The fate of timing has dropped a tempting new potential candidate for head coaching vacancies at Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls, and it just so happens to be a familiar name in American soccer circles.
That newly-available manager is former US men's national team forward David Wagner, who was let go by FC Schalke 04 on Sunday. Jurgen Klopp's best buddy off the field and a disciple on the sideline, he has now overseen hot-and-cold runs with both the Bundesliga club and previous employers Huddersfield Town.
While the 48-year-old is still learning the ropes, he favors the gegenpressing style used by Klopp to finally bring the Premier League title back to Liverpool. It's a high-energy, high-trapping, quick-hit style that aims to turn defense in strategic areas into chances on the run. Add in Wagner's skill for unlocking potential, and he starts to sound like a good-to-great fit for each of the permanent coach-less Eastern Conference rivals.
Of course, it needs to be asked whether or not Wagner would come coach in MLS at this time. I'm not going to pretend to know the answer, but will point to a comment he made during early days at Huddersfield Town when asked if he could see coaching in America one day.
"I learned as a professional not to look too much forward, to stay in the present, to look forward only one week," Wagner told MLSsoccer.com back in 2016. "On the other side, I learned that everything can happen. Six months ago, I never expected that I could be here in England. I'm open for everything."
Nobody is going to confuse that for a "come get me" plea, but it's also not a flat-out “no.” For the sake of argument, let's propose that he'd at least listen to overtures. And while other jobs may open up between now and next season, let's focus on the two clubs with lit vacancy signs.
That decided, we can start wondering about where the two outfits are in their respective searches. Each have been relatively stealthy thus far, so it's impossible to say where the clubs stand or even whether they'd go to the expense of luring Wagner. One thing is clear, though: Considering how these teams wish to operate, he has traits that should attract consideration from both.
Would Atlanta work?
Take Atlanta United, who are currently led by interim head coach Stephen Glass after parting ways with Frank de Boer this summer. While the Five Stripes weren’t a strict counter-pressing side under Tata Martino, they definitely relied on Miguel Almiron's ability to go from forced turnover to vertical fast break in a flash. This quick-change act from defense to offense is the kind of stuff Wagner loves.
In Atlanta, he could set the team loose with new Designated Player Marcelino Moreno leading the gallop. He's not a carbon-copy of Almiron, but does share a knack for escaping into and exploiting north-south corridors on the fly. If Atlanta wish to bring back that high-octane approach (and the wins that came with it), Wagner would certainly be on a similar page.
What to expect from our newest Designated Player, Marcelino Moreno 👏 pic.twitter.com/YExTKvNtx7— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) September 22, 2020
It's also worth noting how Wagner has sparked impressive growth in some notable young players. In addition to working with USMNT midfielders Weston McKennie (at Schalke) and Christian Pulisic (at Dortmund), he was also around the development of those like Sven Bender and Ilkay Gundogan.
Atlanta are yet to see much in the way of first-team benefits from the youth ranks. Left back George Bello looks up to changing that, but he’s never really pushed into the lineup until this year. Chasing a target like Wagner would also be a move to increase traffic from the reserves to the lineup.
One team that needs little help with that is the Red Bulls, who have interim head coach Bradley Carnell at the helm after they fired Chris Armas in August. The club's also been linked extensively with Barnsley's Gerhard Struber as their next head coach.
But Wagner's work with youngsters fits in perfectly with the club's squad-building ethos. Naturally, the same could be said for their preferred field posture. You all know what it looks like. Take the ball away high, hit turbo and strike.
The Red Bulls are at their best when they're harassing you in your own end and then heading straight towards goal to create lightning chances. This sort of stun-and-run play is a virtual match for Wagner's ideal system.
Some might suggest that Wagner may be out of reach for now, or note that he's yet to prove he can sustain results across seasons. One could easily assert that there are better options available on the coaching market. These are reasonable stances.
However, I'll argue back that Atlanta United and the Red Bulls are probably the best possible style fits for Wagner if he's up for an MLS job. And if the thought of him taking their reins is enticing to either of these clubs, the time to chase him just began.