By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON DC (Sep 22 2017) US Soccer Players - At least two MLS team and perhaps more will enter the offseason on the hunt for new head coaches. The New England Revolution’s dismissal of Jay Heaps opens up another job this winter to go along with the Colorado Rapids vacancy. That one is already the subject of rumors linking at least five different men with the position formerly held by Pablo Mastroeni.
The type of coaches that get hired this winter will tell their own story. Clubs looking to change their fortunes and catch up with the elite of the league will determine hiring trends. They'll also potentially redo the thinking at some of Major League Soccer’s oldest clubs.
Recent years have brought to American shores a short list of foreign coaches who have found success and turned some tired thinking on its head. Patrick Vieira with NYCFC and Tata Martino in Atlanta are high profile coaching names in a league where that's rare. Through they are in very different places in their careers when it comes to experience, both break the mold. The MLS salary cap and the rules dictating acquisitions limit what clubs can do with their player personnel, but there are no constraints on spending when it comes to coaches.
As Atlanta especially has proven, it is possible to lure famous foreign coaches to the United States. That means making the sales pitch good enough along with the contract offer containing enough zeros.
The Rapids and Revs are certainties in the job market. San Jose and Real Salt Lake have decided on permanent replacements mid-stream and won’t be searching. The Galaxy, who fired Curt Onalfo in late-July, signed Sigi Schmid to a contract through the end of 2018 and wouldn’t seem to be in the market. Considering how poorly the Galaxy are playing and the embarrassing nature of their losses, however, there’s a reasonable chance they might be looking as well.
The Rapids’ list reads like this, according to the Denver Post: Cesar Farias, Henning Berg, Jeremy Gunn, and Josh Wolff. Kristian Dyer of Metro US says the club is also considering former Philadelphia Union and current US U17 head coach John Hackworth. Both Farias and Berg are foreign names with interesting backgrounds who have never coached in the United States. Gunn is an Englishman who has led the Stanford University men’s soccer program since 2012. Wolff needs no introduction for long time fans of the USMNT. It's worth pointing out that the former forward has worked as an assistant with DC United and Columbus Crew SC since retiring in 2011.
Outside of perhaps Hackworth’s, none of these are the “usual suspects” by MLS standards. Farias is a Venezuelan who has experience at the international level with his native country and spent time as the head coach at Club Tijuana. While not on the celebrity level of Vieira or Martino, he would rate as an outside-the-box hire. Berg, too, is fascinating because of his time at Blackburn Rovers, Legia Warsaw, and Videoton. His is a career forged in Europe, recently in relative backwaters, making him a reasonable target for an MLS team who does not have a reputation for spending big money.
The Revs don’t exactly have a spend-happy reputation, either, meaning their targets will probably fit somewhere in the same range as the coaches the Rapids are eyeing. NYCFC can count life in New York among its draws. They snagged Vieira because of his connection to Manchester City and City Football Group. Atlanta was a new project with an owner willing to pay Martino what he might command elsewhere. By comparison, Colorado and New England are second-class MLS clubs unlikely to have the same pull.
The Rapids play in a fine, but small, stadium on the outskirts of Denver. The Revolution are veritable squatters in an NFL venue that is 30 miles from the vibrancy and culture of Boston. Both brands are stale and unenticing. It would take overpaying by quite a bit for either to pull in a coach with both pedigree and name power. Especially if said coach has options in Europe or South America.
One, or both, should still call Frank de Boer. And Thomas Tuchel. Couldn’t hurt.
MLS doesn’t need every team to hire foreign coaches to progress. Still, a willingness to be more ambitious and move beyond the readily available names would do the league a lot of good. Eventually that needs to be true of more than the big market clubs or the new teams looking to make a splash. That’s not to say that New England hiring Giovanni Savarese or Marc dos Santos from the NASL would be a misstep. Coaches like those deserve a chance to prove themselves at higher levels. It's just that turning to the recently retired ex-player with limited coaching experience in part because he’s cheap should no longer be a strategy.
Heaps had some success in New England, taking the Revs to an MLS Cup final. Pablo Mastroeni got the Rapids into the playoffs as a second seed in the West last year. Parity and the large playoff field means it’s possible for even neophyte coaches to meet some level of achievement.
If these clubs want to send a message to their fans, if they want to improve their standing and reputation, they need to do better this time around.
More From Jason Davis: