Toronto FC Manager and Director of Soccer Mo Johnston and Preki are both headstrong, yet both are driven to win. Their relationship might be somewhat stormy, but they
not only played together at Kansas City, they go back a decade further to the days they played at Everton, and both have good contacts within MLS as well as in Europe.
Preki might also draw interest from other clubs, and the U.S. national team; Bob Bradley hired Preki as his assistant for Chivas USA, but Bradley might instead choose a former player, say Jesse Marsch or Chris Armas, if he decides to add to his staff for the World Cup runup.
RSL blew into Chi-town a few days early and once the whistle blew, played enough slick possession soccer to mute the crowd for much of the match. RSL outplayed the Fire, not by a lot, but enough, and also out-fouled the Fire, 23-8, to preserve its playoff run by the slimmest of margins. Fire keeper Jon Busch rescued his team with a few excellent saves but couldn't stop any in the shootout; counterpart Nick Rimando, whose sensational flying save denied Pappa's blast from outside the penalty area, fended off three Fire penalty-kick attempts before last-second sub Ned Grabavoy drilled the ball off Busch's glove into the net.
The wonders that can be worked with the right men in charge were in sharp evidence Friday night at Home Depot Center, where Houston nearly knocked off the Galaxy but tired badly in overtime and lost, 2-0, after losing a goal to a pushing foul in the penalty area and hitting the crossbar. Los Angeles scored on a goalmouth scramble following a David Beckham free kick and from the penalty spot (by Landon Donovan) after a foul on substitute Alan Gordon. Defender Gregg Berhalter, one of numerous changes to the team made by Bruce Arena, poked the ball into the net for the first goal.
Teams looking for coaches, beware: playoff games, and thus entire seasons, in MLS often swing one way or the other by luck, not performances of players and those who prepare them. In goalless regulation periods, the Fire and Dynamo both hit the crossbar, and eventually lost.
Since moving to Houston prior to the 2006 season, Coach Dominic Kinnear has signed two new deals. The Dynamo tied the Galaxy on points during the regular season and actually won more games, but lost the head-to-head tiebreaker and thus the homefield advantage when both teams advanced. In an even game, the Galaxy got the breaks and thus the win.
The transformation of the Galaxy from an eight-win team in 2008 into an MLS Cup finalist earned Arena honors as Coach of the Year, and reminded teams looking for coaches - D.C. United, Toronto FC, Chivas USA, New York, and presumably Chicago - the bar is being moved higher and higher each year, as more teams come into the league and the playoff field remains at eight.
In the D.C. coaching chase, latest word is that Richie Williams may have taken the lead against Curt Onalfo. New York is searching for a Sporting Director to replace Jeff Agoos, who will be offered a different post in the organization, and has been aggressively pursuing MLS executive Nelson Rodriguez, who formerly worked for the MetroStars but isn't being held responsible.
Getting back to Hamlett, Hauptman may hold him responsible - because of the Soumare incident or a shot off the crossbar or not signing Nick Rimando or any other reason - for another stumble short of MLS Cup, and act accordingly. In this respect, MLS - even with playoffs -- is like any other league; coaches take the fall.