Toronto’s win against Philadelphia and LA’s victory against Real Salt Lake in Wednesday’s Knockout Round matches are rightfully commanding the headlines, but the Houston Dynamo made a bit of big news last night, too.
As first reported on Wednesday evening by a variety of Houston outlets, the Dynamo, who finished 2016 with the worst points per game average in club history and missed the playoffs for a third straight year, won’t be retaining Wade Barrett as head coach next season.
According to a tweet from FourFourTwo's Paul Tenorio on Thursday morning, the club will hire former Chivas USA and Houston USL affiliate Rio Grande Valley FC head coach Wilmer Cabrera as their full-time manager. The Dynamo withheld comment on the report when reached by MLSsoccer.com on Thursday, but a separate source confirmed that the club will indeed hire Cabrera.
Barrett, a longtime assistant in Houston, took over as interim head coach in May, when Owen Coyle departed the Dynamo to return to England after posting a 3-7-2 record in the club’s first 12 matches of the season.
A former Dynamo captain, Barrett inherited a difficult situation as coach. Houston were last in the West when he took over, and, after a promising 1-0-1 start to the year, had gone 2-7-1 in their final 10 matches under Coyle. After 11 goals in their first three games, the offense dried up, with Houston scoring just seven times in their final nine games with Coyle. The defense wasn’t faring much better, conceding 13 times in that same span and 20 times overall prior to Barrett taking over.
The club weren’t able to climb out of last place in the West under Barrett, but he did manage to right the ship a bit. Houston were 4-7-11 in 22 matches after he took over and far stouter defensively, conceding just 25 times during his tenure. The attack, however, didn’t improve, with Houston, who shipped out attackers Giles Barnes and Cubo Torres late in the year, scoring only 21 times – less than a goal per game – under Barrett.
The results weren’t ideal, but Barrett did appear to win over the Houston players, who were left in a lurch by Coyle’s surprising departure. Several voiced their support for Barrett during the season, while two others – forward Will Bruin and defender Sheanon Williams – tweeted their disappointment with Houston’s decision to not retain him on Wednesday.
While they won’t be giving him the full-time managerial gig, the Dynamo did offer Barrett a position to stay on the club’s technical staff. GM Matt Jordan said in a phone interview on Wednesday night that Barrett will take some time before deciding on the offer.
“It’s obviously a difficult decision. There’s a lot of admiration and respect for the job that was done by Wade and the staff, it’s more about where we’re at as a club right now and what we think we’re going to be about moving forward,” Jordan told MLSsoccer.com.
According to Jordan, Houston is looking to hire someone with prior head coaching experience and an extensive working knowledge of MLS and North American soccer as their next head man. Both qualities are certainly desirable, and it’s understandable why the Dynamo – who had MLS neophyte Coyle and first-time head coach Barrett in charge in 2016 – would want them in their new hire.
Cabrera does check both of those boxes. The former Chivas USA head coach is already a Dynamo employee (the soccer side of Rio Grande Valley FC's business is managed entirely by Houston), and had a successful first year in USL, leading RGV FC to a playoff berth in their inaugural season. It was reported on Tuesday by Dynamo and ESPN play-by-play man Glenn Davis that the Houston job would either come down to Barrett or Cabrera.
Jordan declined to comment on that report and on Cabrera’s performance with RGVFC on Wednesday, though several league sources I spoke to after Coyle left in May were surprised that Cabrera didn’t get the initial interim posting that ended up going to Barrett.
Jordan, who will be entering his third season with Houston in 2017, also didn’t share too much information about a timeline for hiring a new head coach. However, with the Expansion, Waiver and Re-Entry Drafts set for December and the SuperDraft, transfer window opening and start of preseason to follow in January, it’s probably safe to assume that the Dynamo would like to move quickly.
That’s especially true given the state of the Dynamo roster, which could use an injection of talent – especially young talent – if the club want to return to the playoffs in 2017.
“We’re not satisfied,” Jordan said. “It was a tough season – there’s no doubt about it. We’re not satisfied with where we’re at right now and with the status quo. We’re not going to accept that. We’ve got to be bold with our decisions.”
GM search continues in San Jose
It got lost a bit in the Decision Day shuffle, but the San Jose Earthquakes announced last Wednesday that they are working with Nolan Partners, the world’s largest sports executive search firm, to help identify candidates for their open GM job.
The announcement was a bit strange, given that Quakes president Dave Kaval said a few weeks ago that the club were set to move into a second round of GM interviews with “at most” five candidates.
If San Jose were ready to move forward with no more than five names for their GM vacancy, what prompted them to hire a search firm?
“The No. 1 reason was we did not have any candidates that we felt were finalists from South America, Central America or Mexico and that’s an important area for us to consider for the role,” Kaval told MLSsoccer.com in a phone interview on Wednesday. “We felt like we had to go outside of our network to bring in someone who could bring in candidates with that type of expertise.”
Kaval met with “eight to 10” GM candidates on a four-country European trip in September and has spoken to several Americans, including San Jose interim GM Chris Leitch, about the job. He also spoke with several candidates from Central and South America in the first round of interviews, but said the club found that they either “just weren’t good enough” or were unavailable for the role.
