MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

MLS coaching carousel: Latest updates on four head coach vacancies

The MLS 2021 coaching carousel continues to spin.

Nine teams have changed coaches this season (10 if you include CF Montréal's preseason switch from Thierry Henry to Wilfried Nancy, which I do). Atlanta United, like Montréal, already named their full-time head coach (Gonzalo Pineda) prior to the season ending.

Now, Toronto FC (Bob Bradley) and Chicago Fire FC (Ezra Hendrickson) became the first two clubs to officially end their coaching search this offseason. Then came Vancouver Whitecaps FC (Vanni Sartini) and FC Dallas (Nico Estevez), meaning there are four jobs in MLS currently open.

Here's the latest on them all.

Vacancies filled

  • OPENING FILLED, Nov. 24: Ezra Hendrickson named Chicago Fire FC head coach
  • Vacancy opened: September 30

Nov. 24 – Chicago Fire FC have officially named Ezra Hendrickson as their head coach.

Hendrickson was a longtime assistant in MLS, most recently with Columbus as well as the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders before that. He worked with highly-respected coaches like Sigi Schmid, Brian Schmezter and Caleb Porter along the way. Not a bad résumé.

The Fire have missed the playoffs in 10 of the last 12 years and face another rebuild this winter, but have some reasons for optimism in this new era.

Chicago are entering a pivotal offseason that could produce plenty of change. Already with one Designated Player spot open following Robert Beric's departure, they have to decide whether to pick up Gaston Gimenez's contract option while Ignacio Aliseda has been linked with a move to Europe. That could free up three DP spots, as well as plenty of roster/cap space already opened after Chicago announced the departure of several key players.

The Fire also boast a youthful core that includes U22 Initiative signing Jhon Jader Duran, defensive midfielder Federico Navarro and key homegrowns Gabriel Slonina, Brian Gutierrez and Mauricio Pineda.

Before Hendrickson, Chicago were led on an interim basis by Frank Klopas once the club parted ways with Raphael Wicky on Sept. 30.

  • OPENING FILLED, Nov. 24: Bob Bradley named Toronto FC sporting director and head coach
  • Vacancy opened: July 4

Nov. 24 – Long rumored in the shadows for months and then publicly the last couple weeks, it's official: Bob Bradley is Toronto FC's new head coach (and sporting director).

Bradley left LAFC after four strong seasons with the Black & Gold and arrives in Toronto where his son, club and US men's national team legend Michael Bradley, is the captain.

Toronto are in the process of a nuclear winter. Head coach Chris Armas was let go in July, interim head coach Javier Perez is gone and so is general manager Ali Curtis. DP forward Jozy Altidore could depart, while there are questions about the future of DP winger Yeferson Soteldo as well. Change abounds in Toronto this winter as the Bradley era gets underway.

The 2020 MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo remains, as do Canadian internationals Jonathan Osorio and Richie Laryea, plus a bunch of high-talented rising talents like Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and Ralph Priso. Watch this space.

  • OPENING FILLED, Nov. 30: Vanni Sartini named Vancouver Whitecaps head coach
  • Vacancy opened: August 27

Nov. 30 – After a successful stint as interim manager, Vancouver Whitecaps FC named Vanni Sartini as their permanent head coach.

The charismatic leader steered Vancouver to a 7W-2L-5D record during his time as interim boss, second-best in the Western Conference over that timeframe, as he guided them over the playoff line.

“Vanni is not just getting the job because he was here and everyone was excited,” sporting director Axel Schuster told media. “He’s getting the job because he was the best candidate. … Vanni has got this job because at the end of the whole process, he was also the strongest candidate and the candidate that convinced us more to continue on our path to be an organization that develops itself step by step."

Sartini originally joined the Whitecaps in 2019 as an assistant coach, before becoming their academy's director of methodology and U-23 head coach. He holds a UEFA Pro Licence, the highest coaching certification available, and is fluent in Italian, English, Spanish and learning Japanese. Prior to his MLS tenure, the Italian native was head coach of A.S. Mezzana for three seasons, an assistant coach with A.S. Livorno Calcio and an assistant coach with S.S.C. Bari. He also worked for the Italian youth national teams.

“I’m truly honored the club chose me,” Sartini said. “I will give one-thousand percent to try to repay that trust, to bring success to the city and to the club.”

  • OPENING FILLED, Dec. 2: Former USMNT assistant Nico Estevez named FC Dallas head coach
  • Vacancy opened: September 19

Dec. 2 – FC Dallas have appointed Nico Estevez as their head coach.

