As Earl said yesterday, we’re doing the MLS preview a little differently this year, and our first article today is on the men on the bench, the new head coaches. This offseason five teams from various situations and needs hired new head coaches, all from very diverse backgrounds. MLS teams have been trending towards hiring former players, as a way to bring in league knowledge and experience to help their teams. Of the five coaches hired this offseason (not counting John Hackworth, who was given his gig full time),
only two three played in MLS. Time will ultimately tell how successful these new hires will be, but that should not stop us from giving grades for the offseason hires.
Jose Luis Sanchez Sola (Chivas USA) – Chivas begins its Mexican overhaul by hiring a veteran coach of the Mexican leagues. Chelis saw some success in Mexico’s top flight and was popular with his players. If the cultural change of the club is successful, Chelis could be the perfect guy to lead Chivas USA out of its current morass into playoff contention. However,
the first Mexican head coach in MLS is a rookie of this league and, that combined with having to totally make over a team in flux, means that unless ownership gives him a very long leash, this will be a tough job to handle. Who else, however, could do it? Grade: C-
Marco Schallibaum (Montreal Impact) – Another team adding some international flair to its staff to reflect its culture, the Swiss head coach takes his first job outside of Europe. A veteran manager who knows the kind of players Montreal loves to sign (think Southern European), this could be a good fit in terms of player relations. The mixed success of Schallibaum in Europe however is worrying, as is the fact that this is his first experience coaching in MLS. Also, since 2003, he has not coached the same team for more than one season (although that may be the fault of his fickle bosses). Here’s hoping he has a longer leash than Jesse Marsch. Grade B-
Mike Petke (New York Red Bull) – The ranks of former MLS players-turned-head-coaches grows with this surprise, and rather late, hire by New York. This hire to me was a lot like how New York’s rival handled their last coaching change; DC United also went to a long-time player and fan favorite to lead a revitalization. Petke has a ton of MLS experience (and MLS Cup winning experience) as well as some time overseas, so he has an ideal profile for an MLS job. He knows the franchise in and out, and in many ways is a perfect hire. However, the extended hiring process and the public knowledge that he was probably the third choice for the job undermines his authority some. Ultimately, he will be judged on how he handles the team’s superstars and if he wins an elusive trophy. Grade A- (although management gets a D+ for the hiring process)
Caleb Porter (Portland Timbers) – Recognizing that passionate fans can only take the team so far, Gavin Wilkinson hit the restart button and hired one of the up-and-coming coaching stars of U.S. soccer. Despite the failure to make the World Cup with the U-23s, Porter has a proven track record of working with younger players and has a good tactical mind. This is his first foray as a coach into professional soccer so how he manages at the next level (where his players actually are getting paid) will be interesting to see. However, it’s hard to see how Portland could have done much better than this hire. Grade A
Ryan Nelsen (Toronto FC) – Toronto always does things a little differently, but new boss Kevin Payne is bringing some old school MLS style north of the border. Former DC United player and experienced international Ryan Nelsen retires mid-season from QPR to come to Canada for his first head coaching job. Much like Montreal, Toronto needed a coach who has international ties to fit into a culturally diverse city. Nelsen attended college in the U.S., won an MLS Cup, and played with some of the best players in the world in the EPL. However, this is his first coaching stint at any level, so there will be a learning curve with a team that has seem quite some turmoil since its inception. Grade B+
How would you grade the new hires?