The Quakes president is placing a good deal of emphasis on hiring a GM who’s able to identify and make impact Designated Player and Targeted Allocation Money signings. With so many DP and TAM-level players coming from Latin America, Kaval, who said he thought his search was skewing too European and North American, was interested in speaking with better candidates from South and Central America.
“You look at where the big players in MLS have come from, there’s a couple like [Sebastian] Giovinco who come from Europe, but the vast majority come from Central, South America and maybe even Mexico in the future,” Kaval said. “To really cover that base we need relationships to the south.”
Enter Nolan Partners. Despite making the announcement that they had hired the search firm just eight days ago, San Jose have already interviewed two candidates presented to them by Noble, with plans to speak to more in the coming weeks. Kaval said last week’s announcement also prompted some “very, very high quality” candidates from all parts of the world to contact the club.
Kaval said that he’ll still proceed with second round interviews from the previous pool of candidates, but that those meetings will be pushed back to accommodate the new group of interviewees. Ultimately, he’d like to end up with a group of “three or four finalists” by the end of November and have a hire in place to start working with head coach Dominic Kinnear by the end of 2016.
“Some of these folks are currently working in different opportunities or roles across global soccer, so for us, if it takes another month, month and a half [that’s fine],” he said. “This hire’s so important. It could be a 10-year hire, so we need to be really diligent and make sure we have the right person.”
Vancouver re-ups Robbo
Houston weren’t the only club that made a coaching move this week.
Vancouver also got in on the action, extending head coach Carl Robinson through 2020 and re-upping assistants Martyn Pert and Gordon Forrest for an undisclosed number of years on Wednesday.
The moves come at a curious time, at least in the context of most coaching extensions. After leading the Whitecaps to the playoffs in both of his first two seasons in charge, Robinson and Vancouver fell well short of expectations in 2016. A trendy preseason pick for MLS Cup, the ‘Caps finished eighth in the West this year, going 2-7-5 in their final 14 matches to miss the postseason by seven points.
Despite the down year, the ‘Caps feel like they have a top young coach in the 40-year-old Robinson, an opinion shared by many executives around the league. They want to keep the Welshman in Vancouver, and, perhaps to keep other potential suitors at bay, felt the time was right to extend him, agreeing to a deal before their Cascadia Cup clinching victory over Portland on Sunday.
“There’s been ongoing discussions over the course of the season and with having concluded the season – we had actually come to an agreement in advance of the season finishing – we just felt it’d be good to get it out there now,” Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi told reporters in Vancouver on Wednesday.
“Really what it illustrates is his work over the three years and what he’s done since he’s taken over. If you look at the fine lines in MLS, I looked at the standings just this morning on the opposite side and Philadelphia had 42 points and had the last playoff spot we ended up with 39, ours was a bad season, but it’s clear that there’s parity in the league. What we need to do is stay the course and, as a result of that, we’ve made the move that we have with the coaches.”
While Robinson is in Vancouver to stay, it looks like Pedro Morales' days with the Whitecaps are numbered. Though he led the team with nine goals in 2016, it was a frustrating year for the Chilean Designated Player, who tallied six of his strikes from the penalty spot and reportedly got into a practice field dust-up last week with goalkeeper David Ousted about a perceived lack of effort this season.
Lenarduzzi spoke at length about Morales and the need for more production and leadership from Vancouver’s Designated Players on Wednesday. He didn’t say so explicitly, but his comments made it seem like Morales, who said on Wednesday that he and his family are happy in Vancouver but admitted that his future is uncertain, might be done with the ‘Caps.
“If you go back to his first season [in Vancouver in 2013], he was the Newcomer of the Year in the league,” Lenarduzzi said. “I can remember his first game, coming off the bench against New York and I think he had 20 minutes, scored a goal, set one up. His passing was something that really hadn’t been seen in the league, or the quality of that passing really hadn’t been seen in the league previous to that.
“And then last year and this year, I think he’d be the first to tell you that he hasn’t had that same impact. And for us I think it’s something that we need to look at. We need to determine in moving forward what do we need to do to upgrade. And there’ll be decisions made on a number of players, not just Pedro.”
Nashville hires MLS exec
USL’s season came to a close last Sunday, but the league made some major moves this week, with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury moving over from NASL to officially take the number of teams set to participate in the 2017 season to 31.
As league president Jake Edwards told me last week, USL will continue expanding for the next few years, with Reno set to join Tampa and Ottawa in the league in 2017 before Nashville SC comes into the fold in 2018.
Nashville made a big hire this week, announcing on Monday that they have appointed Court Jeske as the club’s first CEO. Jeske comes to Nashville after spending eight years as an executive with MLS’s marketing arm, Soccer United Marketing.
Jeske served as SUM’s VP of international business, responsible for overseeing all of the company’s international events, including the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Mexican national team friendlies in the US and select US tours by international club teams. His ties to MLS and the constant, low-lying MLS expansion buzz around several current USL teams got me thinking about Nashville potentially angling for a move -up to the top flight.
Jeske, who will start full-time with Nashville in the middle of next month, downplayed any talk of that in a phone interview on Wednesday.
“Right now we’re focused on building a soccer club for Nashville and for Middle Tennessee as our number one priority,” he said. “Obviously we want to compete at the highest level, but we know that we need to take care of Nashville SC and what it means to the community today. Then we can think about how large and how big this club can be tomorrow.”