Who's next? 12 head coach candidates for DC United & San Jose Earthquakes

Let’s explore some possibilities, shall we?

The MLS coaching carousel has already started to spin, with Week 7’s tailwinds leaving two Argentine managers on the outs. We learned on Monday afternoon that Matias Almeyda is no longer leading the San Jose Earthquakes, then on Wednesday morning news surfaced that Hernan Losada’s time is over at D.C. United.

Both spots have been filled by interim coaches who are embedded in the club, but front office members will do their due diligence in exploring external, long-term options as well – both from the MLS world and beyond.

After clubs on opposite coasts aborted their initial 2022 leadership plans, here’s a collection of possible coaches that could present legitimate solutions. This isn’t presented as a definitive list, but more to explore a range of outcomes in the Bay Area and the District.

Chad Ashton
D.C. United interim head coach

Ashton is a trusted figure at D.C. United, getting the interim job upon Losada’s exit 15 months after he joined from Beerschot in Belgium. Now at the Black-and-Red for a decade and a half, Ashton’s been in this caretaker position before, back in 2020 when the Ben Olsen era ended.

And all early reporting suggests that Ashton could stay at the helm through the 2022 season’s final days, getting a legitimate shot at earning the full-time job a la Pablo Mastroeni at Real Salt Lake or Vanni Sartini at Vancouver Whitecaps FC. That may not get the fanbase’s juices flowing, but he’s well-respected by players and will likely tone down LosadaBall tactics.

In other words: don’t count Ashton out, especially should results turn upstream.

Alex Covelo
San Jose Earthquakes interim head coach

Somewhat quietly, San Jose are making serious progress on the academy front. Covelo has been a key figure in that regard since joining the organization in 2017, working with their homegrown players and leading the Quakes’ MLS NEXT Pro team before becoming a stopgap solution for the first team.

That background, combined with simplifying the tactical model and where players are utilized, could make the Spaniard a better-than-expected fit as San Jose look to dig out of a club-worst seven-game winless streak to open the year.

Early tea leaves propose the club covets an external candidate as general manager Chris Leitch molds the squad, but Covelo’s in this spot for a reason and should give chances to youngsters revving to prove their worth.

Hugo Perez
El Salvador national team head coach

Perez’s name has come up around both the D.C. and San Jose openings, a testament to his work with the El Salvador national team during last summer’s Gold Cup and in World Cup qualifying. Would the former US youth international coach leave the Concacaf arena, though? That’s hard to say, but MLSsoccer.com’s Tom Bogert previously reported his interest in entering the league’s coaching ranks.

At the very least, there are natural and logical fits at both spots. The D.C. area is home to a massive El Salvadorian expat population, while Perez has roots in NorCal as well.

The dots are starting to connect, you see, and his La Selecta almost always play at a sum total greater than their individual parts. And don’t forget about the dual-national recruiting he’s done, or the demanding presence he’s offered in terms of tactics and buy-in.

Luchi Gonzalez
USMNT assistant coach

Gonzalez is plenty familiar with the MLS world, leading FC Dallas for nearly three seasons before his ouster last September. He steered their academy beforehand, and has since joined Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT coaching staff as an assistant with FCD boss Nico Estevez going the other way.

That latter development throws a wrinkle into Luchi’s potential availability, with conventional wisdom being that he won't be available until after the Qatar 2022 World Cup. That scenario would likely leave D.C. and/or San Jose riding out the year with their interim crew, biding time until a preferred candidate becomes available.

Should the clubs take that path? It’s not for me to say, but Gonzalez’s background of working with young players and playing an attack-minded brand of soccer, layered with his MLS experience, makes him an enticing option.

Wayne Rooney
Derby County head coach

Wazza back at Audi Field? Come on, you’re at least intrigued by the thought.

Rooney, alongside now-FC Cincinnati midfielder Luciano Acosta, gave D.C.’s soccer-specific home a summer christening to remember back in 2018, sparking back-to-back playoff runs. That history, at the very least, makes him one to toss into the ring. Perhaps not the right fit, but certainly an interesting idea.

Rooney may want to stay in England, where he’s been leading Derby County and developing quite the managerial reputation in the Championship. His Rams staved off relegation on the last day of the 2020-21 season, and they would have avoided the drop this go-around were it not for a 21-point deduction induced by the club entering administration.

Unless Derby County get new owners, all signs point to Rooney leaving the club and not coaching in League One. And while he harbors Premier League sideline dreams, an MLS stepping stone could make a lot of sense.

Landon Donovan
San Diego Loyal head coach

Donovan the player needs no introduction other than saying the MLS MVP award is named after him. Donovan the coach may, as he’s spent the last few years leading San Diego Loyal in the USL Championship, making them a consistently solid out in America’s second division.

