MLS Awards: Greg Vanney edges strong field as top coach

That the job of MLS head has become more complex and time-intensive is without question. Once the mentor of a single roster, now he oversees an operation with between 28 and 30 first-team players, a reserve team or an affiliate in the USL, sports science and performance analysis departments, and academy programs for boys and girls.

Once the season is done, he joins his assistants and overseas scouts to find players and starts planning for a preseason that starts in mid-January. He is as much CEO as coach.

Sporting Kansas City assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin says the offseason consists of about two weeks -- “from a few days before Christmas to Jan. 2” --  and while teams have much bigger staffs than they did even a decade ago, there’s also a lot more to do.

Greg Vanney (Toronto FC) and Oscar Pareja (FC Dallas) once were in charge of their team’s academies. New York City FC (Patrick Vieira) and Atlanta United (Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino) hired big names in the global game, while the Galaxy (Sigi Schmid) brought back one of the most successful coaches in U.S. soccer history. The tried and true method of promoting an assistant coach has brought men like Brian Schmetzer (Seattle) and Jim Curtin (Philadephia) to the top job.

Selecting a Coach of the Year requires balancing results with circumstances. A head coach who has turned a struggling team around, as per Vejlko Paunovic (Chicago), and/or done wonders with a smaller budget draws praise, as in the cases of Mike Petke (Real Salt Lake), Carl Robinson (Vancouver), Caleb Porter (Portland), and Gregg Berhalter (Columbus).

The teams with big stars and big budgets are expected to excel and thus maybe the accomplishments of Vanney, Vieira, Schmetzer, and Jesse Marsch (Red Bulls) don’t get the credit they deserve. Big budgets also bring big expectations. And as the Galaxy confirmed this year, a team can spend and still stink up the joint.

A head coach who has a consistent track record of success might not earn a lot of votes but that’s not to discount the work of Peter Vermes at SKC, who also handles the job of technical director. With another Open Cup on his resume this year along with one of the best defensive teams in league history he's added another chapter to a very accomplished story.

For 2017, the call is a tough one, but in Toronto, Vanney made a very good team even better with a few key changes and set it on course to break the league record for points and wins, which it can do Sunday. And this season, more so in the last two years, it has proven it can win even if a star like Sebastian Giovinco or Jozy Altidore is unavailable. He has rotated academy products into the first team and meted out playing time to devastating effect.

If the expansion season of Atlanta United hadn’t been so consistently exhilarating, the second choice would be Paunovic or Petke. But to the high-scoring machine that rolled up record numbers of multi-goal games Martino and his staff have bolstered the defense with keeper Brad Guzan and a few tactical tweaks that have transformed AUFC from expansion bombshell to MLS Cup contender. Martino has also lured some incredible, young South American talent, which can only bolster the league's image in that part of the world.
Winner: Greg Vanney (Toronto FC). Runner-up: Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino (Atlanta United).
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