As the preseason gets into full swing and rosters begin to stabilize, it’s time to take a look at the men who pull the strings and have the greatest impact on the team itself. The modern manager is part tactician, part showman, and part PR man. The best are the ones who can bring a diverse team together and make it into a trophy-winning side. Rarely can a side win an MLS Cup, Open Cup, or Supporters Shield with a mediocre or poor manager. However, at times its the team that makes the man and only the perfect marriage of players and manager that can make a championship. A manager is especially important in MLS, with the salary cap and built-in rules designed to promote parity.
These men are masters of the realm, the best managers in MLS today. The following ranking is my own top five managers in MLS going into the 2012 season. Keep in mind this is not an all time list but simply looking ahead to the 2012 season. Agree or disagree? Make your opinions known in the comments section.
5. Piotr Nowak: Maybe the restructuring going on in Philadelphia is Nowak’s way to challenge himself. The veteran coach has taken a new franchise and by year two had made the Union into a Eastern Conference championship contender. Building the team around a stout defense and the timely scoring of his offense, Nowak has made the club in his image and, even with the departures, Philadelphia is now a team to watch every year. His work with DC United, leading them to their fourth MLS title in 2004, only adds to his coaching resume. Although he does not have the large number of trophies some of the others on this list have, he is undoubtedly established himself as one of the best head coaches in the league.
4. Schellas Hyndman: Although at times his decisions are questionable (Brek Shea as a full back?), Hyndman is a long-time collegiate coach who finally got the right opportunity to prove his worth with FC Dallas in 2008. His defining win was a 3-0 defeat of Los Angeles in the 2010 Western Conference finals over a team that looked like the best in the league with a healthy David Beckham. Although Dallas lost the 2010 MLS Cup in overtime, the former SMU head coach has done a good job balancing his roster and replacing departed players, especially in the midfield. Under his watch David Ferreira blossomed into one of the most dangerous midfielders in the league and with some promising youth coming up through the system this year, Hyndman may soon be able to chase down that elusive MLS Cup.
3. Sigi Schmid: For a guy who never played professional soccer, Schmid gets this league. His uncanny ability to identify talent and his in-game ability to identify mismatches has made the former UCLA Bruin the brain behind the constantly-successful Seattle Sounders. A team with a rich history and demanding fan base, Schmid gave the league a blueprint for how to compete in MLS from year one, a blueprint that teams as recently as Montreal are looking to emulate. He is the most successful U.S. Open Cup head coach in the modern era and has guided the careers of many of MLS’s greatest stars. His LA Galaxy team was also one of two MLS clubs to ever win an intercontinental cup. He is the winningest head coach in MLS history and has the Sounders poised to challenge for the 2012 MLS Cup.
2. Dominic Kinnear: The coach of this year’s Eastern Conference champions narrowly edges Sigi Schmid in my rankings because since 2006, Houston has been one of the league’s most successful teams. Besides winning back-to-back MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007, this year may have been his best coaching job, leading an arguably less talented team to the MLS Cup. All of this is even more impressive considering the fact that the team has worked within a tight budget and a changing ownership situation.
1. Bruce Arena: The National Soccer Hall of Famer continues to prove that he is arguable the greatest American soccer coach of all time. Even though he had three famous designated players, it was his work with the Galaxy’s defense that was most impressive about the 2011 Galaxy. The keys to the defense were that the two major contributors, A.J. De La Garza and Omar Gonzalez, were Arena draftees. Arena guided a dominant team through a dominant season, essentially staking claim to the MLS Cup early in the season and never relinquishing it. His history is unparalleled in the U.S., but even going into the new season he is still in a class by himself and recognized by many as the best head coach out there.