What you need to know

Sporting KC's Pulido named 2023 MLS Comeback Player of the Year

After overcoming a significant knee injury that forced him to miss the entire 2022 season, Sporting Kansas City forward Alan Pulido has been named the 2023 MLS Comeback Player of the Year. The Mexican international produced an MLS career-best and club-high 14 goals in 2023 alongside three assists as SKC returned to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

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Small-sided: The offseason has (kind of) already begun

We haven’t quite reached the offseason on The Daily Kickoff advent calendar. But there has still been plenty of offseason activity going on while we’ve been pretending to understand what might influence playoff games beyond “home team better usually.” There have been big moves for multiple teams in the last few weeks. Here are a few you need to know about.

A shaken-up Red Bull could be set to explode

The most recent major news in MLS came from Harrison. We’ll get into it in a second, but we here at The Daily Kickoff would like to remind you, dearly beloved reader, that we personally feel that managers don’t matter that much. And that they matter even less so in an organizational structure where the game model is well established from top to bottom across multiple continents. Roster building will always matter more and will matter more by a significant margin.

That being said, the week's biggest news isn’t that manager Troy Lesesne won’t be returning (although, yeah, don’t really understand that), it’s that the Red Bulls have moved on from longtime sporting director Denis Hamlett. Hamlett spent seven seasons in charge and the Red Bulls had some outstanding moments. They made the playoffs all seven years and even set an MLS record for points in 2018. But the team’s inability to find effective DPs in attack has killed them the last few years.

Part of that is the team hasn’t spent top dollar. But they’ve generally still spent to the point where you would expect a little more production. A reset here is somewhat understandable. Even if Hamlett did put together a team that had some of the best underlying numbers in the league this year despite a midseason coach change and the youngest roster in the league… ok, to be fair to me I did say “somewhat” and not “totally.” Look, sometimes a change in approach is just best for everyone even if it’s hard to see too much changing in New York if their budget stays the same.

Maybe they’ll also take this time to rethink the game model? Like just a little? A wholesale change would be goofy, of course, but there’s only so many times you can come up short in the playoffs, right?

Another CF Montréal coaching search begins

Congratulations! You’re the next head coach of CF Montréal. Well, one of them. Everyone gets a number. Now you just have to wait a bit. Since Jesse Marsch joined in August of 2011, Montréal have gone through nine managers. They’ll hire the 10th this offseason after canning Hernán Losada last week. Losada had recently finished his first season in charge.

First off, we can’t talk about the weirdness of this move without talking about the weirdness of the hire in the first place. Montréal essentially traded perpetual Manager of the Year candidate Wilfried Nancy to Columbus last offseason, then turned around and won a single-team race for Losada after he left D.C. United under unusual circumstances that led to a good chunk of the team feeling some type of way about him.

That’s not hindsight. This made no sense from the jump. Not only for the “like 90% of his old team strongly disliked him” reasons but for tactical reasons. It became instantly clear to everyone that a tactical pendulum swing from Nancy’s game model to Losada’s would take time. Naturally, Montréal… only gave him a year to do it?

I don’t understand any of it, and I have no idea where they go from here. I just know that I don’t feel confident in your ability to lead the team, I’m sorry. We’ll see how it goes, I guess.

Minnesota United take step one in a reset

I don’t have a ton to add here, but it feels important for you to know that Minnesota United have hired Khaled El-Ahmad as sporting director and chief soccer officer. El-Ahmad arrives from Barnsley FC, where he served as CEO and sporting director of the English League One (third division) side since September 2021.

Now, El-Ahmad’s last job might have brought up the same thought I initially had: “Oh boy, another team going outside MLS and forcing someone new to learn how the roster rules work. Seems mean. And probably risky.”

Well, good news for Minnesota’s sporting future and the strength of their moral fiber. El-Ahmad served as the Concacaf and Scandinavia scouting lead for City Football Group from 2015-21, and supported roster construction and recruitment for New York City FC. Who knows how it will actually go, but his resume checks a lot of boxes. It will be fascinating to see how he affects the roster going forward and what kind of game model he looks for in a replacement for Adrian Heath.

Charlotte change course again

Charlotte also joined the growing list of teams looking for a new manager. The Crown parted ways with Christian Lattanzio last week.

It always felt like Lattanzio had to fight an uphill battle after replacing Miguel Ángel Ramírez midway through the team’s inaugural season. It became even more of an uphill battle when the team put their faith in Kamil Józwiak and Enzo Copetti as DPs. You can’t have such little production from your DPs and expect any manager to do much with an MLS team. It won’t matter who the new manager is if they aren’t getting quality play from two of their three DPs and the one DP that’s actually scoring is being limited by the positioning of the other two. Copetti scored six times in 26 appearances in his first season in MLS. Józwiak has scored twice since coming to MLS in the spring of 2022. Honestly, well done to Lattanzio for getting to the playoffs this year.

Phil Neville joins the Timbers

It’s the personal opinion of The Daily Kickoff (me) that this is a wild move. Like we said, we’re not convinced managers matter much. You could hire a whole lot of people and get the same results. And if that’s true, you might as well hire someone your fanbase wants to see in charge and who has solid proof of concept when it comes to being a part of winning teams. That’s all I got here.

Luis Suárez could head to Miami?

One last note here, there have been reports that Inter Miami is set to sign Luis Suárez this offseason. As a Liverpool supporter who really started to grow into their fandom right around the time Suárez became the best player on the planet for a few months in the 2013-14 season (I know what I saw), this would be totally surreal if it happened. As someone who writes about MLS every single day, it would be…let’s politely call it very interesting to see a player who is about to turn 37 and who apparently has significant knee problems handle the travel of an MLS season and the challenges of being in a lineup with a handful of older players who aren’t entirely interested in (or capable of) displaying overwhelming defensive effort.

All considered, he might end up being the most highly regarded super-sub of all time? Finally, a worthy challenger to Ilsinho.

Other Things

Portland Timbers unveil DaBella as new jersey sponsor: The Portland Timbers have entered a new multi-year jersey rights partnership with DaBella, a leader in home improvement services, the club announced Wednesday. DaBella will be featured prominently on Portland’s home, away and specialty game kits and club apparel. The jersey partnership marks the Timbers’ first new kit sponsor since joining MLS in 2011.

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Good luck out there. Bounce back strong.