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'He's a winner' - USA coach has fond memories of Robbie Keane

Dave Sarachan previously worked with the legendary Irish striker at LA Galaxy.

USA manager Dave Sarachan speaking at today's press conference.
USA manager Dave Sarachan speaking at today's press conference.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Updated at 18.44

DAVE SARACHAN MAY not exactly be a household name on these shores, but the 63-year-old New Yorker has a career in the dugout Stateside that has spanned five decades.

Sarachan first started coaching while still a player at the University of Rochester in 1976. He went from there to enjoy a stint playing indoor football with several clubs, before serving as assistant boss for a number of university sides.

His big break came in 1997, when Bruce Arena hired him as assistant manager with DC United, after Bob Bradley left the role to manage Chicago Fire.

From there, after helping the team earn a MLS Cup triumph, he followed Arena as a number two, with the duo taking charge of the US national team between 1999 and 2002.

Arena and Sarachan helped their national side defy the expectations of many critics and reach the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup, before being dumped out amid a narrow 1-0 loss against eventual finalists Germany.

While Arena continued on in the role with the national team for another four years thereafter, Sarachan left for a five-year stint as coach of Chicago Fire. He enjoyed a hugely promising first season in charge, as he was named MLS Coach of the Year, overseeing the team’s run to the 2003 MLS Cup, the eighth incarnation of Major League Soccer’s championship match, but seeing his side lose 4-2 to a Landon Donovan-inspired San Jose Earthquakes.

Yet after this hugely encouraging debut campaign in senior management, Sarachan endured a catastrophic second term in charge. The Fire’s injury-hit squad was further weakened by the departure of key players Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley to Fulham and PSV Eindhoven respectively, with the team finishing bottom of the league as a result.

Things failed to improved dramatically thereafter, and after Sarachan was relieved of his duties in 2007, he linked back up with Arena as an assistant the following year and the duo went on to enjoy considerable success in eight years at LA Galaxy.

It was in Los Angeles that their paths intersected with one of the greatest players in Irish football history — Robbie Keane. The Dubliner scored over 100 goals in all competitions during a five-year spell in the US. He helped the team secure three MLS Cups and was named the league’s MVP in 2014, departing America in 2016 having secured legendary status among soccer fans there.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Sarachan was full of praise for Keane when asked about the ex-Ireland international at the US team’s pre-match press conference at the Aviva Stadium today.

“I like to think we’re good friends, I had dinner with him last night, and he paid,” he laughs.

He’s a winner. And that’s the thing that stands out. When he came to the Galaxy, we won a lot, and that was attributed a lot to Robbie and his mentality.

“He loves to play, loves to score goals, is great in the locker room, the guy’s a winner. We lifted three trophies during his time there, so that speaks for itself.”

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Soccer - MLS - Western Conference - Semi Final - LA Galaxy v Real Salt Lake - Stubhub stadium Sarachan worked with Robbie Keane at LA Galaxy. Source: Rex Atienza

Sarachan initially had come onboard as assistant to Arena. The veteran boss agreed to a second spell in charge of the national team in November 2016, after a disastrous start to World Cup qualification under Jurgen Klinsmann led to the former Germany international losing his job.

Arena and co initially looked set to turn things around. In order to secure qualification, they needed just a draw against a side who had lost their last six consecutive matches, Trinidad and Tobago. Yet a shock 2-1 loss cost them a place in Russia this summer.

“We have no excuses, we failed today. We should have walked off this field with at least a point,” Arena said following the game, with the coach announcing his subsequent resignation from the post.

Sarachan has taken temporary charge of the side until the US identify a suitable permanent successor to Arena. Like Ireland, their opponents tomorrow night now face a lengthy period without a competitive match and have consequently started a major rebuilding process.

The squad’s average age is 23, four of its members are still in their teens, while the likes of Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham), Erik Palmer-Brown (Man City), Tim Weah (PSG) and Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen) are some way off their respective clubs’ starting XIs.

You’re always building and this is a unique year obviously,” Sarachan explains. “We have the ability in these friendlies to begin to offer opportunities to younger players that we think, bigger picture, will be a part of things when qualifying begins next year and competitions begin next year.”

These youngsters impressed amid a convincing 3-0 win over Bolivia earlier this week, but there is still some way to go before they become fully accustomed to the rigours of senior football.

“This will be by far our biggest test since our match against Portugal back in November, which is what these games are about — a wonderful stay and a great atmosphere,” Sarachan says, in relation to tomorrow night’s game at the Aviva Stadium.

“We come with a pretty young group… I know Ireland will have a young group as well. I think their average age exceeds 27 a little bit.

“So we expect a real test, a good match, a hard game, which is what these games should be.”

It is not the first time Sarachan has been involved in a game against Ireland. He was part of the US coaching staff when a Mick McCarthy-managed side drew 1-1 with them in the Massachusetts-based Foxboro Stadium in 2000, while the Boys in Green beat the same opposition 2-1 in a Lansdowne Road friendly that was part of the build-up for the 2002 World Cup.

“Traditionally, in the years that I’ve always been part of these matches, you never face an Irish team that doesn’t have a full commitment to win the match and put everything in the match,” Sarachan says. ”I think they have some players for sure that have good experience as well.

“The tempo always gets quick with Ireland. You have to be on your toes. They’re going to be up for it and so we know it’s going to be a game that requires full concentration — it always is when you play Ireland.”

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Paul Fennessy

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