MLS Coaches on the Hot Seat
With the not too surprising news this morning that Chris Cummins is out as coach of Toronto FC, let’s look at the rest of the coaching candidates for dismissal in MLS. Starting from the team with the worst record in the league, the New York Red Bulls, and working our way up the table, these men should be feeling the pressure from team owners for failing to qualify for the postseason.
Richie Williams – Red Bull New York: When Juan Carlos Osario announced he was resigning as manager of New York on August 21st, his assistant coach Richie Williams stepped in as the interim coach for the remainder of the season. Williams also held this post for six weeks in 2006, when he took over for the fired Mo Johnston, before Bruce Arena was hired later that summer. Bottom line: Williams has served admirably guiding a club that had little chance of affecting the playoff picture just one year after reaching the MLS Cup finals. With NYRB moving into a new stadium next year, and looking to make a splash in the media by hiring a “big-name” coach, everyone expects Williams to resume his career as an assistant in 2010. Also, don’t be surprised if Jeff Agoos is jettisoned from his post as Sporting Director – news has already leaked that the team was talking with ex-Chelsea boss Avram Grant about taking over both duties, before he accepted a similar offer from Portsmouth FC in the EPL.
Frank Yallop – San Jose Earthquakes: This one is tricky. While the first year expansion club Seattle Sounders FC enjoys their trip to the playoffs, the Earthquakes 2.0 version finished bottom of the Western Conference for the second straight year. On the surface, it would seem that Yallop, and General Manager John Doyle, should be facing all sorts of pressure from ownership and supporters. However, in late August, owner Lew Wolff publicly supported his management duo in comments to the media. The dreaded “vote of confidence” usually means it is time to pack your bags – but Yallop is not under any pressure at all, and continues to be revered by large numbers of the local community for his past accomplishments. Excuses about player injuries contributing to the team’s poor results might be valid, but not getting the most out of the roster through curious position assignments? Clearly those are coaching decisions that should have him held accountable. Instead, a strange optimism permeates the club as they go into the off season expecting virtually the same roster back for 2010. Yallop might be safe for now, but expect him to be fired if San Jose gets off to a third successive poor start in league play.
Peter Vermes – Kansas City Wizards: The Wizards are the second team on our list that ended the 2009 regular season with a different coach then the beginning. When Curt Onalfo was dismissed in early August, Peter Vermes stepped in to try to rescue what was quickly becoming a lost season. After making the playoffs in 2008, ownership expected much of the same (see: NYRB) in 2009. With expectations for Vermes minimal, KC finished the year with only 12 points over their last 12 games. The fact that he is still carrying the label of interim head coach suggests that management will look to fill the coaching vacancy with a more proven commodity. Knowing how well he was received by his players, perhaps the Wizards should remove the interim from his title and let Vermes guide this team from the start of 2010.
Schellas Hyndman – FC Dallas: After riding the second half scoring explosion of MLS Golden Boot winner Jeff Cunningham, as well as his much improved defensive back four, Schellas Hyndman appears to have done enough to earn the privilege of returning for the 2010 season. The sting of missing out on the postseason after the 2-1 come-from-ahead loss to Seattle last Saturday was the first negative result for the club in over a month. After their recent visit to San Jose, a 2-1 victory, Hyndman was visibly pleased with the late season success that put his team in contention for the playoffs. The players said all the right things about their coach as well. Don’t expect ownership to disrupt the team now. Instead, FC Dallas will look for coaching consistency through the winter, and a momentum carrying winning start to 2010.
Chris Cummins – Toronto FC: The first casualty in MLS coaching ranks occurred this morning with the dismissal of interim head coach Chris Cummins. This came as know surprise given how ingloriously Toronto exited the playoff chase with their 5-0 drubbing at the hands of New York. Already having fired John Carver earlier in the season, TFC management has made it clear that qualifying for the postseason was expected this season. Enjoying a passionate fan base that clearly desires success, the third year MLS club anticipated being among the league’s best teams. Even with marquee signings like Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman, Toronto could not play up to their expectations, and the club was forced to make Cummins the scapegoat heading into another disappointing off-season.
Tom Soehn – DC United: Probably the coach with the next best chance of being fired, Tom Soehn endured a difficult season at the flagship club of MLS. Often criticized in the media for his questionable player formations and tactics, Soehn oversaw an ambitious 2009 schedule that saw DCU contest the US Open Cup final (a loss to Seattle), the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League (elimination before the quarterfinals), and a near miss of the MLS Cup playoffs (a late KC Wizards penalty kick away from qualifying in the last game of the season.) As he completes the last year on a three year contract, management has stated that they will take their time evaluating their head coach over the next month. Reading between the lines, it looks like DC United will quietly approach possible replacements for Soehn, and then make a coaching change later this year. Missing out on the playoffs for two seasons running, after consecutive seasons of winning the Supporters Shield, does not endear Tom Soehn to the supporters of this fine organization.
Gary Smith – Colorado Rapids: The interim coach in 2008, Gary Smith assumed full responsibility for the Rapids this season. For most of the summer, Colorado seemed poised to make the postseason, but a string of draws against lesser opponents (twice against the San Jose Earthquakes in the space of a week), and a crushing 3-0 loss to Rocky Mountain rivals Real Salt Lake, leaves Smith’s squad as the last team out of qualification. Featuring a potent scoring duo of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, the prognosis for this club going into 2009 was a low playoff seed. Smith had remarked in early September that the club targeted 40 points for a playoff position. Well, mission accomplished on that front – too bad RSL also reached 40 points, and then held the head-to-head tiebreaker courtesy of their last game victory. Colorado will rue their late season fade, but don’t expect Smith to be fired this off-season. However, like Frank Yallop in San Jose, look ahead to Gary Smith needing to start the 2010 season strong in order to keep his job.
What about the coaches currently involved in the MLS Cup chase? Barring an embarrassing performance in the quarterfinals, none of the eight playoff bound coaches need worry about their job security at this time. They have earned their place by measuring up to the standard of success in MLS.