterfinals and an appearance in the 2011 College Cup.

Sarachan, 25, is entering his first season as an assistant at Wisconsin after working a year on the Galaxy academy staff. That follows a short career as a soccer agent — a career that taught him, among other things, that he wanted to be a coach.

It's hard to see how either man could have chosen any other profession. As youngsters their families vacationed with the family of former World Cup coach Bob Bradley at a beach house on the North Carolina coast. The dinner-table conversation was almost always about soccer, so it's not surprising that Arena, Sarachan and Bradley's son Michael all went on to play professionally.

Bradley is the only one still playing — with the U.S. national team and with Roma of Italy's Serie A — but Arena insists that's only temporary.

"I'm sure Michael will become a coach," he says.

Arena's playing career ended after 24 games with the U-20 national team and three seasons in MLS, stopped by a broken toe he now considers a lucky break. That's because the fracture allowed him to return to the University of Virginia, where he got his first taste of coaching as a volunteer with the Cavaliers.

"It's what I love," he says now. "Even when I was younger I was writing down lineups of my dad's teams, trying to figure out how I wanted my teams to play. I love the game. And it's easy; it's not hard when you love what you're doing."

A passion for coaching isn't the only thing he inherited, though. Waiting out a late-morning rainstorm under a canopy on the FIU practice field, Arena sounds remarkably like his father, using the same cadence, choosing many of the same words and speaking in the same unique dialect, which can best be described as a fading New York accent mixed with a bit of Virginian country.

And like his father he is also very detail-oriented. That could make it tough to tell the two apart if, as Bruce Arena hopes, they work on the same staff someday.

"I actually think it's great that he's a coach," Bruce Arena says. "He's been around me and all our teams since he was a little kid. He's seen collegiate teams that were champions. He's seen the national team. DC United, the Galaxy.

"He's been around coaches his whole life and he kind of gets it. He's a good coach."

Sarachan has seen many of the same things. When he was 14 he sat with his dad during Arena's strategy sessions at the 2002 World Cup, something he still calls his best soccer experience — and one he says helped lead him to where he is today.

"This is what I want to do," he says. "I've spent more days in a locker room and in and around a coaching staff than I haven't. Obviously, it's a stressful job, but seeing how happy my dad and his life has been and Bruce and his life has been and … the time spent around the team and a group of individuals trying to accomplish one single goal, that to me is always the driving force behind being in this game.

"I've seen that with them so much it just rubbed off on me."

And it continues to rub off. Sarachan, who is recently married, says he speaks with his father almost every day and among the lessons he imparts most frequently are the importance of striking a balance between work and family and treating everyone around him with respect.

"He set the bar extremely high," the son says of the father. "I think part of him doing that has made me as ambitious as I am."

The challenge for both Arena and Sarachan now is making a name for themselves in a profession where their names are already well known.

"There's always pressure on a son or daughter of someone that's had success," Dave Sarachan says. "At the same time — and I would think Bruce feels this with Kenny — they have to carve out their own. And there will be noise on the outside.

"But you have to have a strong inner core. And I know for a fact my son does. I think he understands what comes with it."

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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