By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
When MLS Cup 2012 kicks off today, a pair of former south Puget Sound-area goalkeepers will play prominent roles.
One is Tally Hall, who grew up in Gig Harbor, won for his first championship there with Harbor FC U-13, and will be playing for another today with the Houston Dyanmo.
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 of it as he went on to become head coach at the University of Virginia, winning five national championships over 18 seasons. He has accumulated the most wins of any U.S. national team coach and ranks second in Major League Soccer coaching wins, behind Sigi Schmid of Seattle Sounders FC.
Arena is the only coach to win three MLS Cups and will be looking for his fourth at 1:30 p.m. today on the Galaxy’s home pitch of Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. (ESPN).
The Galaxy playing roster also includes midfielder Pat Noonan, formerly of Sounders FC. Other Dynamo players with Puget Sound connections are forward Cam Weaver, who was born in Tacoma; 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 especially on Hall, who is in his second season as the Dynamo starter and who will be making his second consecutive start in an MLS Cup.
Now 27, Hall 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 also took him through Gig Harbor High School, the Washington Olympic Development Program and then San Diego State University.
Regardless of the 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 one goal too many — as the Galaxy won the MLS Cup over the Dynamo, 1-0.
Hall originally was drafted in 2007 by the Galaxy, but he signed instead with Danish club Esbjerg. He played only rarely there in the 2007 and 2008 seasons, and returned to the U.S. in 2009.
He served as Pat Onstad’s backup during the 2009 and 2010 seasons before taking over as the Dynamo starter last season.
This season, Houston went 14-8-11 with Hall in goal. He recorded a 1.19 goals-against average with 12 shutouts and a 68 saves percentage.
“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 years.”