Sarachan blames injuries, not his inability to coach, for team's slump.
Reality has finally set in for the Fire.
Long considered one of the most stable and tightly knit franchises in Major League Soccer for avoiding a revolving door of coaches, the Fire on Wednesday abruptly cast off one of its own — drawing mixed reactions.
With the team mired in a suffocating slump since mid-May, Dave Sarachan’s tenure as the second head coach in the franchise’s 10-year history ended during an early-morning meeting with Fire president/CEO John Guppy.
Sarachan called the decision “surprising,” adding he had hoped the Fire’s recent struggles would be attributed to an unprecedented rash of injuries and not a belief he was unable to lead the team.
“This is the reality of professional sports, and it’s very difficult. It definitely came as surprising news,” said Sarachan, who compiled a 55-50-31 record in five seasons with the Fire. “People who know understand the hand that we’ve been dealt this season. And despite that, there hasn’t been a single game all season in which we haven’t competed or we didn’t believe we could win.”
Sarachan won two U.S. Open Cup titles with the Fire (2003, ’06), led the team to postseason play three times, was named MLS Coach of the Year in 2003 and was nominated again for that award last season.
Assistant coach Dennis Hamlett, a 10-year veteran with the Fire, will take over as interim head coach while a search begins for Sarachan’s replacement. The Fire, which is scheduled for an international friendly Friday against MKS Cracovia of Poland, won’t return to MLS play until July 1 at home vs. Colorado.
The Fire is 1-6-1 in its last eight games after going 3-0-1 to open the season.
Despite the struggles, the move to release Sarachan is a somewhat uncharacteristic one for the franchise. He became just the second coach in the club’s history when current U.S. National Team coach Bob Bradley left after the 2002 season to pursue other interests.
“This is uncharted territory,” Fire captain Chris Armas said. “In the 10 years with two coaches, considering the amount of success and loyalty we’ve had, there’s a certain belief in the people we have here. It’s tough.”
Armas was critical of the decision to let Sarachan go in midseason, especially considering the growing number of injuries and Gold Cup obligations that whittled the Fire’s roster from 28 to 18 for Saturday’s 3-1 loss to D.C. United.
“I think he should have been given the year to get things on track,” Armas said. “Why re-sign him in the first place, and after 12 games, that’s it? I don’t think it’s a fair time to assess him.”
Guppy admitted he was skeptical about Sarachan’s motivational abilities inside the locker room, but said the rash of injuries did go into his decision-making process.
“Don’t think I didn’t consider that for hundreds of hours,” Guppy said. “One of the things we’ve been lacking this year is that inspirational and motivational quality in the locker room from the head coach.”
Sarachan said he never believed he lacked such motivational abilities, adding that the team’s “inner circle” of coaches and veterans assumed the team could regroup with a healthy lineup.
Defender C.J. Brown echoed those sentiments, adding that “motivation was never a problem at all.”
“Players all around the league have traditionally wanted to play here because they know it’s a good environment with good coaches,” Brown said. “Reality has definitely struck. It’s a little different for us.”
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