On three-peats, sporting lore, and the greatness of Bruce Arena

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Bruce Arena has a chance to join the sporting greats if he can pull off the three-peat this year. Historically, the three-peat has been era defining in sport.

Expectations aren't likely to lower after winning the league two years in a row, Galaxy fans expect a third straight. Four championships brings them level with D.C. United as most successful in MLS, now is the time to do something that hasn't been done in MLS. A feat only achieved by Huddersfield Town, Arsenal, Manchester United, and Liverpool over in England.

The three-peat is such a rare feat that it truly comes to define a coach and an era. Perhaps most famously in the NBA the Chicago Bulls three-peat cemented Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan's claim to greatness, and also made Pat Riley money as he trademarked the phrase when his Lakers were on the verge of a three-peat.

Riley was just the first to think to market the three-peat, even if his team didn't achieve it. The Yankees won four straight from 1936 to 1939 as Joe DiMaggio rose to fame, and then five straight from 1949 to 1953 under Casey Stengel's management. They did a mere three-peat under Joe Torre at the end of the 90s, and yes Pat Riley received royalties from the merchandise. The Bulls would three-peat again after Michael Jordan returned to the NBA, and the Lakers finally got theirs with the Shaq and Kobe Lakers. All three NBA three-peats post Riley's trademark were achieved by Phil Jackson.

Of course, looking back at the early NBA there are plenty of streaks. The Lakers won three straight in Minneapolis back in the 50s, and the Boston Celtics won an amazing eight straight championships under Red Auerbach from 1959 to 1966.

The feat has never been accomplished in the Super Bowl era of the NFL, but the Green Bay Packers won three straight from 1929-1931 under Curly Lambeau and then again from 1965 to 1967 under Vince Lombardi.

Hopefully a pattern should be emerging: Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi, Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, Casey Stengel, Joe Torre. If one were to open an American coaching Hall of Fame, this would be the first class. Bruce Arena has a chance to put himself in that conversation.

What of those football three-peats won by our cousins over in England? Manchester United's three peat is fresh in our memories under Sir Alex Ferguson in the Premier League era. Huddersfield Town and Arsenal both achieved the three-peat pre-World War II.

Interestingly both Huddersfield and Arsenal's streaks were begun under the management of Herbert Chapman, but not completed. Chapman led Huddersfield to their first two league championships, back to back, and then was lured away by Arsenal. Huddersfield went on to complete three straight, and Chapman won two non-consecutive titles with Aresenal. He died on the sixth of January 1934, in the middle of Arsenal's second straight championship season.

The great Liverpool teams of the 80s also achieved the three-peat, and also with two different managers. The Boot Room Old Boys, begun by Bill Shankly was a time of great success at Liverpool. His successor Bob Paisley was able to win back to back championships three times, but retired after the third. His successor Joe Fagan completed Liverpool's three-peat.

In all of these examples, the three-peat was a crowning achievement for clubs and managers considered the very best in their sport at the time. They're immortalized with stadiums, trophies, and statues. MLS is still coming into its own, but Bruce Arena has a chance to do something that will become part of MLS lore on the league's thirtieth, fortieth, and fiftieth anniversaries.

Complete respect to D.C. United, their back to back titles under Arena are special, and who knows what would have happened if Arena didn't take the call to take over the US national team. However, Arena has a chance to do something truly great with the LA Galaxy this year.

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