MLS: Coaches, GMs and Wet-Dream Thinking

With the recent rash of firings/resignations of Major League Soccer (MLS) coaches – not to mention the barely moral decision to keep around one coach well past his use-by date (though there is hope yet) – chatter about replacements, as well as the talents and qualities that will make said replacements worth the dinero, dominated the soccer-sphere for a second day. In fact, USSoccerplayas.com’s front page looks a little like a special edition given the consistency of the stories (not going to bother linking; the links will change).

A kind of mental quirks typically surfaces in these discussions and this latest round is no different; it could, in fact, be a little worse given how loosely the concept of “ambition” gets thrown around by guys like Alexi Lalas, who has announced his intention to accept nothing less than “sexy” in a new coach for the LA Galaxy (brain…hurting….). But this idea appears just about everywhere, including in a Clemente Lisi column about what he’d term Bruce Arena’s inevitable struggles with Red Bull New York (for the record, I like Lisi’s work on the general subject):

“Now comes the tough task of signing a new coach. With the club’s deep pockets, I would not be surprised if the search is centered on a European coach with plenty of experience. The coach of Red Bull Salzburg, NY’s sister team, is former Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni. Other names that could be in the mix are Jürgen Klinsmann and Jose Mourinho, if the LA Galaxy doesn’t get there first. All these men are currently out of work and all of them would make for a great addition to MLS.

Those names – albeit minus Trapattoni and plus Fabio Capello – appear in Billy Witz’ LA Daily News column Lalas’ search. As much as seeing any of those coaches in MLS would be, um, kinda neat, I’m far from convinced they would make “great additions to MLS” outside the marketing department. In a non-response response, (meaning that) Goal.com’s Pat Walsh (could very well have written his piece before or after Witz and Lisi) points to the holes in this, well, wet-dream kind of thinking:

“Houston and New England have both done extremely well in identifying young, cheap American talent and infusing them with several star MLS players. United has succeeded in finding domestic talent, as well as being the league’s guiding light in finding cheaper international talent, specifically in Argentina.”

[SNIP]

“While both [LA and New York] will look to make the big splash in signing a big-name coach, they may be better off with someone less-heralded, as Nicol and Kinnear were before taking over their respective teams. Coaches like Fabio Cappello or Jose Mourinho, not that either would sully their reputations by coming to MLS, may sound great to the fans, but when they only have one David Beckham or Juan Pablo Angel and not 22 on their roster, winning becomes a smidge more difficult.”

I’d only add one tweak to Walsh’s point, which, by the way, makes a lot of sense in MLS’s overall context. Here’s that: there’s nothing wrong with looking abroad, but in a league where ambition is more symbolic than real, it makes sense to look away from the kinds of coaches that ambitious Big Euro clubs typically court. The kind of coaches MLS GM’s should go after are the guys who over-achieve with clubs with limited resources and necessarily curtailed ambitions. Who would I mean by that? Given how I follow Euro leagues these days, any short list I compile will be damned short, but I know enough about those leagues to hint at the kind of coach I have in mind: guys like Sam Allardyce who had Bolton playing above their heads for years; coaches of minor, but strong French clubs like Nantes and Auxerre, who build their reputations and victories on scouting for young talent. We don’t need those specific coaches, just men (or women, assuming any are out there) cut from a similar mold.

The essential quality for an MLS coach is making due – or, god forbid – excelling under the restrictions handed down from MLS HQ. As Walsh points out, the foreign coaches currently coming up in these searches worked for clubs who had seriously deep benches and who, given so much as the perception of need, could buy nearly any player they wanted. The question in MLS isn’t how well you can make a team perform with a World First XI, but how well you can perform when Eddie Gaven looks like your best offensive threat and Alejandro Moreno constitutes a serious upgrade. I like both these players, but world-class they ain’t.

At any rate, these coaching searches will take their course – and, god willing – there will be one more vacancy to fill when Fernando Clavijo gets thrown under the train (or to the fans; six of that, half-dozen of the other) by the Colorado Rapids. Names like Capello, Trapattoni, and Mouinho sound swell on paper, but so do erotic dreams featuring, well….the actress/model/cooking show host of your fantasy choice (whoa…almost tipped my hand there). But, as with those top-tier coaches, the look of things in the real world – e.g. with your slovenly ass tucked in bed beside them in the case of the actress/models, and trying to run a small team lacking in depth in the case of the coaches – very probably won’t match the beauty and ecstasy of the dream.

Those interested in looking at a wider selection of options – and I’m not promising anyone will like any or all of them – may find an interesting talking point or two in the informal poll Ives Galarcep posted on Soccer by Ives.  It’s Red Bull-based, but I think the same suggestions could work for the Galaxy…assuming they flip Alexi’s switch, that is.

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4 Responses

  1. I’d love to see Mourinho at the Galaxy for one reason and one reason only. (And it’s not because he’s really pretty. Although that would be a bonus.) I’d love to see him lock horns with Lalas. Abramovich may have been a match for Mourinho because he held the purse strings, but Alexi? Please.

    It’s interesting that you mention Sam Allerdyce. I’ve been fascinated with him ever since I witnessed his total rehab of my favorite French former bad boy, Nicolas Anelka. Watching Anelka’s transformation has been nothing short of amazing, and now he’s a role model for the younger players. Who would have thought?

    The problem with this kind of coach would be that Alexi could never resist tinkering. Tinkering ruins everything a coach like this could accomplish. But yes, “flipping Alexi’s switch” could make it work.

  2. Mourinho in MLS would be the greatest thing ever, PR wise. It won’t Becks’ Golden Balls that revolutionize American soccer, it will be Jose’s big mouth. ESPN would love him, he’d be a walking quote machine.

    As for somebody under the radar that could work out well for an MLS club, how about Chris Coleman? I thought he did a great job with a limited roster at Fulham, and he obviously doesn’t have any biases against the US game.

  3. Coleman isn’t a bad idea, now you mention it. I’m not a big fan of the English approach to the game (full-speed ahead, a trifle sloppy), but I also bet Coleman would fit into MLS pretty well.

  4. […] smart guy wrote that…well, it was me, actually, and just a couple days ago. And that makes me wonder why I was so wishy-washy-wait-and-see about the Los Angeles […]

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