The rumors that Spanish World Cup-winning midfielder Xabi Alonso was coming to play in Major League Soccer never quite materialized. But would he ever grace the touchline as an MLS manager?
It appears the former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich star will be making the transition to head coaching, with a first destination already selected, according to his Instagram account.
And between the success of Patrick Vieira in his second season leading New York City FC, the handful potential of coaching vacancies this offseason, and the timing of Alonso’s announcement, MLS isn’t a far-fetched landing spot.
Vieira has proven that with an open mind – and a star like David Villa – experience as an MLS player or assistant isn’t necessary to have success as an MLS boss.
Vieira’s story isn’t quite the same as Alonso’s, having spent a couple seasons managing Manchester City’s reserves before making the MLS jump. But his tale still proves innate talent can make up for a lack of previous first-team coaching experience. It may even be better for former European players to tackle an MLS job without previous head coaching experience in Europe, because many of the demands – travel, summer weather, artificial surfaces, the playoff structure – are so different. But they won't seem as strange without Europe to compare to.
There will also potentially be several vacancies. Colorado and New England are already searching. And in a year where we've seen record coaching turnover in the league, it's hard to imagine there may not be more coaching vacancies opening up as the final month of the regular season unfolds. Additionally, if the US national team fails to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Kansas City’s Peter Vermes, Portland’s Caleb Porter, and Dallas’ Oscar Pareja would all presumably be on the shortlist to succeed Bruce Arena sooner rather than later.
Finally, the timing of Alonso’s announcement makes sense for an MLS move. Most European clubs are about two months into their new seasons. So it stands to reason that any club looking for a replacement already is probably in a messy situation, which is not the kind of launchpad you’d expect for a guy of Alonso’s name recognition and lack of experience. By contrast, going to an MLS job now (or soon) would allow him a full offseason to get acquainted with the team and the league and begin building a roster in his mold.
Only four months removed from his last pro match and without a lot of MLS knowledge, Alonso may not be the most conventional name on a coaching search shortlist. But his vision, tactical awareness and experience at the highest levels of the game as a player make him an intriguing one. I’m not necessarily expecting him to show up in an MLS coaching box soon. But I wouldn’t be shocked, either.