Ranking the all-time expansion coaches in MLS history

Bob Bradley, Chicago Fire - 1998

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The Montreal Impact announced on Wednesday former MLS player and US assistant coach Jesse Marsch as their first coach for their 2012 expansion season.

It’s proven to be a mixed bag when it comes to the managerial selections made by MLS expansion clubs as illustrated by the definitive list of coaches that led their clubs into their maiden MLS expansion seasons. The rundown starts with the less fortunate experiences and wraps up with the unthinkable.

10) Thomas Rongen, Chivas USA (2005): With Chivas de Guadalajara having experienced success under Hans Westerhof, Chivas USA also went Dutch with Rongen, who coached D.C. United to an MLS Cup 1999 triumph and was coming off four seasons as head coach of the US Under-20 national team. Ten games into the season, however, Rongen’s side had compiled a 1-8-1 record and he was bumped upstairs to the sporting director role in favor of Westerhof himself.

9) Mo Johnston, Toronto FC (2007): Johnston’s tenure as head coach with Toronto FC will be remembered for heady aspirations of playoff glory and a packed BMO Field. Following a half-season stint with the Red Bulls in 2006, Johnston went a very pedestrian 6-17-7 at the helm of Toronto FC in 2007 and failed to make the playoffs. Like Rongen, he was also moved upstairs, where he served as director of soccer for a few years.

8) John Ellinger, Real Salt Lake (2005): Ellinger came to Utah after a successful decade at the helm of the US Under-17 national team, but he couldn’t get RSL to the playoffs after two full seasons in charge. When the club came out of the blocks in his third season with an 0-2-2 record in 2007, Ellinger made way for his successor, Jason Kreis, who was the club’s first-ever signing.

7) Teitur Thordarson, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2011): Thordarson, who managed the Whitecaps in the USSF Division 2, was kept on as Vancouver’s head coach in the move to MLS. After a thrilling opening win against Toronto FC, the road was a rocky one for the ‘Caps as they went 1-5-6 before he was fired. The side, which battled significant injuries from the start, has gone 2-6-3 in their matches since he was replaced by Tom Soehn.

6) Carlos Córdoba, Miami Fusion (2008): “Cacho” Córdoba left his post as Dallas' assistant coach to take over in Miami’s first season. But the Fusion languished in last place with an an 8-11-0 record, and a US Open Cup quarterfinal loss to Columbus in July 1998 was the final straw. He was replaced by former Brazilian international Ivo Wortmann. The move also marked the beginning of the end in Miami for league legend Carlos Valderrama, who had a falling out with the club over the firing.

5) John Spencer, Portland Timbers (2011): Spencer’s team is still in the playoff hunt this season (7-10-5) and it has a handful of signature wins against the LA Galaxy and FC Dallas. The Timbers still have work to do if they want to reach the postseason, but if there’s someone who can energize his troops for a late season run, it’s the fiery Scotsman.

4) Peter Nowak, Philadelphia Union (2010): Despite missing the playoffs in their 2010 debut season, the Union displayed an attractive style of soccer and built the foundation for their top-of-the-table season this year, spending several weeks in first place in the East. However, Nowak’s legacy will live beyond his tenure at the club after he famously suggested the "DOOP" song as the home goal-scoring celebration and the official team motto.

3) Frank Yallop, San Jose Earthquakes (2008): Yallop began his head coaching career with the Earthquakes in 2001, winning two MLS Cup titles before leaving for the Canadian national team in 2004. After the club's two-year hiatus, Yallop was there to lead the way again in their re-inaugural season. That year, the Quakes finished in last place in the West with an 8-13-9 record. But by year 3, Yallop's side was in the playoffs and boasted the Golden Boot winner.

2) Sigi Schmid, Seattle Sounders (2009): It’s not every day that the coach of the newly crowned MLS Cup champions departs to join an expansion team. It turned out just fine for Schmid, who had won league titles with Columbus in 2008 and the LA Galaxy in 2002. Although he has yet to add another MLS Cup to his résumé (yet), he has led his team to two postseason appearances and two US Open Cup titles. 

1) Bob Bradley, Chicago Fire (1998): Say what you want about Bradley’s tenure as US national team coach, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Fire remain the only expansion team in MLS history to do the double in their inaugural season, taking MLS Cup and the US Open Cup in the same year.

Chicago may have fallen on hard times as of late, but under Bradley, they were the cream of the crop, setting the highest possible bar for every expansion coach to follow. The formula for success included talented imports like Nowak and Lubos Kubik, established American pros like Frank Klopas and Chris Armas, and young talent like Ante Razov, Zach Thornton, and, yes, Jesse Marsch.


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