This is about the time of year the term “coaching carousel” pops up left and right, prompting bizarre imagery of middle-aged men in club-branded gear bobbing up and down on painted wooden horses while screaming, “Whee!”
Or maybe that’s just me.
The term “carousel” is an apt one, because in most major sporting leagues, the annual shuffling of head coaches is merely a resettling of sorts where the old faces are dispatched from their old homes and settle in new ones, with team brass trumpeting a new beginning with an experienced face to guide them.
At least that’s usually how it goes. As of Thursday, only one of the currently vacant positions in MLS has been filled by a familiar face – and it’s no accident the Chicago Fire went with Frank Yallop as their new boss when you consider the names “Juan Carlos Osorio” and “Carlos de los Cobos” still make Fire fans get the shakes.
But this upcoming winter feels different. We’re at the very beginning of what could be the biggest offseason of coaching turnover in league history. That’s because no less than five teams will have new faces leading them come 2014: FC Dallas, Vancouver, Chicago and – unless somehow Brian Bliss and José Luis Real stay put – Columbus and Chivas USA.
That’s to say nothing of the uncertain future of Ben Olsen in D.C. United (reports have gone both ways) and the reports that New York City FC could entice Jason Kreis to leave Real Salt Lake.
In league history, there have only been two occasions where as many as five teams have replaced their coaches during the offseason: in 2010 and just last winter, when current Coach of the Year frontrunners Caleb Porter and Mike Petke took over their respective clubs.
This past offseason represented more changes in club culture than any I can remember. The Red Bulls, for once, went with something familiar and local in club icon Petke. Portland peered into the future with the hottest coach in the college ranks in Porter.
Toronto FC made something of a head-scratching move by hiring former D.C. United man Ryan Nelsen, who was still an active player at the time and had no head-coaching experience. And Chivas USA and Montreal went with the always-risky foreigner choice in Jose Luis Sánchez Solá (how we miss you, Chelís!) and Marco “The Swiss Volcano” Schällibaum, respectively.
This offseason, however, could be an even deeper shift in club cultures. Start with Yallop, who is a pragmatist through and through and is a wizard in making a team better than the sum of its parts.
Under Frank Klopas, you could argue the Fire overachieved tremendously anyways, sometimes in spite of their coach. But with Yallop, Chicago fans won’t have to fall back on that excuse because the two-time Coach of the Year will get the right parts with more financial resources at his disposal.
In Columbus, interim head coach Bliss may be hoping he’ll keep the job that’s been his since Robert Warzycha’s firing forced him to double up on his technical director duties. But the Crew have an ambitious new owner in Anthony Precourt, still somewhat of an enigma despite his lofty talk of updating the brand and taking the club to the next step.
One report says that new leader will be Gregg Berhalter – a good choice with experience thanks to his time in Sweden, but not exactly a culture shift. Now, the Guillermo Barros Schelotto rumors? That’s a tasty possibility of a club icon who guided the Crew during their most swashbuckling days when they played their most attractive soccer.
Up in Vancouver, the Whitecaps are a team that played some very attractive soccer at times under Martin Rennie – but too often underperformed and were just plain soft. Rennie came in as something of a tactical Jedi master thanks to his success in the lower divisions, but it never seemed to click at the MLS level.
Yallop seemed like a natural fit, as he spent many of his formative years in Vancouver and still has family there. But the curious selection committee at the Whitecaps never pulled the trigger. Yallop’s deputy in San Jose, Mark Watson, ostensibly would’ve been another perfect fit as the former Canadian international is a Vancouver native. But the Earthquakes felt he did a good enough job since Yallop’s departure to warrant a long-term deal.
So what’s next for the ’Caps? The players are stumping for assistant coach and former MLSer and Welsh international Carl Robinson. That’d be a great blue-collar choice of a players’ coach, but given the resources at Vancouver’s disposal and their global boastings, it’d be a surprise pick. So if the ’Caps go foreign, who on earth could it be?
And Chivas USA – well, that’s anyone’s guess. “El Güero” Real is supposedly only a temporary solution. But with Guadalajara calling the shots – and with rapid-fire coaching changes synonymous with Mexican soccer culture – it could be anyone’s gig in 2014. Even Real’s.
That brings us to FC Dallas. Who will be Schellas Hyndman’s replacement? There’s lots of chatter than the club will somehow bring Oscar Pareja back home to where his career as an assistant coach began. But that would have to be one heck of an offer. Financially, sure, it could be done. But Pareja should be proud of the culture overhaul he’s accomplished in Colorado, and he has a team that should be even better in 2014.
What about Tab Ramos? That’s what a lot of pundits want to see. The former US national teamer and MetroStars icon might be a perfect fit with tactical ideas that would suit FCD’s Latin-leaning roster – if most of it stays together post-Hyndman – perfectly. And his experience with youth is tailor-made for a club in the market of arguably the deepest talent pipeline in the country.
The question is, is it a good fit for Ramos? I’m not so sure. There’s an argument to be made that he’s having a greater effect on the national team program by guiding the U-20 team and cultivating the next wave of senior talent.
That’s a hell of a platform for the time being. I think he may be able to do more good by hanging around for another U-20 cycle than by making the shift to MLS – for now. Porter bided his time at the University of Akron before he found the right fit for him. Ramos has that same luxury now.
There might be a couple of sexy opportunities come 2015, as well – if not at the wealthy Manchester City-backed expansion team in Ramos’ backyard, then maybe at the ambitious one 1,000 miles south near the Magic Kingdom.
And then there's that Bob Bradley fellow...
This carousel is about to get a lot bigger – faster, too.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.