The pool is deep and varied these days, 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, David Moyes, Bobby Muuss, Gonzalo Pineda, Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
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.
While it's true that the longtime Netherlands ace struggled in last year's brief stint in charge of an aging Fenerbahce side, he showed in five prior years at PSV Eindhoven that he's a cool customer that can put silver in the trophy case and plays the kids while doing it. Cocu is a prototypical Dutch coach who prefers an aggressive 4-3-3 (a formation with plenty of recent MLS success) and strives for consistency.
Whenever you see a relatively inexperienced boss win MLS trophies, one can be quite sure that he has strong, proactive assistants. And when that has happened in the last decade, quite often it was Fraser acting as right hand man. He's helped win two MLS Cups and two Supporters' Shields with Real Salt Lake, the Red Bulls and current employers Toronto FC. His two seasons at the helm of Chivas USA were rough, but it may be time for him to get another shot.
You had to know this was coming. Is "The Special One" right for one of the currently vacant posts at Colorado, Cincy or New England? Yeah, probably not, but there's always another opening. Mourinho has spoken of taking on an MLS challenge, wins big trophies wherever he goes and, geez, it would just be too much fun to see him walk stateside sidelines and give postgame remarks.
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.
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 this past 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.
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 quite 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.
Perhaps none of the former MLS standouts on this list is thought of as highly as US national team manager Gregg Berhalter's long-serving number two. Before Wolff moved to the USMNT dugout, he served seven years as an assistant with Columbus and D.C. United. Last year, the former attacker was said to be up for the both the Crew SC and FC Dallas positions, and you can bet those won't be his last MLS job interviews.
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.
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.