This MLS offseason has seen seven clubs hire new head coaches, including expansion side Charlotte FC and six of whom sat out the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Obviously, the first question anyone should ask about these hires is: Will (insert name here) be able to guide (insert club name here) to greater heights in 2022? And that's precisely the query we're attempting to answer right here and now, by ranking those seven new bosses by the likelihood of success this term.
Before checking what my crystal ball has to say, I'll drop some quick thoughts on the outlook of a trio set for their first full seasons in charge after grabbing their respective new reins late last year.
- Gonzalo Pineda (Atlanta United): To put it bluntly, the Five Stripes are my co-favorites to top the East, and my preseason pick to reach MLS Cup from that side of the bracket.
- Pablo Mastroeni (Real Salt Lake): Ya know how the NHL's Montreal Canadiens made a surprising deep playoff run last season, only to face plant hard as an encore? Well, though I don't believe RSL's fall will be nearly as precipitous, I do feel like a slip out of the top seven is in the cards this time around.
- Vanni Sartini (Vancouver Whitecaps FC): Fully aware many observers do not agree, I have faith Sartini can build on the Caps' 2021 resurrection and guide them to a comparable, if not even slightly higher, table finish in 2022.
With that now out of the way, let's rank the chances for success of all seven head coaching newcomers.
Miguel Angel Ramirez
It won't be the fault of Charlotte FC's adventurous first head coach, but the expansion side looks to be in for a challenging freshman year. The roster build doesn't seem fully baked yet, and what's there is unbalanced. The good news is their midfield should be solid. However, several spots on the depth chart are incomplete or underwhelming. As of right now, staying out of the Wooden Spoon race would feel like a major accomplishment.
Don't get me wrong. A few of the Dynamo's pick-ups since last summer (Adalberto Carrasquilla, Steve Clark, Sebastian Ferreira) have a team that has unfortunately gotten used to missing the playoffs headed in the right direction. Add a new boss on top of personnel turnover, and I'm going to need to see it all fit together before expecting a giant leap in Houston. Of course, if they magically pull Hector Herrera out of a hat, that outlook will need to be reassessed.
Have I gone mad? Effectively picking FC Cincinnati to finish above other teams? Somebody left the liquor cabinet unlocked, right? No to the last question, but the first one is a "fake it 'til you make it" confident yes. After three calamitous seasons, I believe the West End boys should be in for solid improvement under Noonan. Heck, if general manager Chris Albright – who has openly stated he's not done with the roster yet – can land Carlos Gruezo (or another midfield gate-keeper of a similar caliber) and a productive winger, this club could actually hang around the edge of the race for a playoff spot for the first time.
This one could go either way. Even though FC Dallas waved goodbye to Ricardo Pepi this winter, there are some exciting things happening with an attack that was rather feast or famine in 2021 (hello, Alan Velasco and Paul Arriola). This team is now legitimately two-deep at every front-line spot and Paxton Pomykal is back in the quarterback role. On the other hand, big questions remain about each of the back five field positions not occupied by center back Matt Hedges. Add it all up and Estevez has plenty of work to do in Frisco with a team that could disappoint again as easily as they could put together a solid campaign.
For a few years now, the Fire have been that team that just can't get their results to meet their general level of play. Enter Hendrickson, who has patiently waited for his chance to lead a side while learning the ropes from Sigi Schmid and Caleb Porter. The offense has added a few proper weapons, led by Switzerland star Xherdan Shaqiri, while the Fire look stronger at the back than they have since their fine 2017 season. I'm not ready to proclaim them a playoff side in an Eastern Conference that promises to be another dogfight, but with the measured Hendrickson now in charge, it would not be the craziest thing that could happen this term.
Toronto FC fans had grown quite accustomed to winning prior to last season's drop off a performance cliff. With Bob Bradley now calling the shots and a couple of key spine additions, the locals should expect much better in 2022. While management has not solved all the Reds' problems (the midfield needs depth and the defense is in complete makeover mode), Bradley has enjoyed success during the first season at all of his previous MLS stops. He gets things done, which is why a good dose of health and some solid results before Lorenzo Insigne arrives this summer to fill out the attack (in style) should see happy faces at BMO Field once again.
For my money, the new LAFC boss is the top choice for this particular list, and it's not really that close. Cherundolo takes over for a club that has superstar Carlos Vela re-joining a fearsome attack, the deepest defense stable in the league, a midfield engine room with energy to burn, and a new ace netminder (Maxime Crepeau) on hand to solve what had become a lingering problem at the Banc. With the Hannover 96 legend's businesslike "man of few words" approach acting as the steady hand, I'm betting LAFC will be back to competing for prizes this season.