MLS coaching landscape sure to change in offseason
The MLS playoff stretch is when players establish themselves as clutch performers and coaches can either impress or disappoint with their ability or inability to navigate through a stretch of make-or-break games. As we head ever closer to the end of the MLS regular season, several coaches are fighting for their futures.
There is always some turnover in the coaching ranks of MLS, but this offseason could see a record number of changes on the sidelines. By my count, we could have six or seven MLS teams hiring head coaches this winter, a testament both to the increasing competitiveness of a league that is growing and to the pressure faced by owners eager to field winning teams.
Some coaches don't have to worry about such things, at least not anytime soon. Bruce Arena, Sigi Schmid and Dom Kinnear all boast multiple MLS Cups on their résumés and winning records on their current ledgers. For the three teams currently fielding interim head coaches, however, such security is nonexistent.
Here is a closer look at where all 15 MLS head coaches stand as we move toward the final month of the MLS regular season.
Bruce Arena -- The L.A. Galaxy head coach and GM has complete control and has used that power to reshape a bad team into a title contender.
Sigi Schmid -- Seattle paid a princely sum to lure the MLS Cup-winning coach from Columbus, and Schmid has made the Sounders one of the most entertaining expansion teams in league history. Not many would bet against his eventually winning an MLS Cup with a third different team.
Dominic Kinnear -- Two MLS Cup titles in his three years in Houston buys him plenty of job security, as does his keen eye for talent.
Steve Nicol -- The best MLS coach never to win the MLS Cup, Nicol keeps on winning even as the club loses players to Europe annually and has done so again this year without Taylor Twellman. He has two years left on his current contract with the Revs and isn't likely to leave New England anytime soon, unless perhaps a high-profile job in Europe were a possibility.
Robert Warzycha -- It's rare that a first-year head coach has this much job security, but Warzycha has shown plenty of poise in his first year as Columbus' head coach.
Good bet to return
Schellas Hyndman -- The reality is Hyndman could just as well be in the above list despite FC Dallas' awful record. Why? Dallas owner Clark Hunt lured Hyndman away from a cushy gig at SMU with the promise of control and job security, and there's little doubt that Hyndman is running the show in Dallas, based on his recent dealings. He will probably get at least another full season in 2010 to shape a young FCD roster, though rumblings around the league are that the long-time college coach is overmatched in the pros.
Gary Smith -- The Englishman has been a pleasant surprise for Colorado since taking over for Fernando Clavijo last season. He has posted a 15-11-8 in charge and has the Rapids playing some attractive soccer. Making the playoffs would certainly help his standing, but he's already done enough to merit returning in 2010 even if the Rapids miss the postseason a second straight season.
Frank Yallop -- Is in Year 2 with the expansion San Jose Earthquakes, and the reality is that the team hasn't shown much progress. If anything, the squad has regressed from the end of last season to the present. The two MLS Cups he won the first time around with the previous incarnation of the Earthquakes buys him plenty of rope, which means he'll be back in 2010 despite this season's disappointment. Whether he makes it through to the end of 2010 will depend on whether the team shows some real progress.
Feeling the heat
Tom Soehn -- You would think that a coach with a Supporters Shield and U.S. Open Cup trophy to his name in the past three seasons would be safer, but postseason disappointments have the D.C. United head coach feeling some heat. After a surprising first-round exit in 2007, and missing the playoffs in 2008, Soehn has to get his team into the playoffs to have a chance of staying around after this season.
Denis Hamlett -- In the time since Hamlett became head coach, the Chicago Fire has posted one of the league's best records, but even that hasn't been enough to earn Hamlett the security he deserves. Word out of Chicago is that team owner Andrew Hauptman isn't a fan of Hamlett's and has plans to make a change unless Hamlett can lead his team to an MLS Cup title, which is a bit shocking considering how well Chicago has done this year despite myriad key injuries. If Hamlett is let go despite two winning seasons, it would be tough to imagine him not landing one of the several jobs expected to be open this winter.
Preki -- An MLS coach of the year just two seasons ago, Preki watched his Chivas USA team go from having the best record in the league to losing six straight and falling into a tight playoff race. There have long been rumors about Preki being on a short leash with The Goats, with some suggesting Preki could have been fired if their summer losing streak had gone any longer. Expect a change of scenery for the former U.S. national teamer, with the Chicago Fire and Kansas City Wizards both interested in his services.
Jason Kreis -- Since taking over has head coach of Real Salt Lake with no professional coaching experience in May 2007, Kreis has been learning on the job. He got RSL to the Western Conference final last season, but this season has felt like a step back for a team that was highly regarded before the season. Will owner Dave Checketts continue to show patience with Kreis as he makes it through Year 3, or would missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons be enough to have RSL make a coaching change?
Interim coaches in limbo
Richie Williams -- Since taking over a team on course to be the worst in MLS history, Williams has helped the New York Red Bulls post a 2-0 mark and play much better soccer than it had in a long time under Juan Carlos Osorio. There is a belief in New York that Williams won't get a fair shake to stay as the permanent replacement, but if he can help the Red Bulls finish the year strong, team management will be hard-pressed not to keep a young and highly regarded coach who also impressed when he was interim boss in 2006.
Peter Vermes -- The firing of Curt Onalfo was surprising, but Kansas City's continued struggles since Vermes took over show that the team's problems went beyond anything Onalfo was responsible for. Vermes hasn't sounded much like a man who wants to stay head coach beyond this year, but he will be leading the search for a permanent head coach, with Preki among the leading candidates to come in.
Chris Cummins -- Since replacing John Carver earlier this season, Cummins has had his ups and downs in charge of Toronto FC. The Canadian club remains woefully inconsistent, and its dreadful performance in the CONCACAF Champions League didn't do him any favors. Ultimately, though, he did lead TFC to the Canadian Cup title, and now can hold on to the job if he can guide Toronto FC to its first playoff appearance in team history.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.