Decisions to be made on non-playoff qualifiers
The MLS playoffs go into full swing this weekend and while fans from Los Angeles to New York are enjoying the best time of year, not all MLS fans are taking part in the fun.
Five teams failed to make the playoffs, leaving their fans to wonder what went wrong and leaving the clubs to figure out how to make sure the same thing doesn't happen in 2008.
In most other pro sports, the end of the regular season signals the time for clubs to decide whether the coaches leading their teams were culpable for missing the playoffs, or whether they actually helped the team improve from an even more futile position. A week has passed and none of the five non-playoff coaches has been fired or resigned, yet each have varying levels of job security.
Jason Kreis, Real Salt Lake -- So how does the coach of a team that finished 6-15-9 come away from the season in no danger of being fired? Kreis inherited the mess that was Real Salt Lake just a month into the season and did an admirable job trying to turn things around.
Kreis made his share of mistakes, to be sure, but by season's end Real Salt Lake was no longer the pushover the league looked forward to playing. RSL actually finished 4-4-3 in its final 11 matches and gave its fans the extra special treat of eliminating arch-rival Colorado from playoff contention with a win in the season finale.
Kreis also did a good job with the roster, dealing veteran Chris Klein for young standouts Robbie Findley and Nathan Sturgis, and acquiring Argentineans Fabian Espindola, Matias Mantilla and Javier Morales. There are still questions about his ability to handle players, and he will certainly spend the offseason learning the MLS rulebook -- but he did a pretty good job for someone who had never even been an assistant coach.
Sigi Schmid, Columbus Crew -- When Sigi Schmid took over the Crew two years ago, he inherited a team with some good young talent but not much in the way of star power or depth. Nowadays, the team has a little star power in the form of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, but still has many of the same issues it had when Schmid took over.
Schmid told the Columbus Dispatch that he has been retained for the 2008 season, which may come as a shock to some Crew fans considering Columbus missed the playoffs for the third straight season. The team recorded better results in 2007 than 2006 but Schelotto's heroics had as much to do with that as the team's overall growth did.
So why is Schmid back? Perhaps Crew management realizes that its own unwillingness to spend money has as much to do with Columbus' struggles as Schmid does and may feel obligated to keep the man who helped land Schelotto.
Mo Johnston, Toronto FC -- When people look back on the first season of Toronto FC they will remember three things: the amazing crowds, the record-breaking scoreless streak and Johnston's penchant for wheeling and dealing. What is easily overlooked is the fact that a rash of major injuries turned a once promising season into a nightmare in the results department.
Toronto finished with the worst record in the league, 6-17-7, but Johnston's team was actually on an impressive run after a goal-less and point-less first four matches. Toronto put together a 5-3-5 stretch from May to June, which included wins against three playoff qualifiers (Chicago, Houston and FC Dallas), but injuries to several key players ravaged Johnston's roster, leaving him without most of his best attacking players as the team endured an 824-minute streak without a goal (a span of more than nine full matches).
On the other hand, Johnston did manage to stockpile some good talent. He acquired defenders Marvell Wynne and Todd Dunivant from his former club, the Red Bulls, and signed English forward Danny Dichio, who looked solid before injuries took their toll. Johnston also drafted Maurice Edu, a rookie of the year candidate and U.S. national team newcomer.
TFC rewarded Johnston with a contract extension through 2009, but the pressure will be on next year to provide the type of results the club showed from May to July. In other words, Johnston can't afford to be on this list again next year.
Frank Yallop, Los Angeles Galaxy -- Forgotten in the wake of the remarkable turnaround that nearly pushed the Galaxy into the playoffs, was the fact that this wound up being the second straight year the club missed the postseason. That fact hasn't gone unnoticed by the Galaxy, which is pondering Yallop's fate as we speak.
Should Yallop get the boot? In a word, no. He inherited a flawed team in 2006 and then had to deal with the Beckham media circus this season. According to league sources, Yallop also had to deal with Alexi Lalas meddling in player personnel decisions, which only made Yallop's job tougher.
There is no denying that Yallop is one of the best coaches in MLS. The question is whether Yallop and Lalas can work together to turn the Galaxy into a powerhouse again. It is difficult to see them both returning in 2008 but Yallop wouldn't be out of work for long if he is let go. He would be the clear front-runner to coach the expansion San Jose club.
Fernando Clavijo, Colorado Rapids -- If you were wondering if there was a manager who deserves to be let go in this group, wonder no more. Clavijo's three-year tenure in charge of the Rapids has been mediocre at best and three straight fourth-place finishes in the West and this year's poor record (fourth worst in MLS) make it clear that the Rapids just haven't improved under Clavijo.
So what has Colorado accomplished under Clavijo? A pair of first-round upsets of FC Dallas that helped the Rapids reach the West final twice, but not much else. Colorado has posted a 33-39-22 overall record in the past three years and during that time the Rapids have never been considered dangerous or remotely entertaining.
The best thing you can point to is the Rapids home record, 25-11-11 during Clavijo's tenure, but even that suffered this year (Colorado was 6-4-5 at home, including a season-ending loss to arch-rival Real Salt Lake).
Is it all Clavijo's fault? Not exactly. Much like Columbus, the Rapids aren't exactly known for spending money on players. That said, Clavijo has to shoulder the blame for some shaky moves this year, such as the Kyle Beckerman-Mehdi Ballouchy deal and the acquisition of Conor Casey.
Will Clavijo be brought back? It seems unfathomable, but this is the same club that chose Clavijo over Juan Carlos Osorio three years ago, a decision that is looking extremely shaky right now.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.