Estevez previously worked under Gregg Berhalter as a US men's national team assistant coach and with the Columbus Crew, both after starting his coaching career in his native Spain. He spent eight seasons with La Liga side Valencia, primarily working with the club's youth teams while also coaching the second team and serving as first-team head coach on an interim basis in 2013.

The 41-year-old's track record and experience with developing young players was an attractive trait for Dallas.

Technical director Andre Zanotta revealed that Estevez had turned down the opportunity to interview for other MLS coaching vacancies but was interested when Dallas came calling.

Vacancies open

  • Open since: September 27
  • Interim: Tyrone Marshall
  • Latest (Dec. 3): Cincy target Philly's Jim Curtin (The Athletic), but Curtin said Philly is "where I'm going to be"

FC Cincinnati took a big swing, looking to pry away the 2020 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year from Philadelphia.

Sam Stejskal of The Athletic reported that Cincy attempted to buy Jim Curtin out of his contract, which has two more years remaining, but got rebuffed. Curtin spoke with media on Friday for the first time after those reports came out and set the record straight.

"It’s flattering," Curtin said. "You know my relationship with Chris [Albright] and how ambitious their ownership group is there. I know they’re going to have success, but I have two years left on my Union contract. This is where I’m going to be."

Albright said Cincy have set a timeline of around Christmas to name their next head coach, something he "felt good about." Albright was also direct in his preference that a candidate carries strong MLS experience.

"I was very clear that domestic MLS experience is a non-negotiable prerequisite," the general manager told "Soon I’ll be able to land on the person who is the best fit here ... it’s certainly priority No. 1. There are a lot of good candidates out there.”

  • Open since: November 18
  • Interim: N/A
  • Latest (Nov. 18): Bob Bradley, LAFC mutually agree to part ways

Nov 18 – After much speculation he wouldn't be returning, it's now official: Bob Bradley is no longer the head coach of LAFC. Bradley was out of contract after this season.

Bradley was LAFC’s inaugural head coach and led the team to great success over four seasons. The club set a new single-season record for points in 2019 and won the Supporters’ Shield. They also set a league record for points in an expansion season in 2018 and made the Concacaf Champions League final in 2020. He presided over career years from the likes of Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, Latif Blessing, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta, Jose Cifuentes and many more during his time with the Black & Gold.

For the first time since before their expansion season, LAFC are conducting a coaching search. Check back for more updates as they come.

  • Open since: August 27
  • Interim: Pablo Mastroeni
  • Latest (Oct. 26): RSL "very deep" in process; Mastroeni, Pat Noonan, Jason Kreis among final candidates; Landon Donovan withdraws from consideration (ESPN's Jeff Carlisle)

Nov. 11 – The update is ... there is no update! I assumed this would have been sorted now just given how far along RSL were in the process, but they have not yet named a head coach. And thanks to a dramatic stoppage-time goal by Damir Kreilach on Decision Day, RSL qualified for the playoffs, so nothing will be announced until their playoff run ends.

Oct. 26 – After the surprising news that Freddy Juarez was leaving his gig as RSL head coach to become an assistant with the Seattle Sounders, the club named Pablo Mastroeni interim boss and got underway on their coaching search.

Mastroeni has done an admirable job, keeping RSL well within the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs race despite the changes (and continued uncertainty in ownership with the team up for sale). They sit at eighth place in the Western Conference standings, though have a game in hand on all teams ahead of them, with four left. They control their own destiny to make the playoffs, despite entering the season under uncertainty and low budgets. They have been a great story.

As such, Mastroeni is reportedly among the finalists. So too is Philadelphia Union head coach Pat Noonan and club legend Jason Kreis. Landon Donovan was among the candidates interviewed but withdrew from consideration, per ESPN's Jeff Carlisle.

It would appear that they are close to making an announcement.

"We’re very deep in the process and continue to work our way through it... we’re getting close to wrapping that up," RSL general manager Elliot Fall told ESPN 700, via RSL Soapbox. "It is about making a decision at that point, having some internal discussions — some more internal discussions — and dialogue about who that right person is. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that we get the right person and make the right decision and not rush to make that decision. We’re going to continue to do that."

  • Open since: November 4
  • Interim: N/A
  • Latest (Nov. 11): Search underway, first major decision for new GM Pat Onstad

Onstad's first move as GM was to make a coaching change. A day after their final game of the 2021 season, the club announced Tab Ramos would not be returning in 2022. He was out of contract and the Dynamo had finished bottom of the Western Conference during each of his two seasons in charge.

The Dynamo are now on a head coaching search of their own. It's early days. There'll be more to learn on this front.