Perhaps the time is right for the LA Galaxy and US men’s national team legend to enter the MLS coaching ranks, staying in California to lead the Earthquakes’ new era. He played for the club from 2001-04, remember, and won two MLS Cups there.

Donovan’s been linked with MLS coach vacancies in the past, too, namely Real Salt Lake’s opening last September. He may not desire to leave the club (San Diego) he co-founded back in 2019, but sometimes life requires taking advantage of unexpected circumstances.

Andrea Pirlo

Before you say “not a chance,” let’s remember that last summer Pirlo expressed interest in coaching in MLS. He’s also been without a managerial post since Juventus let him go in May 2021.

He's got league familiarity from being a Designated Player at then-expansion New York City FC, and it's not wildly unrealistic to see him follow a path similar to Thierry Henry, a fellow legend of the game. Henry didn't quite work out at Ligue 1's AS Monaco, then found decent success at CF Montréal before his return to Europe. Pirlo's path would mean a high-profile Serie A outpost, then MLS and then…

But would he make sense at D.C. or San Jose? And would Pirlo even desire either of those destinations? Those are key questions, suggesting it's worth keeping the Italian all-time great faintly on the radar screen.

John Herdman
Canada national team head coach

Is Herdman the type of coaching figure who stays through the 2026 World Cup when Canada co-hosts alongside the US and Mexico? Yep, that’s easy to envision. But is the world where he’s available after Qatar 2022 also within reason? Certainly, especially if their World Cup return ends up being one of lessons learned rather than dream-like inspiration.

Let’s position ourselves in the second scenario for this exercise, and imagine that Herdman wants to try his hand at club soccer after having proved himself in both the men’s and women’s international game. He’d get to work with players year-round rather than in week(s)-long windows or less, and apply the culture, style, identity, etc. that’s made Canada must-watch.

I’m not saying it will happen, Canada fans. I’m saying Herdman’s a great coach and it’d be fun as hell to see him in MLS, be it D.C., San Jose or elsewhere.

Chris Armas
Manchester United assistant coach

At least conceptually, there are some legs to Armas being D.C. United's solution. He was strongly considered back in December 2020 before they appointed Losada, and he’d check the MLS experience box in a major way as both a player and coach.

But there may be some hesitation given Armas’ last managerial stop in MLS, having led Toronto FC to just one win in his first 11 matches before being dismissed. He was also let go by the New York Red Bulls, with results slipping after a 2018 Supporters’ Shield-winning campaign that he drove home after now-Leeds United boss Jesse Marsch departed midseason.

That all brings us to Armas' latest stop, where he's been an assistant coach under Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick, a shock Premier League move last December fueled by their mutual Red Bull system roots. Armas now appears on the outs with Thursday's news that Erik ten Hag will join from Eredivisie side Ajax, making an MLS return a distinct possibility.

John Harkes
Greenville Triumph head coach

Is the jump from USL League One side Greenville Triumph to the MLS ranks a big one? In many respects, yes. But Harkes has done yeoman’s work at the third-division side, highlighted by a 2020 league title and consistently pushing for silverware.

He’s also got tremendous ties to D.C., playing there from 1996-98 as a key piece under Bruce Arena’s early-league juggernauts. And his son, Ian, became a homegrown player there before blossoming into a central figure for Scotland’s Dundee United.

Plus, it’d make for quite the storyline if Harkes were to coach against FC Cincinnati after leaving there in 2017 under what we’ll call some, erm, disagreements. He was pivotal to the Orange & Blue's foundation before MLS came calling, and perhaps there’s a “what could have been” element.

Carlos Llamosa
Portland Timbers assistant coach

There are plenty of qualified assistant coaches around MLS who deserve consideration for a leading job, not the least of which is Llamosa. He spent 2017 at the New England Revolution and has spent the last four-plus seasons under Giovanni Savarese at the Portland Timbers as they twice reached MLS Cup (2018, '21).

Chief soccer officers keep on stressing the importance of MLS experience when seeking a managerial path forward, and the Colombian-American would fit that profile. The league's Diversity Hiring Policy also gives minority candidates like Llamosa a more equitable chance and ensures they're better represented in the interview process.

Of a similar mold, there's no shortage of D.C.-adjacent assistants around MLS who enter a similar conversation, including Richie Williams (New England) and Davy Arnaud (Austin FC).

Pa-Modou Kah
North Texas SC head coach

MLS NEXT Pro not only provides opportunities for players but coaches as well. Step in Kah, who's now leading North Texas SC, the second team at FC Dallas, one that's helped develop multi-million transfers and USMNT mainstays. That's quite the responsibility for the 41-year-old, who spent the last two years leading Pacific FC in the Canadian Premier League.

The former MLS defender might not be looking for another coaching change so soon, but he's definitely one to keep on the radar screen as openings arise around the league. It seems only a matter of time before he's leading a top-flight side.