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Dave Sarachan Q&A: On Gregg Berhalter, Bruce Arena and North Carolina FC’s drive to MLS

Ahead of North Carolina FC’s fourth round US Open Cup match against New York City FC, Dave Sarachan dished on a variety of topics

Mar 9, 2019; Cary, NC, USA; The North Carolina Football Club hosted Louisville City FC in a USL regular season match at Sahlen's Stadium at Wake Med Soccer Park. (Rob Kinnan-NCFC)

In 2002, he was the head coach of the Chicago Fire and now is fueled by the possibility of guiding a USL Championship club into American soccer’s top tier.

Dave Sarachan has been coaching professionally for over 40 years with perhaps his most fruitful experiences along-side current New England Revolution coach, Bruce Arena. As Arena’s lieutenant, Sarachan has experienced multiple championships at the University of Virginia, D.C. United and the LA Galaxy

Sarachan has no plans to join Arena with the Revolution.

On December 17, Sarachan was hired as the head coach of North Carolina FC – following a year-plus journey as the interim head coach of the U.S. men’s national team having replaced his good friend Arena. 

Glenn Crooks caught up with Sarachan ahead of North Carolina FC’s match against New York City FC in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup.

Pro Soccer USA: You’re a northeast guy, born in Rochester and played for the Rochester Lancers. Do you like coming to back to this part of the country?

Dave Sarachan: I love it. You can never get it out of your system. I still have family here and my 94-year old mom is still in Rochester. So whenever I can get up there, I certainly make that effort. But being on the East Coast again is really great.

PSUSA: Your club’s Twitter page is promoting that North Carolina FC has six wins over MLS teams over the years. That’s pretty impressive.

DS: Well, first let me say that three of those wins were against my LA Galaxy teams. So it’s a painful reminder. But it’s also terrific. That’s what the U.S. Open Cup is all about. I’m a big believer that whenever you can play great teams and great competition, it helps your development, especially for our young players. So just the opportunity to play New York City Football Club means a lot.

PSUSA: Since your club is lobbying to be part of MLS expansion, does a game like this have a more significance?

DS: I don’t look at this as an audition for the ambition of our club. I think we’ve established ourselves in the landscape of the country in terms of a club with the youth, the pro development and bringing along a number of guys. If we get to a point where Major League Soccer is a viable option, I think it’d be a terrific market and we’d be ready for it.

PSUSA: Can you give us a little scouting report on your team? You just beat Tampa Bay, 3-1. I saw there were three shots on target and three goals. Very efficient.

DS: Well, we worked on that all week. Three shots and three goals and it came to fruition. Look, I think I think Tampa is one of the best teams in the league, by far. It was a good precursor to the what will face certainly on Wednesday. I think we are going to be ready for that.

PSUSA: Andre Fortune, who once had a trial with New York Red Bulls, scored twice against the Rowdies. How is his progress?

DS: Yeah, Dre had obviously a very good game against Tampa, he’s a young guy (22-years old). Keep in mind this is my first year. Throughout the last six to eight weeks, Dre is really pushed himself along into the conversation to be a starter for us. He’s technical, he’s got a good IQ. He sees things pretty early. I was pleased for him on the day. He’s got a lot of good soccer ahead of him.

PSUSA: You’ve spent 22 years as an assistant to Bruce Arena including D.C. United and the L.A. Galaxy. What was your reaction when he returned to MLS with the New England Revolution?

DS: It didn’t shock me. I know Bruce as well as anyone and he’s still got it in him, He wasn’t ready to ride into the sunset, obviously. I’m happy for Bruce, he’s a good friend. I think it’s a project that’s going to take some time for him there. But I think he’s excited about doing that. So I was pleased for him.

PSUSA: Why have you and Arena been so successful together? Trophies at the University of Virginia, MLS and the deepest run in the World Cup with our national team in 2002?

DS: That’s a good question. It’s kind of funny, people have teased me saying, “Well, he (Arena) can’t be successful in New England without you there.” Bruce has his strengths and weaknesses, I have my strengths and weaknesses, and it sort of blends together. The areas where he may let a few things fall through the cracks, that’s areas that that I sort of pick up and vice versa. We’re a pretty formidable duo, covering the bases that need to be covered in a way that brings a team along. And I’ve often said he has a great eye for talent.

PSUSA: To be an assistant for that long, you really have to be a loyal to the manager since I would imagine you didn’t agree with all of his decisions?

DS: That’s true. That’s all part of it. And I think that is part of what makes it work is that he doesn’t want a “yes guy” and he wants a guy that’s going to challenge him. There were many, many, many moments when Bruce disagreed on something. Ultimately, the head coach has the final say and the final outcome usually was a positive.

PSUSA: Do you think you accomplished your goals while serving as interim manager for the USMNT?

DS: I had 13 months on the job and there were a lot of people with a lot of opinions. I think my role was very clear, and that was to reestablish our national team on a level that people would be proud of. At the same time, I wanted to let the public and management get a sense of where some of the young guys are. And I think looking back on it, the proof is in the pudding. I think it was successful from the standpoint of vetting some players and we’ll see how it plays out.

PSUSA: Do you think the criticism of Gregg Berhalter and team following the friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela is unfair?

DS: Oh, it’s ridiculous. People on the outside have no idea what goes on. This is a process and it’s going to take time. And let’s keep in mind we’re missing a few decent players so it’s going to look a lot different. Gregg is a guy that is going to bring this group along. At the end of the day, it’s a player’s game, and do we have the players to produce the goods? Time will tell, but it’s way too early for people to start going nutty. Losing to Jamaica and Venezuela is not what we’re used to, that is fair. So criticism is always going to be there. And that’s just part of it. But let’s let it play out a little bit.

PSUSA: So, how is everything feeling at North Carolina FC about the chance to one-day join MLS?

DS: Well, I think it’d be terrific. I think we have a great market. I think we’d have great rivalries. We have ambitious ownership. So you know, we check a lot of boxes. And I think it would be a great region to bring in a team, I really do.

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