Sunday, November 4, 2007
Yallop heads back to familiar scenery
Jeff Carlisle, ESPNsoccernet
As the reconstituted San Jose Earthquakes take shape, I can't help but feel like one of those late-night TV junkies watching yet another rerun of "The Blues Brothers." Except instead of Elwood and Jake, it's John Doyle and Frank Yallop who are getting the band back together.
What's next, Landon Donovan returning to Northern California? Joe Cannon manning the nets? Some unnamed member of the Houston Dynamo making a dramatic return? I have no idea, but what I do know is that the sequel ("Blues Brothers 2000" anyone?) rarely surpasses the original, and this attempt is no slam dunk.One month after tabbing Doyle as its general manager, San Jose is set to name Yallop as its head coach on Tuesday, a move that will no doubt have fans from Morgan Hill to Mill Valley cheering like mad at his return. But which version of Yallop are the Quakes getting? Is it the maestro whose golden touch turned San Jose from a laughingstock into two-time MLS champions? Or is it the guy who brought heretofore solid players to L.A., only to see them turn into chumps the minute they donned Galaxy blue and gold?
Of course, the latest entry on Yallop's resumé has made him only more beloved in the Bay Area. Ever since the Quakes left town in 2005, their fans have had to content themselves with watching Los Angeles become worse than mediocre, and the fact that Yallop was at the helm only added to the sense of irony.But championships are built on sharp decisions, not schadenfreude, and the reality is that Yallop, along with general manager Alexi Lalas, made some strange choices this season in Los Angeles. The trade of defender Shavar Thomas to Chivas USA for a draft pick was just one of several peculiar moves.
Granted, there were plenty of other factors that undermined L.A.'s season; the lengthy injury list, the back-loaded schedule, and the circus-like atmosphere surrounding David Beckham's arrival all contributed mightily to the Galaxy's woes. Sources around the league also have indicated that Lalas vetoed several deals that Yallop wanted to get done, indicating some friction between the two.
But the characterization of Lalas as sole arbiter of personnel moves, and Yallop as a completely innocent bystander, is a little bit too neat and tidy for me. It begs the question of whether Yallop's 2½ years with the Canadian national team saw him lose the razor sharpness needed to assess what works and what doesn't in MLS, not that Yallop is buying that assertion.
"I think I can get a group of players to play well together and win no matter where I am," Yallop said shortly after the end of the season. "If it's with Canada, another national team, or MLS, I feel that I have the things that make players and teams play well and do well. I had no problems with me being out of MLS for a while."
The hope is that together, Yallop and Doyle will make better team-building decisions in San Jose than Yallop and Lalas did in Los Angeles, because from a pure coaching standpoint, Yallop still has the goods, and the new Quakes franchise can barely believe its luck.
It's worth noting that Yallop is at his best when his team assumes the mantle of underdog. His San Jose teams that won championships had this in spades, feeding on the redheaded stepchild persona that the club adopted. And it was an attitude that this year's Galaxy team assumed following the SuperLiga final loss to Pachuca, a stretch that saw them pull off a miracle seven-game unbeaten streak and almost qualify for the playoffs when everyone (myself included) had written them off.
Yallop has also done well developing young, up-and-coming players. His first stint in San Jose was notable for giving unproven talents like Richard Mulrooney, Brian Ching and Brian Mullan a chance to shine, a trait he continued in L.A. with players like Mike Randolph and Josh Tudela. Given the uphill struggles that most expansion franchises face, getting the most out of such players is a prerequisite for any chance of first-year success, and Yallop appears to be someone who can accomplish that task.
Perhaps that fondness for the underdog approach, one that seems ill-suited to the arrogance permeating the L.A. club, is why Yallop struggled with the Galaxy and explains why L.A. seemed so agreeable to letting him go. A source with knowledge of Yallop's release from the Galaxy stated that San Jose parted with either a third- or fourth-round draft pick in this January's SuperDraft. When you consider that after the 2002 season, New York sent Rookie of the Year Rodrigo Faria and a conditional draft pick to Chicago for head coach Bob Bradley, the Quakes got off easy. But the deal with San Jose also looks to have greased the skids for a coach that L.A was going to get rid of anyway.
"No coach would choose to leave [the L.A.] job, especially when it's the biggest job in the country," said one source, who knows Yallop well, but requested anonymity. "[Yallop] still wanted to try and make it right."
Yallop won't get that chance, although given the dysfunction inherent in the L.A. organization as well as the soft landing awaiting him in San Jose, he's probably better off. And now that L.A. has its fall guy, the question about what is next for this once great team remains. The name of Juergen Klinsmann has been bandied about as a possible replacement, but that seems a stretch for a man who has his pick of any job in the world, be it at the club or international level.
And what of Lalas himself? His own stint in San Jose saw him work with head coach Dominic Kinnear to rebuild a team that won the Supporters' Shield in 2005, although Lalas had skipped town by season's end. His spells in New York and L.A. have been far less successful, and in Yallop and Bradley, Lalas has now earned the dubious distinction of burning through two of the more successful coaches in MLS history. It all points to an executive career that has been checkered at best and a downright failure at worst.
But Lalas has always been an AEG man (AEG owns the Galaxy), leading me to believe he'll survive this crisis. In the meantime, unless Klinsmann comes calling, it looks like the Galaxy will be singing the blues for a while longer.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at email@example.com.