This business of foreign coaches in MLS -- why does it drag on? Have we not learned enough during the 20-plus years of MLS activity that these guys do not do particularly well here?
I’m not here concerned with the reasons for their lack of success. Those reasons are varied, but not that difficult to divine, I would have thought.
What interests me more is trying to fathom what moves MLS clubs -- both the foreign-owned and the American-owned variety -- to persist with these appointments, despite the demonstrably poor results.
When I say “foreign,” I mean a coach who is imported from another country, one who has little or no experience of American soccer. Guys like Carlos Alberto Parreira, Hans Backe, Ruud Gullit, Walter Zenga, Carlos Queiroz, Aron Winter, Carlos de los Cobos, Bob Houghton, Frank Stapleton, and Hans Westerhof. There’s a great deal of coaching skill and success among those names, but none of them made himself felt in MLS.
OK, those guys are all history, pretty much forgotten, buried by their own ineffectiveness. But there are much more recent examples of non-flourishing foreigners. Owen Coyle, for one. Plus two guys currently employed -- Veljko Paunovic and Patrick Vieira.
Coyle has recently departed from the Houston Dynamo, where he reigned for 18 feeble months. Coyle, we are told, was greatly disoriented by the long-distance travel involved (like he had never looked at a map?), and found that he missed his family. Right.
Coyle’s hiring in 2015 was a prime example of Americans falling for the lure of a foreign coach. He was hailed as a coach from England’s Premier League, which was true, but did not in any way explain why he would be looking for a job in MLS -- which he was. It was Coyle who sought out the Dynamo, not vice versa.
Coyle, a goalscoring forward in his playing days, announced at his first press conference that his team would be attack-oriented, and that he loved to see “a winger taking a fullback on and getting to the byline because we all get out of our seats and get excited."
A peculiarly dated observation, given the dire shortage of wingers in the modern game. The Brit obsession with crosses loomed once more, which did not sound like good news for the Dynamo’s young Mexican star Erick “Cubo” Torres, whose goalscoring feats with Chivas USA were considerably more sophisticated than merely converting crosses.
Evidently. Coyle preferred the more straightforward physical style of the burly 6-foot-2 Will Bruin. Cubo rode the bench, an absurd waste of talent.
I trust it’s safe to assume that the Dynamo front office will not come up with another thoroughly wrong-headed call when they announce Coyle’s successor.
I know little of Chicago’s new coach, the Serbian Veljko Paunovic. He has slight MLS experience -- he played 17 games with the Philadelphia Union in 2011.
His coaching background is thin. Last year, I watched all his games as he coached Serbia to victory in the 2015 U-20 World Cup. A merited triumph, certainly, though I found Serbia to be quite the dullest team I’d ever seen emerge as world U-20 champion.
Paunovic is not off to a roaring start as an MLS coach. The Fire is in last place in the Eastern Conference, with the worst record of all 20 MLS teams.
And so to Patrick Vieira. NY City originally did the right thing. It hired the most promising of the American coaches, Jason Kreis. It didn’t work out. Kreis was not allowed any leeway for the fact that NYC was an expansion team. It seems that some sort of immediate success was needed -- probably at least a playoff berth.
There was no playoff berth, NYC rarely produced soccer worth watching. Kreis was evidently held responsible so he was canned. A decision that puzzles and rankles me. In particular: I find it hard to understand how Kreis, so clever and certain with his choice of players at Real Salt Lake, ended up with so many downright poor players on his NYC squad.
Whatever, Kreis was quickly hooked offstage to make way for Vieira. A really big name (though as a player, not as a coach it needs to be noted). Vieira is not doing particularly well. To put it mildly. That 7-0 wipeout from the Red Bulls has to be the worst defeat suffered by any MLS team, ever.
Yet, surprisingly, incredibly, Vieira seems to have escaped all criticism. I read about 12 game-reports of the rout and not a single one contained any harsh words for Vieira. I doubt I have ever come across a similar situation: an appalling 7-0 humiliation, in front of his own fans, against his local rival ... and no one goes after the coach? Dammit, this is the sort of result that gets pro coaches fired. To make one point only: when your team has been comprehensively outplayed, 3-0, in the first half, the expectation would be for some changes, some substitutions, to start the second.
But Vieira made no move. So he got what he asked for. The 5-8 Dax McCarty had opened the first-half scoring with a header. No prodigious jump was necessary, he was uncontested. So he did exactly the same thing at the beginning of the second half, this one I’ll swear he had to stoop to make contact with the ball.
Vieira’s postgame comments avoided any suggestion that his coaching might have played a role in the debacle. And it seems that no one asked.
That raises a possibility, something I had thought we had left behind. Can it be that, in the presence of big soccer names, Americans still feel it is in bad taste to show dissent?
Maybe the names don’t have to be that big. Coyle was no superstar. Maybe just being European is considered enough to ensure superiority. We saw that mentality at work with the misguided appointment of Englishman Peter Walton to head up MLS referees. A job that should surely have gone to an American.
Frankly, if Vieira can come out unscathed after his team has been calamitously mauled on their own field, the mind trembles to imagine what ghastly soccer crime he will have to commit before squeaks of protest are heard.