The Senior team has finished its run after a spectacular season (and not without hardware, as KC brought home the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup), but one coach’s presence may still be felt.
As the remaining four teams battle in the MLS Conference Finals, one man will have a unique impact on the outcome. But he won’t be on the field. He won’t even be on the sidelines. In fact, he’ll be watching the games from St. Louis because his contribution to the competition has already been made.
That man is Sporting STL’s director of coaching, Tommy Howe. Four players that he guided through their youth careers will be trying to lead their respective teams to the MLS Cup.
Joe Willis is the backup goaltender for D.C. United. He started the first game of the home-and-home conference finals. In the second leg of the Conference Semifinals, starting net-minder, Bill Hamid, was ejected from the game midway through the second half. Willis entered the game and stopped the penalty shot that had resulted from Hamid’s ejection. United’s Nick DeLeon scored in the 88th minute to eliminate the New York Red Bulls. Willis started ten games during the season and compiled a record of four wins, four losses and three ties with two shutouts. The second leg will play out on the 18th.
In the second leg, Willis and United have some ground to make up against the Houston Dynamo. The Dynamo are led by Will Bruin and Brad Davis who are both products of T. Howe’s training system. Bruin finished the regular season as the Dynamo’s leading scorer with twelve. He’s already netted four in the postseason, slotting home a goal off a cross that Willis had turned aside. In just his second year, Bruin has developed into one of the league’s top offensive threats. Davis, the Dynamo captain and runner-up for last year’s MVP, is the consummate field general and possesses a lethal left foot. He had eight regular season goals and was team leader in assists with twelve.
In the Western Conference finals, the LA Galaxy will be relying on rookie Tommy Meyer to continue his strong play at center-back. (Pat Noonan, another Howe alum, is also on the Galaxy roster but has yet to see any postseason action.) Meyer has paired with Omar Gonzales to anchor the Galaxy defense since A.J. DeLaGarza was lost to injury on October 1st. Meyer had the best game of his young career last Wednesday when the Galaxy upset Supporters’ Shield winner and top seed, San Jose Earthquakes. In addition to helping to shut down the league’s top scoring duo of Wondolowski and Lenhart, Meyer chipped in a game-winning assist in the second leg of the Conference Semifinals. It was a classic example of Howe’s emphasis on controlled distribution even from the backfield. Meyer collected the ball in the Galaxy penalty area, spotted Landon Donovan, and led him in stride with a pinpoint pass.
So, which teams reach the MLS finals will be determined in large part by four key players trained by one man. To put that in perspective, no other youth club in the country can match that. The Colorado Rush, which bills itself as the largest youth soccer club in the world has two alumni in the Conference Finals. CalSouth, with its 150,000 members, also has two. In fact, Howe has produced as many or more players in the Conference Finals as any individual state except California and Texas.
Last year, Howe was profiled in a Soccer America article entitled Coaching Good Soccer Takes Patience. This year’s MLS playoffs prove that his approach pays huge dividends.