PASADENA, Calif. -- They've argued, traded insults and questioned each other's reasoning for years.
Today (3:30 p.m., ABC-Ch. 6), pals Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley can scowl at each other across the field at the Rose Bowl while their opposing teams try to win the Major League Soccer championship.
Arena, whose D.C. United will be going for a third MLS Cup victory in three years, and Bradley, who guided the expansion Chicago Fire into the title game, have a long and successful history together.
Included are championships in both previous MLS Cup games played by the 3-year-old league; Bradley was Arena's assistant before leaving for Chicago.
United midfielder John Harkes smiled as he recalled practices while Bradley was working under Arena. "I think they tried to keep it down to about three arguments a day," he said.
Arena, considered the leading candidate to become the next coach of the U.S. national team coach, described the relationship between him and Bradley as "like being married."
"We've always gone through that kind of thing," he said. "We disagree, and then I'm right."
At least on that score, Bradley agreed.
"I challenge him and he doesn't budge an inch," he said. "He thinks he's always right."
Bradley was an assistant for two years at Virginia, where Arena's teams won five NCAA titles, then Bradley left to become Princeton's head coach. When Arena was chosen the U.S. coach for the 1996 Olympics, he again turned to Bradley to be his assistant.
The MLS title match won't be the first high-stakes meeting between them -- in 1993, when Bradley was voted college coach of the year, his Tigers lost the NCAA semifinals to Virginia and his former and future boss.
"Bruce is very gracious with his comments about me," Bradley said, tongue-in-cheek, remembering 1993. "He was very big in saying I should be coach of the year.
"If you know Bruce and read between the lines, what he's really saying when he says that stuff is, `We're much better that their team and we're going to kick their butts. Bob's a nice guy, so he should at least have something to go home with.' Our friendship survived that day."
D.C. United also beat Chicago in both regular-season meetings this year, leaving Bradley wondering how he might react if he ever beats an Arena-coached team.
"Somewhere along the line, I'm hoping to see if I can handle it when our team wins," he said.
United, which had a 24-8 regular-season record and was extended to three games by Columbus in their playoffs, has been the class of the fledgling league, particularly in the postseason. D.C. beat the favored Los Angeles Galaxy in the first MLS Cup, then defeated Colorado for the title a year ago.
Playmaker Marco Etcheverry, the league MVP, directs a potent D.C. attack. He had 10 goals and 19 assists during the regular season.
Early season addition Roy Lassiter (18 goals, 8 assists) and Jaime Moreno (16, 11) provide striking power up front for a team stronger on the attack than on defense.
The Fire, by contrast, has been led by goalkeeper Zach Thornton, who had a 1.17 goals-against average this year, and a smothering defense. Chris Armas is a talented stopper in the midfield and will attempt to keep Etcheverry from controlling the tempo of the game.
Peter Nowak orchestrates the Chicago attack and had 12 assists and six regular-season goals this year for the Fire, who finished second in their division with a 20-12 record behind Los Angeles, then came back to sweep the Galaxy in the playoffs.