Climbing the Ladder: Which clubs have shared the most?

Sporting Kansas City's acquisition of midfielder Paulo Nagamura from Chivas USA a month ago may not have been the splashiest of offseason moves. But when the Brazilian veteran lines up for his new team in 2012, he’ll join a very select group of players to have worn the jerseys of both Kansas City and the LA Galaxy in a competitive game.

It’s a club that currently contains only seven men. The first was Alexi Lalas in 2001 when he came out of retirement to join LA, followed by Sasha Victorine via trade in 2005. They’re joined in order by Kevin Hartman, Chris Klein, Shavar Thomas, Herculez Gomez and Adam Cristman.

What’s the significance of this group? Of the 10 “pre-expansion era” teams in MLS today (the original nine plus Chicago), there are fewer players to have taken the field for both KC and LA than any other combination. It was also the last of the 45 possible pairings to occur.

Fewest Shared Players: Pre-Expansion Era MLS Teams
Rank Team Players
1 KC-LA 7
2 CHI-KC 8
3(t) COL-DAL 10
3(t) KC-NE 10
5(t) COL-KC 11
5(t) DAL-KC 11
5(t) DAL-NE 11
5(t) KC-DC 11
5(t) KC-SJ 11
10(t) CLB-DAL 12
10(t) CLB-KC 12

Second place goes to Chicago/KC with eight players, closely followed by Colorado/Dallas and KC/New England at 10 apiece. Kansas City have used the fewest total players of the 10 teams, but it’s only by a small amount. Their domination of the top 10 is due to the fact that they’ve had many long-term players over the years.

The New York Red Bulls have used the most players in league history at more than 250, nearly 50 more than any other team. However, the most frequent combination doesn’t involve them. Instead, it’s archrivals LA and San Jose.

A total of 27 men have played for the California adversaries, starting with Curt Onalfo. The future Kansas City and D.C. United head coach played for the then-San Jose Clash in the 1997 season opener after being waived by the Galaxy after 1996. Now he’s back with LA as an assistant coach to Bruce Arena.

The most famous player to take the field for both teams is, of course, Landon Donovan. After leading the Quakes to two MLS Cups in four years, he left and quickly returned to MLS before the 2005 season began.

While it was clear Donovan was coming back to play for LA, San Jose couldn’t get anything for his rights as they had already used the allocation they received for his departure to acquire Ricardo Clark from New York. So in addition to going to a hated rival, there was that cherry on top of the sundae.

Most Shared Players: Pre-Expansion Era MLS Teams
Rank Team Players
1 LA-SJ 27
2(t) COL-NY 26
2(t) DC-NY 26
4 LA-NY 24
5(t) CLB-NY 23
5(t) COL-NY 23
7 CLB-LA 22
8 NY-SJ 21
9(t) COL-DC 20
9(t) COL-NE 20
9(t) KC-NY 20

Other notable players to have played for both teams include Danny Califf, Joe Cannon, Todd Dunivant, Eddie Lewis and Alejandro Moreno. With the Re-Entry Draft selections by the Galaxy of Jon Conway and Chris Leitch, it looks like the lead could grow over the other combinations in the top 10. New York’s pairings with Colorado and D.C. United are tied for second with 26 players in common each.

Reflecting on Nicol’s tenure in of New England

After the longest tenure with a single team in league history, Steve Nicol and the New England Revolution parted ways shortly after the close of the 2011 campaign, capping 10 seasons in charge for the Scotsman.

The closest anyone else has come to that is Bob Gansler in Kansas City with eight years (1999-2006). Currently, Dominic Kinnear now the longest-tenured coach in MLS, at eight years with the Dynamo/former Earthquakes.

The hard-luck Nicol never won an MLS Cup, but took his team to the final four times. But just getting to coach one team for a decade straight is a rare feat in and of itself, and he’ll go down as the first to do it in MLS.

Not including those currently coaching, it’s only happened 65 times among the other US-based major professional leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL). Amazingly, that includes four separate 10-year stints by George Halas with the Chicago Bears.

Nicol quickly set a bar of excellence. Of the nine MLS teams who played every season from 2002-10, New England had the league’s best record over that time frame. It all ended with a 2011 to forget, when the Revs finished even at the bottom of the league table.

That disaster sunk Nicol’s winning percentage down to .503. Only six of the 65 major-league sports coaches previously mentioned ended below the .500 mark, with four of them from baseball. Nicol’s final 2011 winning percentage was .338, but it’s evenly split for the 65 coaches on whether their final year was a success: 29 had a winning record while 31 had a losing one, with five exactly even. At least Nicol can take solace in the fact that his 2011 isn’t among the 10 worst of those final seasons.

What about the prospects for these coaches’ teams the following season? New Revs coach Jay Heaps will probably be happy to learn that more than two-thirds of those 65 teams (43) improved the following season after replacing their respective long-time coach.