[MLS] The league names its Coach of the Year Thursday, and in a very tight decision we go with Hans Backe of the New York Red Bulls who got up to speed right away in his first MLS season.
Coach of the Year Finalists
Hans Backe (New York)
Schellas Hyndman (FC Dallas)
Jason Kreis (Real Salt Lake).
Before we work through the three official finalists and (try to) justify our choice, there should be kudos to others for jobs well done.
Colorado improved by only six points from last year, yet before during the season Coach Gary Smith toughened up the midfield and strengthened the back line to get the Rapids into the playoffs for the first time since 2006. In Philadelphia, the Union won only eight games but jazzed up the local populace and averaged nearly 20,000 fans, a good first season for a young team and Coach Peter Nowak. And in case your forgot, the Quakes won just seven games last year, so hats off to Frank Yallop.
New to MLS but savvy in all matters of building a team, Hans Backe proved that last year’s Red Bulls were not so much a poor unit but rather poorly prepared. Before DPs Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez swooped up their millions, Backe had worked Joel Lindpere, Tony Tchani, Chris Albright and Tim Ream into vital roles and molded New York into a crisp, competitive team. Pundits talked tactics and formations and whatnot to explain away its 3-1 home loss and elimination in the playoffs; Backe said simply, “We weren’t good enough.” Right again.
FC Dallas nearly reached the playoffs last year with a late-season spurt, which prompted expectations it would qualify this time around. Sometimes teams reach that threshold and stagnate, but instead, FCD cracked the league’s elite tier and tied the league mark for fewest losses (four) with a potent blend of stylish attack and rigid defense. Schellas Hyndman shifted players around and blooded rookies Zach Loyd and Eric Alexander to cover the injury absences of several regulars. FCD can be overly reliant on keeper Kevin Hartman, but hey, more than a few coaches declined to sign him. Not Hyndman.
Ordinarily, a championship team doesn’t have much room for staggering improvement, but since RSL snuck into the playoffs last year with a 11-12-7 record (40 points), Coach Jason Kreis had plenty of upside to strive for. His players delivered: RSL jumped up to 56 points at 15-4-11 (which tied a league record for fewest losses), scored the most goals (45), and set a league record for fewest conceded (20) while also advancing to the quarterfinals of the Concacaf Champions’ League.
Backe transformed an embarrassment into a conference champion, Hyndman is less than three years removed from the college game yet one game away from the final, and Kreis hammered out a remarkable season in which every opponent targeted the defending champ.
Our selection: Backe. (Now, let’s see if he can top it next year.)