Monday Postgame: Which candidate is Coach of the Year?
The 10-team playoff field was set before this round kicked off, but that didn’t leave the final week of the regular season short on meaning.
The Red Bulls needed and got a win on the road against I-95 rivals Philadelphia to solidify their playoff standing. The Fire made a desperate late surge to avoid the Knockout Round, but fell just short in a 1-1 draw with D.C. And in Portland, San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski captured a share of history, scoring in the Quakes’ 1-1 tie at Portland to match Roy Lassiter’s 17-year-old single-season record of 27 goals.
It was a fitting end to one of the best seasons in MLS history, both on the field, off the field — and on the sidelines, where there was no shortage of top-notch coaching performances. Which brings us to this week’s Monday Postgame question: Who deserves to be named Coach of the Year?
Topping the Tables
Leading the nominees are the bosses whose teams nabbed the top seeds in each conference — and did so in style, leading the field more or less from beginning to end.
San Jose’s Frank Yallop guided the Earthquakes to the best record in the league at 19-6-9 (which, just for the record, is almost identical to that of last year’s champions, LA, who went 19-5-10), and while some griped about the Quakes’ physical style, they scored 72 goals, the third-highest single-season total in league history.
WATCH: Quakes react to winning Shield
Yallop’s team also had a never-say-die attitude that generated loads of last-minute goals and heart-stopping finishes.
In short, they were entertaining as hell to watch, while also being the most successful team in the league. What more can you ask from a coach?
Peter Vermes’ Sporting Kansas City were a more defensively oriented group, but they also played with a discernible style — an everyone-on-the-same page quality that goes back to their coach.
With their athletic front six, they pressured teams high up the field, disrupting opponents’ offenses, and it worked: SKC gave up a league-fewest 27 goals while going 18-7-9 and topping the East for the second straight season.
Whether or not you believe Thierry Henry’s pronouncement that they’re the best team in the league, Vermes’ side will be a hard-nosed opponent for anyone in the playoffs, and they look poised to improve on their postseason performance of 2011, when they came within a game of the MLS Cup final.
Riding out the Storms
Coaches have to lead their teams through all kinds of adversity, whether from injuries, poor form, bad luck — or, in the case of Bruce Arena’s 2012 LA Galaxy, all three.
The defending champs began the season without 2011 MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez, and with a New Year’s Day-level championship hangover.
WATCH: Magee's goal sinks Sounders
They got off to a 3-8-2 start that could have been disastrous, but Arena kept them on track, and they rallied into playoff position by late summer. They stayed there despite a string of injuries (David Beckham, Landon Donovan and A.J. DeLaGarza), and here they are now, prepping for a Knockout Round game at home against Vancouver on Wednesday in which they are heavy favorites.
While LA’s big injury blow hit early, D.C. United’s hit late, as coach Ben Olsen’s side lost 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario to a knee injury on Sept 11.
Any club shorn of its captain – and top playmaker – in the heat of a playoff race could be forgiven for faltering down the stretch. But Olsen’s team did the opposite, going 5-0-2 in their final seven games without DeRo, and climbing into second place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Managing the Makeovers
The Seattle Sounders made a surprising move last February: They shipped rising young attackers Lamar Neagle and Mike Fucito to Montreal, and brought in once-promising, but recently inactive striker Eddie Johnson to replace them.
WATCH: Pajoy gives DC huge road point
The trade was a bold gamble that, thanks in no small part to coach Sigi Schmid, paid off handsomely. The 27-year-old Johnson bounced back in a big way, scoring 14 goals and leading Seattle to a 15-7-11 record and third place in the West. When he was called to the US national team earlier this month, Johnson publicly credited Schmid for his revival.
The Seattle boss also successfully tweaked his midfield this year, bringing in playmaker Christian Tiffert and sending Álvaro Fernández to Chicago, where Fire coach Frank Klopas integrated him into revamped attacking corps along with 2012 signings Sherjill MacDonald and Chris Rolfe.
Klopas got the best out of all three, and Chicago surged into playoff contention. They’re currently a dangerous attacking team capable of a postseason run.
The Impact’s Jesse Marsch built a team almost from scratch in Montreal, and guided them to a 12-16-6 record and 42 points, one shy of playoff-bound Vancouver’s total.
The Postgame’s Pick: Olsen. His team didn’t just cope with the injury to DeRo, they sailed unbeaten through seven games, finished second in the East and grabbed their first playoff berth in five years.