Climbing The Ladder: Second-time coaches back in charge

Memorial Day is normally a slow news day, but this year, a couple of MLS teams didn’t get the memo.

The Chicago Fire’s Carlos de los Cobos and the Vancouver Whitecaps’ Teitur Thordarson were both unceremoniously fired on Monday, and now it’s up to their replacements to try and right the ship and save the season.

In the meantime, both new hirings bring an interesting story line to the table.

1. Curse of the second-time coaches?

Vancouver have named director of soccer operations and former D.C. United head coach Tom Soehn to lead the club for the rest of 2011. Soehn won the Supporters' Shield in 2007 with DC, but a repeat may be unlikely. MLS history has shown that coaches simply don’t do as well the second time around.

How bad is it? Soehn is the 17th man to get a second chance at a head coaching position. Only one of the previous 16 had a better record with their second team, and that was Fernando Clavijo, who didn’t have a single winning season in either New England or Colorado.

MLS Coaches: Team 1 vs. Team 2

Coach Team 1 Team 2 PPG1 PPG2 Diff
Fernando Clavijo NE COL 1.20 1.26 +0.06
Tim Hankinson TB COL 1.47 1.29 -0.18
Sigi Schmid LA CLB 1.64 1.38 -0.26
Bob Bradley CHI NY 1.70 1.37 -0.33
Peter Nowak DC PHI 1.61 1.24 -0.36
Bruce Arena DC NY 1.76 1.38 -0.38
Frank Yallop SJ LA 1.68 1.29 -0.38
Preki CHV TOR 1.57 1.17 -0.40
Octavio Zambrano LA NY 1.95 1.52 -0.42
Lothar Osiander LA SJ 1.45 1.03 -0.43
Mo Johnston NY TOR 1.33 0.83 -0.50
Ray Hudson MIA DC 1.74 1.22 -0.52
Alfonso Mondelo NY TB 1.23 0.63 -0.60
Curt Onalfo KC DC 1.32 0.67 -0.65
Juan Carlos Osorio CHI NY 1.60 0.94 -0.66
Thomas Rongen TB NE 1.91 1.10 -0.80

This includes regular-season results only, and counts shootouts as draws. For reference, a points-per-game number of 1.38 represents an average performance.

Of course, coaches generally have to do well in order to earn a second chance. But even guys that didn’t light up the league in their first stint — like Mo Johnston and Curt Onalfo — aren’t immune from the effect.

The average is a decrease of 0.41 points per game, or about 14 points in a full 34-game season. Soehn ended up with a 36-30-24 record in DC, which works out to 1.47 PPG. If he decreases at the same rate, Vancouver will finish with about 32 points. If he’s able to buck the trend and actually improve on his PPG with DC, then the Whitecaps will need to finish with 42 points or more.

2. MLS teams frequently hiring their former players

The Chicago Fire, meanwhile, have named technical director and 1998 US Open Cup hero Frank Klopas as the team’s interim head coach. Klopas’ appointment is another sign of the growth and maturity of the league, and here’s why: There are 10 MLS teams which have been around for more than a decade, and nine of the “old school” teams have now had a former player as head coach or interim head coach.

Chicago Frank Klopas (INT)
Columbus Robert Warzycha
Dallas Steve Morrow
D.C. United Ben Olsen, Curt Onalfo
Kansas City Brian Bliss (INT), Peter Vermes
LA Galaxy Cobi Jones (INT)
New England Walter Zenga
New York Richie Williams (INT)
San Jose Dominic Kinnear

The Colorado Rapids are the only of those teams who haven't dipped into the well for any former players as coaching prospects, but they did use Roy Wegerle as a player/coach during one game in 1996.

Sure, several were only on an interim basis (noted with “INT” above), but it’s still impressive and also notable that four teams currently have a former player in charge. And don’t forget Jason Kreis, who brings the current total to five.

So far, Kreis is the only one to win an MLS Cup in such a position, though Dominic Kinnear did win it twice in Houston with the same group of players after the Earthquakes moved there. However, Houston and San Jose are considered to be two different franchises for the purposes of historical record keeping.

3. Which teams produced the most future coaches?

Overall, 24 of the 74 men who have served as an MLS head coach (including interim) for at least one game have played in the league. While three organizations (Colorado, Kansas City and Tampa Bay) have each produced five head coaches, the Rapids boast four former players currently coaching in the league: Robin Fraser (Chivas USA), Dominic Kinnear (Houston), John Spencer (Portland) and Peter Vermes (Sporting KC).