MLS - Dominic Kinnear

By Ridge Mahoney, Senior Editor
Soccer America Magazine

In more than a decade as a player and a coach, Dominic Kinnear has become accustomed to changing locations. But the decision by Anschutz Entertainment Group to move the San Jose team to Houston means leaving home.

Few who choose to make their living in professional soccer can evade the nomadic existence it often demands, and not even a Northern California institution like Dominic Kinnear is immune.

''I moved three times in the five years I was playing in MLS,'' says Kinnear of stints with Tampa Bay and Colorado as well as San Jose, ''and now after five more years it looks like IÆm moving again.''

On Feb. 1, Kinnear will step on a field somewhere in Houston to begin his duties as head coach of the relocated and yet-to-be-renamed Earthquakes. Less than a month prior to the opening of training camp, matters were still so unsettled he didnÆt know if childhood friend and Quakes assistant coach John Doyle would be accompanying him, nor where the team would train.

Instead of the cozy but cramped confines of Spartan Stadium, where the grass may be a bit fickle but at least it grows, the team will play on the University of Houston campus at Robertson Stadium on an artificial surface that as of early January not only had yet to be installed, it had yet to be selected.

Kinnear wonÆt speculate on what team operator-investor Anschutz Entertainment Group might have done differently had the Quakes, who rolled through the 2005 MLS regular season with a league-best 18-4-10 record, won the league title instead of collapsing in the first round. Yet a clue may be gleaned from what happened with archrival Los Angeles; instead of being fired after finishing 13-13-6 and in fourth place, Steve Sampson won the league title, as well as the U.S. Open Cup, and, of course, kept his job.

Kinnear still has a job and most of his players. Just about everything else will change. Since taking over as head coach from Frank Yallop after three years working as his assistant, Kinnear has endured two difficult offseasons and No. 3 doesnÆt figure to be any rosier.

''I can honestly say I donÆt want to go,'' he admits. ''But what would I do? I enjoy what I do. IÆm still very competitive, and I can say sometimes IÆm too competitive, my emotions get the best of me. I like the team and the players that I coach.

''After Frank left, that was a hard act to follow. We had three great years, won two championships. I thought in 2004 there were games where we were by far the best team in the league, but the consistency was not the best for us. Last offseason was not one IÆd like to relive, thatÆs for sure, because a lot of players were moving. It was a hard offseason, and you never know what youÆre gonna come out of it with.''

CALL TO COACH. The call from Yallop to coach surprised Kinnear, who had played the 2000 season in Tampa Bay, where the pair had been teammates and evolved into friends. His status with the Mutiny wasnÆt clear. Although he had taken his USSF ''A'' and ''B'' coaching licenses, at age 33 he didnÆt envision an abrupt change in career. Nor did he know if coaching in MLS right out of the box was right for him.

''When he asked me, I was in preseason with Tampa but I didnÆt really know what my future was there,'' says Kinnear of the offer from Yallop, now the Canada national team coach. ''Actually, at first I thought he was asking me to play in San Jose. Then when he told me he wanted me to coach, to be his assistant, my first thought was I didnÆt want to stop playing and I didnÆt have any coaching experience so it was going to be kind of an odd transition.''

Yallop had no such doubts.

''We talked about the game quite a bit while we were at Tampa,'' says Yallop, who himself was taking on the job as head coach for the first time after being an assistant with the Mutiny and D.C. United. ''I felt there wasnÆt anyone better. Maybe you go with an experienced coach, but I knew Dominic would be great and heÆs proved that.

''WeÆre positive people, but when it comes to the game, weÆre both very, deadly serious, and thatÆs the thing that comes across. I knew the guys would really enjoy Dominic but when it came to ask him a question about the game, he would be truthful and honest and have great insight.''

KinnearÆs qualms about ending his playing career were tempered by the prospect of a move back to Northern California. He and wife Colleen had recently become parents, and the Kinnear clan had been rocked by the death of DominicÆs brother, John, from an inoperable brain tumor. The smoothness with which he and Yallop meshed and the teamÆs amazing success softened the shock of a personal crisis.

''WeÆd worked out what the training schedule was going to be day-to-day, usually not for the week, because we have to see how the players were,'' says Yallop. ''Dominic would always do a lot of the finishing at the end, the crossing and the finishing or the attacking to goal stuff that was at the end of practice. I would usually take the bulk of the possession or the main game. Dom did the warm-ups and all that stuff, and the players really enjoyed them. He was terrific to have as an assistant coach and invaluable as a right-hand man.''

