When MLS Cup 2012 kicks off today, a pair of former South Sound goalkeepers will play prominent roles.
One is Tally Hall, who grew up in Gig Harbor and plays for the Houston Dynamo.
The other is Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who in 1976 was a goalkeeper for the Tacoma Tides of the American Soccer League before the University of Puget Sound offered him a soccer coaching job that would change his life.
“I would have been a lacrosse coach (otherwise),” Arena said his week. “To be honest with you, I had those opportunities in lacrosse, which I did do as well. But I never would have had the opportunity to find my way in coaching soccer.
“I learned an awful lot: recruiting kids as they walked by from classes … learning how to build a team from scratch and work with young players. It was things that all of us in this profession do, and I had a platform to start being a coach in the sport of soccer. It was very special, and I’m very grateful for that opportunity.”
Arena made the most it, going on to coach the University of Virginia to five national championships in 18 seasons. He has the most wins of any U.S. national team coach (75) and ranks second in Major League Soccer career coaching wins with 147, trailing only Sigi Schmid of Seattle Sounders FC (157).
Arena, the only coach to win the MLS Cup three times, will be looking for his fourth title in the league championship match at 1:30 p.m. (ESPN) on the Galaxy’s home pitch, Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
The Galaxy’s playing roster includes former Sounders midfielder Pat Noonan.
Dynamo players with local ties include forward Cam Weaver, a Tacoma native; midfielder Nathan Sturgis, who played with Sounders FC; forward Brian Ching, who attended Gonzaga and played with the USL Sounders, and coach Dominic Kinnear, who played with the USL Sounders.
However, the spotlight will shine brightly on Hall, who is in his second season as the Dynamo starter and will make his second consecutive MLS Cup start.
Hall, 27, won his first championship in Gig Harbor as an under-13 player for Harbor FC.
“It was quite a thrilling match in the final, really,” Hall said this week. “You know, it was just kind of hanging with your buds. And now this is my job, and I try to approach it like that. Obviously, it’s the only thing I do, and I get to spend a good amount of time honing my skill.”
Hall’s evolution from promising youth player to professional took him through Gig Harbor High School, the Washington Olympic Development Program and San Diego State University.
Regardless of level, he said, he tries to treat all competitions the same.
“I’m always trying to be mistake-free,” he said. “I never like when the team gets scored on. So, here we are with the finals (drawing near), and I’m going to do my best to approach the game the same way. I would think it’s the best way to go about it, and that’s what I try to do.”
That approach almost paid off last season, when Hall allowed only one goal – but it was one goal too many in the Galaxy’s 1-0 win over the Dynamo in MLS Cup.
Hall was drafted in 2007 by the Galaxy, but he signed instead with Danish club Esbjerg. He got on the pitch only rarely there in the 2007 and 2008 seasons, and returned to the U.S. in 2009.
He served as Pat Onstad’s backup at Houston during the 2009 and ’10 seasons before taking over as the Dynamo starter last season.
With Hall in goal this season, Houston had a 14-8-11 record and he had a 1.19 goals-against average with 12 shutouts and a .68 percentage on saves.
“Tally’s been outstanding,” Arena said. “I think he’s turned into a real good goalkeeper. He’s much more experienced now, obviously, after playing consistently over the last couple of year.”
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org/soccer