This offseason is going to be one heck of a time for the rumor mill, at least from a managerial side. Last season half of it centered around where Frank Lampard would end up. This time it will center around the MLS teams with head coach jobs open.
The Columbus Crew, FC Dallas, Vancouver Whitecaps, Chicago Fire, NYCFC (obviously considering candidates at this point), and potentially Real Salt Lake, are looking for new commanders in the coming months.
With so many spots up for the taking, who can say what kind of personalities will have emerged by the time the 2014 season opens?
The Tried and True: Boring, But Safe
MLS has finally gotten to the point where it's entirely possible to rotate the same old names over and over. Frank Klopas, Frank Yallop, Martin Rennie, Curt Onalfo, Robin Fraser, Gary (ugh) Smith, and many others will on a few short-lists. Given MLS' track record of the coaches hired, it wouldn't be crazy to see at least two of those names picked up, though would it really be in the league's best interest?
There is a case to be made for Frank Yallop getting another job. After all, he won MLS Coach of the Year last season while helping his team nab the supporter's shield. That's not all that bad now, is it? Sure, his team may have flamed out and shot itself in the foot early on this year, but that doesn't negate his results with the Quakes. He has experience and has tasted success at the highest level of US soccer. He might be able to take a smaller team and build them up to the point where they're contending.
But what about others? Frank Klopas didn't have a very good tenure with the Chicago Fire. A US Open Cup finals appearance is about all he can say he accomplished, and the rest is bag of mediocrity. He didn't get the best support from the Chicago front office, but that doesn't mean he should be completely excused.
Martin Rennie did a decent job with the Vancouver Whitecaps. He made his share of mistakes, but his coaching career is limited and he has probably learned a great deal from the Caps. He might be worth taking a gamble on, though he could just as well go on to manage a team elsewhere.
The rest of the names on the list are uninspiring. Onalfo, Preki, Fraser, Hyndman... it's a long list of people who underachieved (though Fraser gets a pass because Chivas). There are valid questions as to why anyone would want to hand the reins of an MLS team to those who have track records full of "meh".
You know what you're getting with those managers though. That's appealing to some owners, boring as it may sound.
The Brave and the Bold
On the other hand, teams could look to the ranks of college, NASL/USL or untested assistant coaches to fill that gap.
Caleb Porter has done a bang-up job with the Portland Timbers to the point where it's a safe bet that he'll win coach of the year. Looking back at his appointment to the Timbers after his short-lived stint with the olympic team, many were unimpressed with Merrit Paulson's choice. "Unambituous", "olympic failure" and other adjectives were thrown around. They weren't the only voices though as many praised his work with the Akron Zips, citing his exciting and attacking brand of soccer as a great direction to take the Timbers in.
It has worked out quite well so far, but it wouldn't have happened without the chance the Timbers took on him.
What about Oscar Pareja? He was an assistant coach for a long time before he was given the top job at Colorado. He had no real head coaching experience at the top level but it didn't matter. His experience working with youth and as an assistant proved more than enough, and he has Colorado on really solid footing for the future.
Teams should always be careful with risks when hiring a head coach, but sometimes it's okay to judge a body of work at a lower level and assume that the potential manager can take the next step. In a league with less money and a lower profile like MLS, this is just as much a place for coaches to develop as it is for players. Teams can benefit from picking the right man for much cheaper than it would be to bring in a proven name.
Eric Wynalda has not yet managed at the MLS level, but rumors from Chicago speculate he could be first on the Fire's short-list. That's exactly the kind of gamble that could land a team a very talented coach for less. Though it's important to remember that it is a gamble. It's just as likely Wynalda will prove too much ego and not enough skill for the players he's managing, and fail. But if it works out? It would do volumes to advance the reputation of local American coaches.
Tab Ramos is also a popular choice, as his youth experience is suited to teams looking to rebuild. But he's also a bit of a risk, having very little head coaching experience at a high level. Teams also have him in his crosshairs, making a Ramos bid pricey by virtue of the apparent market.
Ultimately, new managers have to come from somewhere. Teams would be wise to not get too picky about the experience of the man they are hiring. This isn't Europe, where teams can fuss over the smallest details of a manager's career.
Speaking of Europe, there's also foreign managers to consider. Marco Schallibaum has had a mixed season with the Impact, but that doesn't mean he's been poor. Who knows how much more effective he could have been had he kept his head cool and his body on the field? The endless suspensions hurt his reputation with the league's officials, but his players seem to play hard for him and he manages to motivate and organize some very big personalities.
With a slightly deeper and younger roster, Schallibaum could have had his team play much more consistently. He's been pretty decent in his first year and has beena far cry from the "European failure" that many (including myself) predicted he would be.
Could MLS see an imported coach or two come this way? Would it be beneficial to the league as it grows more multinational than it already is?
Where do you stand on the coaching carousel? Is there a returning manager you'd like to see with FC Dallas or another team?