We often talk about which MLS players have what it takes to succeed over in Europe, but even as ex-New York Red Bulls boss Jesse Marsch ascends to leading Bundesliga side RB Leipzig, similar conversations about MLS head coaches are exceedingly rare.
So, let's spark one now: Which MLS managers have the right stuff to earn a shot overseas and then thrive with it? Naturally, we've got some ideas to run by you. And as is usually the case, certain choices fit the brief on the surface, but might not make the best examples for underlying reasons.
Bob Bradley is certainly capable of making Europe forget a rough Swansea City tenure, but I'm guessing it would take something really special to pry him away from LAFC (at least as long as there's unfinished business at Banc of California Stadium). Colorado Rapids head coach Robin Fraser could be a contender down the road though arguably needs to add silverware to the promise he's shown since taking the reins just two years ago. A case could also be made regarding Gabriel Heinze, but he just landed at Atlanta United, so we'll just let him do his thing there for now. We'll consider those three coaches the honorable mentions.
The Philadelphia Union boss may be the most suitable candidate to follow Marsch's path to Europe because he ticks all the requisite boxes for success in the modern game. Curtin is a player's coach, but also doesn’t suffer fools. He has strong ideas about how his team should play, but never handcuffs them with tactical dogma. He's always ready to defend his own when it's called for, but doesn't take himself too seriously. And of course, he's an ace at bringing young players through and guiding them to success.
The thing is, Europe may need to wait a little while. Curtin loves his current job, he's on one page with sporting director Ernst Tanner and the Union are well set up to compete moving forward. Still, the Union's soccer sherpa will eventually look for a new mountain to climb overseas.
"What Jesse is doing is inspirational," Curtin told The Athletic back in 2019. "Going overseas, being uncomfortable, trying to do it in a different environment. I am excited by that challenge. I love MLS and I want it to grow to the highest level possible. But to not have an ambition to someday coach in Europe, or coach a national team, you'd be crazy."
The Orlando City SC shot-caller has earned a reputation as something resembling a one-man fixer-upper. Pareja has engineered dramatically improved performances with both the Lions and FC Dallas (and yes, even Club Tijuana was clearly better off when he left than when he arrived). Like Curtin, he's among the very best in MLS at developing youngsters.
Both of these calling cards will resonate loudly with 98% of the clubs out there in the world, especially during tough economic times. And like Curtin, he's never been one to fall too deeply in love with his preferred game plan. Pareja goes smoothly with the tactical flow, catering his team's approach to the opponent, situation, squad availability and/or good old-fashioned element of surprise. He makes his players comfortable and the opposing team squirm.
Long story short, Pareja is gutsy, intellectual about his team and ambitious. There are plenty of coaches over in Europe that are repeatedly hired with less going for them.
I've already mentioned how it could be very difficult to pull Bradley away from LAFC. That goes double for Schmetzer and the Seattle Sounders. No current MLS coach is more inextricably linked with his club and his city. Many Seattle fans will probably be cross with me for even entertaining the concept of him leaving town to give Europe a try.
Nobody will confuse Schmetzer for a groundbreaking tactician, but he habitually understands his squad as well as any league coach. With his winger crew practically emptied this offseason, the coach has switched the Sounders from their trademark 4-2-3-1 into a 3-4-1-2 of sorts. Not only has the team dominated through Week 3 without a hitch, they've largely done it without key man (Nicolas Lodeiro) pulling the strings. It's arguably the most impressive thing a guy with two MLS Cups from four title matches in five years has done so far.
More than any of that, though, Schmetzer is a master at connecting to his players. He inspires the trust, passion and belief it takes to chase legit dynasty status in a league built for parity. That's no small feat, and the basis for it is the "We Are Family" atmosphere he fosters. That trait would be welcome, if not also rather successful, at any club in any league.
Let me be perfectly clear: the LA Galaxy head honcho is probably not the guy to lead a European club that needs to get behind the ball, batten down the hatches and patiently wait for rare chances. That's not his bag. While the formation shapes may change from time to time, Vanney is definitely a coach who wants to control and win games on the ball.
More than anyone on this list, he'd be best leading a certain type of squad, which means his Old World opportunities will at the very least be cut in half before he even looks abroad. The remaining half often includes bigger-name jobs, which means bigger competition from bigger names for positions that might open up less often.
Don't take all that as discouragement. Vanney is more than capable of thriving overseas. He builds winning structures and cultures where they weren't before. He's a teacher to the kids and delegates leadership to the veterans. And yes, it's true that he's only just arrived in Carson from Toronto FC, but nobody said Vanney had to ship out tomorrow. I'd be stunned if he didn't one day write a rich new chapter in the book of Americans managing in Europe.