Top 10 coaching candidates for MLS vacancies

Tab Ramos - National Team - medium shot

Permanent head coaching vacancies at Houston, Orlando City and Real Salt Lake means we have three MLS clubs drawing up shortlists, which also means it's a good time to go over some of the best potential hires.

Since the last time we put together a list of suggestions, three of the 10 picks have been snapped up. Robin Fraser (Colorado) and Josh Wolff (Austin) landed MLS jobs, while Phillip Cocu was handed the reins at English Championship club Derby County. No worries, as we have fresh replacements for each of them.

The pool of unemployed managers remains deep and varied, making for tough picks when narrowing down the top ready-made candidates. We've got homegrown coaches, European coaches, assistant coaches, exciting new coaches and coaches with oodles of top-level titles on their resumes.  

Before we get to the list, let's honor the wealth of choices out there by serving up some honorable mentions: C.J. Brown, Jeremy Gunn, Jason Kreis, Bobby Muuss, Gonzalo Pineda and Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

Diego Alonso

Recently let go by Monterrey, Alonso would be an ambitious choice for any club looking to scale new heights. He won a Concacaf Champions League with both the Rayados and Pachuca, seeing off stiff MLS competition from Atlanta UnitedFC Dallas and Sporting KC during those title runs. He's an ace at both developing youngsters and catering tactics to a specific opponent, talents that make him well-suited to coaching stateside.

Conor Casey

Top 10 coaching candidates for MLS vacancies -

Casey on the sideline for the Rapids this year. | USA Today Images

It's true that Colorado didn't hit the turbo boost until Fraser took the permanent job early in the fall. It's also true that Casey's record as interim boss (7-8-4 with a -1 goal differential) didn't set the world on fire. However, one must put his first head coaching stint into perspective. Taking over a side in absolute shambles on short notice, the former US striker clearly turned things around (Minnesota United, then-hot San Jose and both LA sides were among the teams beaten during his time in charge). It seems enough for him to get another look elsewhere.

Sasho Cirovski

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Cirovski keeping a close eye on the Terps.

I know, it's not sexy to go with a boss straight out of the college ranks. Would it help if reminded that 12 of the 23 MLS Cup winners were won by coaches who cut teeth in the NCAA game? How about if we're talking someone who prepared the likes of Danny Califf, Maurice Edu, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson, Robbie Rogers, Zack Steffen, Taylor Twellman and Graham Zusi for pro success in MLS and beyond? The University of Maryland program builder (three College Cup titles, nine ACC crowns) just wins.

Rudi Garcia

The Frenchman was killing it at Roma until injuries and poor personnel maneuvers by management slowed the club down. His ensuing Marseille stint was just okay from a Ligue 1 standpoint, but he did guide them to a Europa League final. Garcia is a tactical master who loves to put wrinkles in his favored 4-3-3 set. He might be tough to corral (AC Milan have recently been linked with a move for him) but would be well worth the effort.

Pedro Caixinha

He's combative, he's a character and he's available after enjoying decent success south of the border. The former Cruz Azul, Santos Laguna and Rangers manager is no stranger to MLS players and teams. Caixinha likes to crowd the midfield and push his wide defenders high into attack, so he'd probably also fit right in north of the border.

Tab Ramos

If you want a guy that can grow young players, has some pressure experience and knows the league in-and-out, there shouldn't be too many names ahead of the longtime US Under-20 national team boss and youth technical director. Ramos has often been linked with open MLS jobs over the years, right up to last winter, when he was reported to be a leading FC Dallas candidate for the second time. It seems that, sooner or later, some club will grab him.  

Pat Noonan

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Noonan has gotten considerable experience as an assistant coach. | USA Today Images

The Philadelphia Union assistant is another one of those former MLS players that has been ramping up to a top job (there's more to come on this list, we promise). Noonan helped Bruce Arena claim the LA Galaxy's most recent crown at his first coaching stop, and is now aiding Jim Curtin in turning Philly into a consistent winner that controls games through passing.

Ante Razov

And the ex-MLS star/currently impressive assistant coach train rolls on to Los Angeles, where Razov is the man helping Bob Bradley steer LAFC to the top of the league table. The former striker (who's still sixth on the league's all-time goal chart) has been busy supporting arguably the best American head coach in the game as he sharpens the Black & Gold into an often-rampant title front-runner. His time is coming.

John Wolyniec

In the age of #PlayYourKids, one can hardly do better than to grab one of the fine coaches leading MLS affiliates down in the USL. And of that group, perhaps no one has guided more youngsters to the first team than the New York Red Bulls II boss. And not only has Wolyniec schooled Tyler Adams, Vincent Bezecourt, Kyle Duncan, Derrick Etienne, Aaron Long, Alex Muyl and Florian Valot (among others) on their way to the first team, but he also wins.

Kerry Zavagnin

Why not one last former MLS stalwart now heavy with impressive assistant coach credentials? The longtime Sporting KC man has stood by Peter Vermes' side for nearly a decade now, with three conference crowns, an MLS Cup triumph and three U.S. Open Cup celebrations to show for it. The Children's Mercy Park club are of course another team with a rich history of developing and integrating young players, and Zavagnin shares the credit for that increasingly important part of our modern MLS game.