By Ridge Mahoney
For MLS coaches, the Thanksgiving holiday is split between enjoying turkey with the family and finalizing which rostered turkeys need to be sliced, because contracts are either renewed or terminated Nov. 30. There are also college games to be scouted.
And this offseason, barely two weeks old, is further crowded by a new team entering the league, a new toy - the Designated Player slot - to be played with, and at least two teams looking for head coaches.
Five days after MLS Cup, Toronto FC picked 10 players in the expansion draft, and quickly traded nearly half of them. Five days after Turkey Day, the New York Red Bulls sent Amado Guevara to Chivas USA for a freshly minted Designated Player slot, and Kansas City named U.S. Soccer assistant coach Curt Onalfo as its head coach.
And away we go. The offseason is on.
CHIVAS REMAKE REDUX. Coach Bob Bradley took the prudent course of injecting a league-savvy, creative playmaker into his lineup rather than waiting for one to wash up on the shores of MLS. He changed about half the roster following that disastrous 2005 expansion season and more changes are coming, in tactics as well as personnel.
When Bradley took the helm of expansion Chicago in 1998, he formulated a potent 3-5-2 system to exploit the abilities of international players Peter Nowak, Lubos Kubik, Roman Kosecki, and Jerzy Pudbrozny, and later, Hristo Stoichkov. He was unable to recreate that magic with the MetroStars, yet Chivas played some of the most entertaining soccer recently seen in MLS last season, and made the playoffs. Guevara should flourish in its fluid style.
This is a shrewd move, but a gamble in several ways. Guevara's talent stands out, as do his tirades. He's a Honduran international joining a team whose roots and traditions are deeply steeped in Mexico and could field fewer Mexican stars than it has in the past.
Ramon Ramirez had to sit out last season with injuries, Juan Pablo Garcia is headed elsewhere, and so might be Francisco Palencia. Claudio Suarez had a good season but is nearly 38.
(Perhaps there's interest from Chivas USA in Jose Manuel Abundis, whose contract was not renewed by New England. But since he'll be 34 next summer and has never played for the home office in Guadalajara, perhaps not.)
With a change of teams and coaches and surroundings, there might come more maturity and consistency and leadership in Guevara. If he can contribute as powerfully as Dwayne De Rosario does for Houston and Christian Gomez does for D.C., Chivas USA can join those teams in the top tier of MLS.
ONALFO UP TOP. The ranks of former Bruce Arena assistants coaching in MLS increased by one with the hiring of Onalfo, who nonetheless brings a unique resume to the league, starting with his birthplace: Sao Paulo, as in Brazil.
He grew up Ridgefield, Conn., yet is also one of the very few Americans to play pro soccer in Mexico, where he met his wife Sandra. (His Spanish is excellente). He played a season in France with La Ciotat, for the U.S. under-20 (1989) and Olympic (1992) teams, and with San Jose and Los Angeles in MLS.
With D.C. United, he was assistant coach, interim head coach, and director of player development. For U.S. Soccer, if a trip was required to scout an opposing team, often it was Onalfo on the plane. He knows MLS, he knows U.S. Soccer, he knows CONCACAF.
Onalfo, in his college playing days, helped Arena win his first of five NCAA titles with Virginia in 1989.
Said Arena in a press release disseminated by the Wizards: "Curt is one of the brightest young coaches in the country. He made an outstanding contribution to the U.S. national team. I look forward to him building a strong team in Kansas City and to competing against him in the coming years."
And know ye well, Onalfo looks forward to kicking Bruce's butt on the playing field.
Chivas USA coach Bob Bradleyassisted Arena at the University of Virginia and at D.C. United, as did Chicago coach Dave Sarachan.
In his first MLS head-coaching stint, in 1998, Bradley with expansion Chicago defeated Arena and D.C. United in the MLS Cup.
The list of former assistant coaches or U.S. Soccer colleagues in MLS who worked under Arena is a long one: Onalfo, Bradley, Sarachan, John Ellinger (Real Salt Lake), and Sigi Schmid (Columbus).
They are all friends as well as rivals, and as Schmid once said, "You never want to lose to a friend. That's all you hear about."