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Top 5 transformative head coaching hires in MLS history

In taking over a club that has missed out on the postseason eight of the last 11 years and hasn't gone so far as the final four since 2010, new San Jose Earthquakes boss Matias Almeyda has quite an opportunity.

There have been several transformative hires in MLS history, head coaches who turned listless teams that spent too much time down in the dumps into accomplished winners with a recognizable identity. If Almeyda can even approach the achievements of the guys on this list, Earthquakes fans are in for a ton of fun in the coming years.

Before getting started with the countdown, let's pay tribute to some very honorable mentions: Bob Gansler (Kansas City, 1999), Jesse Marsch (New York Red Bulls, 2015), Oscar Pareja (FC Dallas, 2014) and Greg Vanney (Toronto FC, 2014).

No. 5: Patrick Vieira (NYCFC, 2016)

Vieira in action with NYCFC. | USA Today Images

It was always going to be tough for the influential Frenchman to rank too high on this list, as he took over in just the second year of New York City FC's existence. That said, there was plenty of work to be done following a debut season that saw the Cityzens finish 12 points shy of the playoff line under Jason Kreis, largely due to owning the joint-worst defense in the league. 

The tactics, performance and expectations all changed with Vieira's arrival. During his two-and-a-half seasons at the helm, the NYCFC offense picked up the pace and their defense became much stingier. The boys from the Bronx rose to finish second in the East in 2016 and 2017, and got off to an 8-3-4 start this term before Vieira moved home to manage OGC Nice in June.

No. 4: Jason Kreis (Real Salt Lake, 2007)

Kreis found success quickly in his coaching career. | USA Today Images

Next, we fête the only coach who appears as both an incoming and outgoing boss on this list. When Kreis took the Real Salt Lake reins from John Ellinger, the club was off to a winless start (two points and two goals through four games) having already suffered plenty of growing pains during the first two years of the franchise's existence (a total of 59 points with a -39 goal differential).

Kreis' first year in charge was no plum, either, but he eventually installed a 4-4-2 diamond system and fostered a battling team personality. In 2008, Real Salt Lake finished third in the West to earn their first playoff berth, and narrowly missed reaching MLS Cup. The following season, RSL went all the way to grab the crown. 

By the time Kreis' reign ended following the 2013 campaign, the Rio Tinto bunch had posted four straight league seasons with at least 53 points and a +8 goal differential, and had also finished as runners-up in the 2011 Concacaf Champions League, MLS Cup 2013 and the same year's U.S. Open Cup. It's a spell of achievement the club is still trying to live up to five years later.

No. 3: Steve Nicol (New England Revolution, 2002)

Nicol guided New England to their most successful spell. | USA Today Images

The Scotsman, who had a brief interim spell guiding New England in 1999, would begin his second stint in charge of the club with an interim tag three years later. It was removed later that season, and Nicol would go on to log the longest single stretch at the helm of an MLS team in league history, one that could soon be broken by another name on this list.

In the six seasons prior to 2002, the Revolution had stirred up only two playoff invites and one unsuccessful U.S. Open Cup final appearance. Nicol's first year as Revs boss ended with the club's first regular season Eastern Conference crown, a heartbreaking extra time loss at MLS Cup and the Coach of the Year prize.

In just under 10 years as head coach, Nicol led New England to two finishes atop the East (and another three second place finishes), eight playoff berths, four MLS Cup runners-up medals and the 2007 U.S. Open Cup, which remains the club's lone major title.

No. 2: Bruce Arena (LA Galaxy, 2008) 

Arena (r) posing with MLS Cup with Galaxy star David Beckham. | Getty Images

As successful as the LA Galaxy have been throughout their history, it can be easy to forget that they missed three straight postseasons (mainly under the stewardship of Frank Yallop and Ruud Gullit) from 2006-2008. And then came Arena.

Arena was actually hired late in the 2008 season, which saw the Galaxy slump to a last place finish in the West. Everything changed the next year, which saw the Galaxy top the West in both the regular season and playoffs before losing MLS Cup on penalties. The Galaxy claimed the first of two consecutive Supporters' Shields in 2010, and the following year started a run of three MLS Cup championships in four seasons. 

Arena brought excitement back to the City of Angels by managing a star-studded crew that included David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Keane to repeated glory, picking up his second and third Coach of the year awards along the way. He could have easily been the top pick here, but fell just short when factoring in a big spending power advantage over the top pick. 

No. 1: Peter Vermes (Sporting Kansas City, 2009)

Yes, the Sporting KC boss has often had to do more with less since taking command in the place where his playing career ended back in 2009. Like Nicol, Vermes also started as an interim head coach, but that tag was quickly removed after he oversaw a respectable 3-3-3 end to the second-worst season in club history.

The then-Kansas City Wizards missed the playoffs for the second year in a row in 2010, but Vermes quickly turned things around things to go with the club's name change the following season as Sporting KC won their first regular season conference crown in seven years. 

They repeated that feat in 2012 while kicking off a run of silverware that few league clubs can match. In all, Vermes and his aggressive 4-3-3 set have taken Sporting to seven straight playoff appearances, the 2013 MLS Cup title and three U.S. Open Cup triumphs.

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