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Wynalda: The future of MLS coaching

Peter Nowak is a former MLS player who is doing well as an MLS coach.

Photo Credit: 
Tony Quinn/MLS/WireImage.com

Over the years, Major League Soccer's greatest experiment has been its coaching. Since the inception of the league, we've had coaches from all walks of life and nations employed at some point or another in MLS. The underlying statistics would prove that certain criteria need to be met in order to have success as a coach in this league.

I know some of you already know I don't even believe in "coaching" at this level, and I often refer to the man in charge as the manager. Professional soccer players should already have it pretty much together by the time they put on the uniform. But too many times in the past, it was believed that Major League Soccer players needed coaching and needed specific direction from outside sources (or, foreign coaching). I think over the years, nothing could be proven to be more counterproductive than a foreign coach with little understanding of a new set of rules which exists in MLS.

Some of the more successful coaches in the world of soccer have not been successful in MLS. These are guys like Bora Milutinovic, Carlos Alberto Parreira, Carlos Queiroz, Frank Stapleton, Walter Zenga, Ivo Wortmann, and if you really want to go back to the first year, then probably the least successful was Bobby Houghton with Colorado.

The most interesting thing, which has now somewhat revealed itself through Frank Yallop and, more recently, Peter Nowak, is the importance of having coaches who have actually played in this league. It's interesting to me that Yallop, the first coach to have played in the league, won the championship two out of the last three years. It's guys like him who understand the U.S. mentality and the overall dynamics of this league. I think it's imperative that you have an understanding of the intricacies of this league and what it means to be an MLS player. Understanding that - because it is so different from anywhere else in the world - is the only way to be a successful coach here.

I'm not just saying this so a bunch of my buddies can get a job. I'm saying it because it's the truth. The modern game has changed so much, especially in the last six years. The growth of our league and our country, as far as our players go, is clear. We have so much talent and so many players who are longing for the next level. The most important thing now is have people in those positions who have a clue where the next level is.

As we move into next year, one of the first topics when we deal with expansion will be which coach to hire. Too many times, from too many sources, I hear that there aren't enough experienced coaches out there to fill the holes in these vacant jobs. But I think it is fairly clear that when it comes to coaching - or managing - in MLS, all of the experience in the world doesn't help, especially if the experiences are all bad. We're coming into a new era in this league where there is a new breed of manager. They're not guys who have 10 or 20 years of experience in college and who have proven themselves at a lower level. There are a few that just simply get it, and I've already mentioned them in this column.

For the most part, it's time to say goodbye to what has become U.S. soccer's version of the old boys club. The kids playing in MLS today are starving for knowledge and for direction. At times, we have been directly responsible for some misguided instruction, cocahing that didn't make sense to our players because it was lost in the translation or it was just unidentifiable in the U.S. way of thinking.

The league had some coaches who believed in what they were doing a little bit more than they believed in the ability of their players. The thing is, knowledge is nothing unless it's passed on. The worst thing you could ever say about potential is that it was never explored. In this league, there are too many should-have-beens and could-have-beens, and I'm not entirely sure that it's the players' fault.

This week's matchup (San Jose Earthquakes @ MetroStars; 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2): Last year's champion is definitely struggling, not necessarily in the way they're playing, but in getting results. Just about every team right now is dealing with injuries, call-ups and the busy summer schedule, so the excuses are rampant. However, San Jose isn't making any.

Dominic Kinnear took over last year's team and didn't change much, but he finds himself in last place in the West. I think his team is playing fairly well, but they're unlucky at times, and they're still searching for the winning attitude they seemed to conjure up last year.

Saying that, I think you can draw a lot of similarities between these the Earthquakes and the MetroStars. The Metros aren't playing that poorly either. I suppose we could look at the 6-2 loss to D.C. United last week, say they're playing bad, and let the finger-pointing begin. But actually, they weren't that bad. I think they let themselves down and were a little lackadaisical at times, especially in the play of Eddie Pope, Jeff Parke and Jonny Walker.

These are two very talented teams. They have their own problems, but nothing they won't get through in the end. Don't be surprised at all to see San Jose in a much different position in mid-September, and don't be surprised when the MetroStars are the second seed in the East in the playoffs. The MetroStars need to figure out their offense and who the personnel is going to be. San Jose needs to get their star, Landon Donovan, back because, let's face it, they've been coasting through June and July thus far. All in all, neither one of these teams can afford to lose.

Catch Eric this weekend as the analyst on RadioShack Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. Do you have feedback on Wynalda's feedback? Please send your comments to Wynalda. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.


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