Survival of the coaching fittest
but really, many of the problems faced by any coaching job are the same wherever you go.
As the MLS season opened last week, I heard comments related to weather, time together as a team, fan attendance and the newness of the team as reasons for a team's performance. All these claims are legitimate. The truth is every week there is a different challenge, and the perfect scenario rarely, if maybe never, exists.
Good coaches adapt. MLS does not take time off on international fixture dates. Qualifying games take place before the season begins. Therefore, players miss an abundance of training time. Every team goes through it to a greater or lesser extent. My feeling was always to just deal with it. The ideal does not exist, so adjust and make do with what you have. Is the glass have full or half empty?
If you are convinced as a coach that the glass is half full, your players will follow that belief. If you believe the opposite, the players will buy into that as well. One player's lack of availability is another player's chance to shine.
At the start of every season, teams seem to be missing players due to P-1 visas not being processed in time. All teams go through it. The Crew was missing Mario Rodriguez; the Galaxy their new striker Naldo; the Rapids, Terry Cooke. Again you have to deal with it and move forward.
Visa delays and national team commitments within the regular season are problems that particularly plague MLS more than other leagues. But there are other common coaching challenges. Injuries, bad weather, and training time together are items of concern to all coaches.
I was in Blackburn in early March and watched them train. Paul Dickov, a key player for them, did not train and from what I was told had apparently missed many training sessions due to an injury. But he played in the games. No one talked about him not working with the team. As a coach you need to make a decision and move forward -- injuries are part of the game and as a result your team is often incomplete for training. But the fans don't care -- they want you to win.
Bad weather was a factor this weekend. It was coooold in Columbus and rainy, cold and wiiiindy in New York. The teams had to play and the four coaches needed to adjust and deal with the elements. It might alter the game plan a bit. It could require some psychological motivation for players who do not like the cold. No matter what it takes you as a coach still need to coax a performance out of your team.
If coaching was easy, everyone could do it. Let me pose a question to you. Let's say I had 10 teams and 10 coaches, divided up the talent equally, and gave each team the same training plan to follow so they would in fact mirror each other at training. Then we begin the season. Someone will finish first and someone last. Why?
Does that sound a little like MLS? It is the coach who adapts quickest to all the obstacles, challenges and adversity that come during a season who will generally win.
Adaptability is the key to coaching. The dynamics around the team are always changing in some way.
A couple of highlights from the first week:
CHIVAS USA -- THE CROWD: I was at the Chivas USA-D.C. United game and the crowd had one very special element. Every team in MLS has their hardcore fans that do a great job. I enjoyed the Riot Squad and the Galaxians, during my time with the team.
The Chivas USA game was special because it was the first time I have been to an MLS game where I thought the whole stadium was involved. It was red and white stripes everywhere. The fans behind the north goal were great, but it was all the fans who cheered enthusiastically. We need to get this for all our teams in all our stadia.
LANDON RETURNS: Landon Donovan is back. It is great for the league. I can tell you that when I was at the Galaxy I wanted Landon back in 2001. We were rebuked in our quest and he went to San Jose. We need to remember that Donovan is a special player -- not only in his ability but also in his marketing appeal.
Landon is also one of the few Americans who can afford to come back. It is not financially feasible for many of the players in Europe to return, because their MLS salary would pale in comparison to their pay in Europe. If they had the chance to make the same here as there, some would surely return. There are the ones who would stay for varying reasons. It is great that the league stepped up and made Landon's return possible.
Until next week, get ready for Week Two and more excitement.
Sigi Schmid is one of the winningest coaches in MLS history, having led the Los Angeles Galaxy to four honors in his five-plus years at the helm, including the 2002 MLS Cup championship. Send comments to Sigi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.