Frank de Boer – Atlanta United – before game1
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How European head coaches have fared in contemporary MLS

With names like Thierry Henry, Raphael Wicky and now Ronny Deila among those joining MLS clubs this offseason, the league is fast becoming a destination of choice for European coaching talent.

It's a fascinating trend, but how do these managers actually fare in MLS action? Here's a rundown. 

Frank de Boer, Atlanta United

The Dutchman arrived in the ATL with big shoes to fill, thanks to Tata Martino’s 2018 MLS Cup triumph, and a mostly strong resume recently marred by brief, star-crossed stints at Inter Milan and Crystal Palace.

By one measure – trophies – he more than lived up to that challenge, leading the Five Stripes to U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup glory last season. By others, however, the jury is still out. De Boer has installed a markedly different philosophical ethos, preferring caution and control over Tata’s run-and-gun style, and has parted company with popular and influential figures like Darlington Nagbe and (reportedly) Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.

Owen Coyle, Houston Dynamo

The Irishman turned heads when he signed on with La Naranja ahead of the 2015 MLS season after a six-month stint with English Championship side Wigan Athletic; in some ways he was the first prominent European name to cross the Atlantic in the league’s modern era.

It seemed an odd fit given the generally Latino character of Houston’s squad and population, and his underwhelming results did not assuage such doubts. Coyle left the club, supposedly by mutual consent, after compiling a 14W-21L-11D record in less than a year and a half in charge.

Remi Garde, Montreal Impact

Here’s one where it’s tough to distinguish a coach’s performance from the culture of the club and its leadership – in this case the quick trigger finger shown by Montreal owner Joey Saputo over the years. Despite his inability to rescue Aston Villa from Premier League relegation in their 2015-16 campaign, the Frenchman looked like a great fit for the Quebec club when IMFC brought him aboard after the 2017 season.

After a slow start, L’Impact found some form under his leadership in 2018 and were in the playoff race right through Decision Day before falling short. Garde looked poised to build on that last year and apparently was in contract extension talks in midseason, only for a summer swoon to wreck the vibes and prompt his firing. His replacement, Wilmer Cabrera, proved to be a short-term patch and now IMFC will more or less start over under Thierry Henry.

Anthony Hudson, Colorado Rapids

An American-born Englishman who also happens to be the son of former Chelsea, England and Seattle Sounders midfielder Alan Hudson, Anthony had experience of the US scene and earned some repute with stints with the Bahrain and New Zealand national teams before moving to Colorado.

There’s no way to frame his Rapids tenure as anything other than miserable, however. He won just eight of his 43 MLS games in charge and precipitated his own dismissal by saying “We are fighting at the bottom with a bottom group of players” after a loss to Atlanta last spring. The Mile High Club’s subsequent dramatic upswing under Conor Casey and Robin Fraser underlined the underachievement.

Ron Jans, FC Cincinnati

The Dutchman’s 1-5-4 record with FCC after taking over last August might not look all that impressive. But it constituted a legitimate improvement for an expansion squad that had weathered losing skids of four, five and six games before his arrival.

His uptempo pressing philosophy and past history with GM Gerard Nijkamp provides a clearer blueprint for Cincy than they had a year ago, and a few infusions of top-shelf attacking talent could well prompt a 2020 turnaround. He may not stay too long, though – before Jans’ hiring Nijkamp termed it “a short-term solution” with more change possible ahead of their move into their new West End stadium in 2021.

Veljko Paunovic, Chicago Fire FC

Veljko Paunovic didn't meet the lofty expectations he came to Chicago with after leading Serbia to the FIFA U-20 World Cup championship | USA Today Sports Images

Hiring “Pauno” looked like a coup for the Fire after leading Serbia to a FIFA U-20 World Cup championship in 2015. He’d experienced MLS as a player with Philadelphia in 2011, spoke Spanish and seemed eager to seize the challenge in the Windy City.

Alas, a losing record and just one MLS Cup Playoffs appearance over four years in charge did not meet the expectations of anyone involved. Paunovic reportedly clashed with some of his players and showed a tendency to tinker to excess with his formations and personnel. That said, by now it’s clear that the Fire’s issues run much deeper than any one person and the organization is resetting almost everything for 2020.

Carl Robinson, Vancouver Whitecaps

The former Welsh international played in MLS with Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls before joining the ‘Caps as an assistant coach, then ascending to the top job in the winter of 2013-14. There’s a lot to like about the “Robbo” era in Vancouver, as he generally kept VWFC competitive (they compiled a winning record under his guidance) and helped nurture young players like Alphonso Davies.

However, he was also associated with some questionable signings linked to a particular talent agency and over time chafed at what he perceived were the limited ambitions and investments of the club’s brass, at times reverting to overly negative tactics against favored opponents.

Gary Smith, Colorado and Nashville SC

Technically, the Englishman hasn’t coached in MLS since 2011, though his return is imminent with NSC having entrusted him with the helm in their expansion campaign. He led the Rapids to the 2010 MLS Cup title, their only league championship to date and an impressive achievement given their relatively modest roster, though stylistically they tended to be a bit direct.

Murky intra-club politics marked by hazy chains of command and decision-making processes helped seal his exit less than a year later. A decent year-plus run at English lower-division side Stevenage was cut short by a run of poor results and NSC were solid, if unspectacular, under him in three seasons of USL Championship play.

Mikael Stahre, San Jose Earthquakes

The well-traveled Mikael Stahre struggled mightily in a short stint in San Jose | USA Today Sports Images

The Swede had traveled the world before landing in San Jose, coaching in China, Greece and his native land and showing some nous with developing young talent. His time in MLS was an unmitigated disaster, unfortunately.

Stahre lasted less than a year in charge, winning just four matches and making some bizarre decisions that frustrated players and fans alike. The marked turnaround engineered by Matias Almeyda in 2019 with much the same roster can only be read as further implication of Stahre's shortcomings.

Domenec Torrent, New York City FC

The Spaniard carried the distinctive honor of being Pep Guardiola’s longtime right-hand man when he took over for Patrick Vieira midway through NYCFC’s 2018 season. And after a few early wobbles he got the Cityzens humming on an even higher plane than his successful predecessor, leading them to their best-ever finish last year – even if postseason success continued to elude them.

Torrent walked away rather abruptly last fall, cryptically alluding to frustrations with player recruitment and spending and reportedly bearing impatience with MLS’s unique rules and regulations. Said to have entertained approaches from other MLS clubs, his next move remains unknown.

Patrick Vieira, NYCFC

In 2016, the French legend inherited a fledgling club fresh off a trying debut season pockmarked with drama and disappointment, and quickly set them on an upward trajectory that continues today, with four straight playoff appearances and counting.

Installing a methodical, proactive style that made the most of elite stars (David Villa and Andrea Pirlo) and lunchpail domestics (Ethan White and Ben Sweat) alike, Vieira lifted NYCFC into the league’s upper echelon and parlayed his good work into the manager’s job at OGC Nice in Ligue 1.