'New' MLS Coaches Not So New

There will be a few coaching changes in MLS before the 2009 season begins -- but nothing that will astound anyone, or will make any great difference to the teams involved. We know we're getting a new coach at the Colorado Rapids -- Gary Smith replacing Fernando Clavijo -- but Smith is not exactly new as we suffered through 11 of his "interim coach" games only a couple of months back.

The coach who, says his general manager Jeff Plush, wants soccer "the way it should be played," actually gave us soccer as it should never be played. One player will feel a bit put out by Smith's appointment -- defender Mike Petke, whose voice was one of the loudest among the Rapids players calling for Smith's appointment. Indeed, Petke called Smith the best coach he'd ever had. Petke's loyalty was rewarded with a place on the waiver list, and he's now a Red Bull.

Colorado, then, will carry on with the same stuff that failed to qualify them for the playoffs this time round.

There will be a new coach up in Seattle of course, a club that is in the odd situation of having signed 14 players before that new coach has been chosen. Or maybe he has been chosen. Sigi Schmid looks like the favorite to take over. In which case it will not be a new coach -- we know plenty about Sigi and his teams, most of it encouraging.

But if Sigi moves, then we'll get a new coach at Columbus, right? Probably not -- the chances are that Sigi's assistant Robert Warzycha would move in, and it's inconceivable that anything new in the team-building or playing area will come from Warzycha, whose main claim to the post is that he has been, so to speak, a Columbus party-line coach, a faithful servant of the club that used to call itself "America's hardest-working team."

Then again, if Sigi stays at Columbus, the next-most-likely candidate for Seattle would appear to be Englishman Paul Mariner, currently Steve Nicol's assistant at New England. And again, I'm afraid, the expectation that Mariner would bring a new approach or, indeed, anything different to MLS coaching is remote.

Maybe Mariner makes some sense in Seattle, an area that has traditionally featured a heavy Brit influence. But that has not proved to be anything of great value in MLS, where Brit coaches haven't ever exactly lit things up. The latest example of Brit coaches failing to do the business has been Toronto, where first Mo Johnston, then John Carver have produced losing seasons. So Toronto may be due for another coaching change, but should that happen, the chances would be high that another Brit would get the job.

There is not much diversity to be found among MLS coaches. There is still only one Hispanic coach -- the Red Bulls' Juan Carlos Osorio. (I'm not including Costa Rican-born Denis Hamlett, who, in soccer terms, seems to me much more mainstream American than Hispanic.) This lack of diversity has been a problem right from the start, in 1996. But I certainly admit that there has been, quite recently, a pretty substantial change in the attitude of most MLS coaches, a change that has produced a much greater diversity among their players. It's clear that signing Latin American players is no longer something that is not even considered. It's taken some 10 years for the change to happen, and I remain as baffled by that delay, as I am by the rapidity with which Hispanic players have suddenly come into fashion.

But the British influence in American soccer is not going to go away -- the common language alone will see to that. There is also now the growing interest on the part of British clubs in exploiting (the mot juste) the American soccer market -- exemplified by Chelsea's expanding series of "agreements" with American youth clubs.

Which is fine, as long as all the Brit clubs do is to finance American soccer. But of course they want to do more. They want to help. So they send coaches to give us clinics. Considering the threadbare nature of British soccer (which maintains its prestige only through a league dominated by non-British players) this is something we can well do without.

There was a considerable amount of criticism in England some years back when Sven Goran Eriksson was appointed the national team coach -- the gist being that the appointment was an insult to English coaches. The same voices were raised more recently when Fabio Capello took over. But the English have found that -- for the top coaching job in the country -- English coaches simply do not measure up. Another way of putting it would be to say that English coaches are too narrow-mindedly English for the wider world of international soccer.

And I believe that is exactly what makes them a problem here in the United States, where a wider, more global view of the sport is required. More diversity, in fact.

So -- as usual! -- there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that diversity is not much in evidence in the possible coaching changes for next season. The good news is that, despite the same-old same-old among the coaching ranks, their player signings now feature much more diversity than was to be seen even two years ago.

2 comments about "'New' MLS Coaches Not So New".
  1. Raul Zavaleta, November 28, 2008 at 12:31 p.m.

    Mr Gardner, you are right on your opinion. MLS is being influenced by coaches with a culture and system of play that their own country is trying to shed. MLS needs to embrace the diversity of its own melting pot. I am convinced that the result will be a unique style of play vastly different from the one those English coaches are bringing.

  2. Martha Hercules, November 29, 2008 at 11:16 p.m.

    Same ol' articles: attack and attack and whine and whine about the 13-yr old MLS. I'm starting to think you applied for an MLS job and didn't get it and that's why you are ALWAYS not satsfied with this young league. You have a couple of good points or maybe less and that's all.

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