The Quakes had missed the playoffs four straight seasons, but with Yallop at the helm, and a rookie named Landon Donovan and veterans like U.S. defender Jeff Agoos among the new faces on San JoseÆs roster, they won their first conference title and kept right on rolling to the championship.

''We were good friends, but I learned so much from him that first year,'' says Kinnear of the 2001 season. ''On the field stuff, training sessions, and off the field, just the way he carried himself and dealt with his players. The most I learned was just the way he was open and honest. I think thatÆs why the players enjoyed him so much. I remember saying to him, two months in the season, 'Where were you when I was playing?'''

KinnearÆs playing career exposed him to a wide and wild variety of coaches: Englishmen Bob Houghton and Laurie Calloway, the cryptic Bora Milutinovic, the quirky Lothar Osiander, the gut-blunt Bob Gansler. At Necaxa, his coach was Manuel Lapuente, who after winning the double took over the Mexican national team.

''My Spanish wasnÆt great, but my Spanish as far as football went was pretty good, so I could kind of get by,'' says Kinnear, who didnÆt play much but says he paid attention. ''Even though I wasnÆt playing every week, [Lapuente] went out of his way to be nice to me. I think he was nice to everybody. He was very good. I liked the way he did things, slowed things down.

''So what happens? Mexico has a great run in the 1998 World Cup [second round] and guess whoÆs the coach?''

'FITBA-DAFT.' Twenty years earlier, after the Kinnears had moved to the United States, they went back to Scotland for a summer vacation. It just happened to fall during the 1978 World Cup, and a young lad nearing his 11th birthday was absolutely mesmerized by the experience.

''Growing up in a house where soccer is a constant topic of conversation, an experience of the day, or itÆs on television, it gets you to dream a little bit,'' he says. ''We went to Scotland for a summer vacation, and all we did was sit around watching the World Cup on television even though it wasnÆt a great World Cup for Scotland. I remember thinking, 'ThatÆs what I want to do.'

''My mom was just as big a fan of soccer as my father was. SheÆd yell at the TV just like everybody else. Living in that environment gave me something to dream about and work hard for.''

Both of his parents are dead. His mother died in 2004 after a long illness, and his father Hughie passed away suddenly last year.

Between Christmas and New YearÆs, Dominic and Colleen hunted for houses in Houston, a sprawling megapolis with a population of 2.1 million. TheyÆve lived in Fremont, a small city of about 200,000 north of San Jose, where Dominic grew up as one of six children steeped in soccer.

Hughie started up the Fremont Celtic club named after the legendary Scottish team. He dressed its teams in the same green-and-white hoops, and coached Celtic to the 1980 McGuire Cup title. As his fellow Glaswegians would say, Hughie was æfitba daft.'

''He loved soccer,'' says Kinnear of his father, who also coached Doyle on the Celtic teams. ''We couldnÆt get a, 'Hi/Bye Dad' without some mention of soccer getting thrown in there. ThatÆs what his life was. He loved soccer so much. I love it, but sometimes I can pull away, where I know he couldnÆt. And he never got paid, which is hard to believe when you think about what a big business club soccer is nowadays.

''One thing, my dad taught me discipline. We werenÆt even allowed to swear, not even at practice, because he didnÆt swear in front of us. He wanted people who had respect for others as well as for their team. Discipline and respect were important.

''HeÆd always say my three FÆs in life are faith, family and football. IÆm not going to preach to you. I have my faith and my family and football, but I donÆt know if footballÆs probably No. 1.''

HOWDY, HOUSTON. Yallop is among those absolutely perplexed at the teamÆs departure from San Jose. Kinnear has accepted it, as he must. He is pleased there is something of a buzz about the teamÆs arrival and believes president Oliver Luck has the clout and connections to penetrate the market. Leaving home is rough, but that is the life for players and coaches.

''A lot of people, when they come here, they like it, and then when they leave, they really realize how nice it is,'' says Kinnear of Northern California. ''But if you want to stay in one particular area, professional sports may be the wrong line of work for you. Moving is part of it. On the field, we have a pretty focused group. YouÆve seen over the last five years thereÆs been a lot of uncertainty over the franchise and weÆve put together probably the best record [68-39-41] in the league.

''First and foremost, I want the team to do well. TheyÆre putting a new franchise in Houston, and we want to be sure the franchise is successful on the field. TheyÆre not getting an expansion team, theyÆre getting a good team. ThatÆs the most important thing right now.''

(This article originally appeared in the February 2006 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)

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