The foursome of clubs still alive in this year’s MLS playoffs are directed by American born-and-bred Jesse Marsch, Gregg Berhalter and Caleb Porter, and by Colombian Oscar Pareja. Pareja joined MLS in 1998 and hasn’t lived beyond the States since. Ironically, he appears to be the most passionate believer in the upside for American soccer talent; his story of building the FC Dallas youth system is getting plenty of sunshine, and deservedly so.
More to the point, Pareja is the first non-American manager since Englishman Gary Smith in 2010 to make Major League Soccer’s “final four.” (We’re counting Sigfried Schmid as “American;” born in Germany, “Sigi” Schmid came to this country as a small child.)
SEE MORE: FC Dallas and the birth of MLS 3.0.
So while Juan Carlos Osorio, Wilmer Cabrera, Marco Schällibaum, Hans Backe, Aron Winter and other “sexier” foreign hires have come and gone to varying degrees of stalemate or outright collapse, a few good old Yankee Doodle Dandies are getting the business done. (Obviously, quite a few Americans have come and gone, too.)
Ruud Gullit was the most notorious of the foreign sexy man hire. Gullit is the fabulously talented Dutchman who failed so fabulously in his managerial walk-about with Los Angeles. The course correction was hiring the most successful American-born manager ever to walk our Earth, Bruce Arena.
So, buy American, right?
Well, maybe. That’s where this MLS-in-evolution thing comes in. That’s why, after some reconsideration, taking a chance on a Paunovic or a Vieira has some merit, too.
Nelson Rodriguez is making the critical calls around Toyota Park outside Chicago now. Rodriguez spent 14 years in MLS, mostly in various jobs at HQ in New York. He’s a sharp guy, and he should know as well as anyone what works and what doesn’t.
Paunovic does represent the bold choice. That doesn’t make him the best choice; only time will tell about that. But Rodriguez didn’t fall back on someone safer, someone with previous MLS managerial experience. That’s what Chicago (Frank Yallop) and Montreal (Frank Klopas) did before, never mind that both coaches had tumbled ingloriously from their previous posts.
The downside to hiring Paunovic is that someone like Kerry Zavagnin, who has now interviewed twice for the Fire position, doesn’t get his chance. Zavagnin has served faithfully under Peter Vermes at Kansas City, and will hopefully get his opportunity at one of the new MLS addresses. Or maybe at Chicago, if Paunovic doesn’t, er, pan out.