Does the MLS Coaching Clock Run Too Fast?The constant need to field a winning team may be costing MLS beautiful soccer
by Chris Enger | Wednesday, August 01, 2012
The Hot Seat, in sporting vernacular, is the position a coach ends up in if their team is underperforming, losing or not where people expect the team to finish.
We all speculate over who exactly belongs there, but the better question is who isn’t on it at one point or another?
Let’s review the list of those who have been on the hot seat at some point this year in MLS: Bruce Arena, Hans Backe, Piotr Nowak, John Spencer, Aron Winter and Schellas Hyndman.
Coaches Arena and Backe moved off the hot seat easily during the MLS season due to their teams earning points and playing better. Nowak, Spencer and Winter’s teams did not perform better and the coaches were either terminated or resigned. Meanwhile, Hyndman’s seat remains just as warm as ever with an underperforming Dallas and a seemingly unhappy Brek Shea.
Nowak, Spencer and Winter combined to coach only five and a half years in the league. Think about that for a minute. Each coach was given less than a two years average to implement their system, learn their clubs structures and build a winning team.
In the case of Nowak and Spencer their teams were right to let them go. Nowak needed to go because his team was not getting better. When adding in the numerous alleged locker room issues, it did not appear that it was a good fit. With Spencer, his team was not improving regardless of who he put into his “system” (and I use that term loosely as there wasn’t much of a system).
I would argue though that Winter was not given enough time to put his plan into place. Yes Toronto FC got off to the worst start in MLS history, but Winter’s team wasn’t playing poorly, it just found ways to lose games that ultimately were heart breakers.
TFC did make it into the semi-finals in CONCACAF Champions League play, under him they twice won the Canadian Championship including the last one, which secured another opportunity to be in CONCACAF Champions League in 2012.
Nevertheless, with a mistake prone front office and an alienated fan base, Winter resigned and Paul Mariner, who TFC brought in to be the Director of Player Development became the coach.
Goodbye the thought of a 4-3-3 total soccer system and hello British football.
Already Mariner’s direct approach as a coach and manager has started paying dividends as the team is playing better. But is that direct, more physical approach good for MLS?
Mariner is a disciple of Steve Nicol and Nicol had some of the more physical teams in MLS, and those teams usually ended up near the top of the table come season’s end. Mariner knows what it takes to win immediately in MLS. After a couple of moves and a more direct approach, TFC is doing just that.
It’s good for the league to have a winning TFC team, but their choice of going to a more physical style seems to counter MLS’s goal of desperately trying to change its image from “physical” to “technical”.
Should a team try to get more technical and play the game beautifully, or should they become more physical? A more technical game may cost some wins early on, but is designed for long term growth while the physical play model will earn early success but eventually wear players, coaches and teams down until change is necessary.
I lean towards the going into the technical direction. Eventually, if done right, the team will start winning and looking great doing it. Winning and looking great usually brings fans and added revenue.
Teams that win playing a more technical style will also be more prepared for international competition. The more physical team is usually penalized a lot more especially when teams travel to play other CONCACAF nations in continental play.
MLS coaches must be given more opportunities to implement their systems. Granted, if a team shows no signs of fitting into a system or technical improvement, changes should be made. Obviously, when it is clear the coach has lost the team (ie Nowak); it is in the team’s best interest to replace him immediately. But wins and losses cannot be the sole factor in making those decisions.
Jason Kreis of Real Salt Lake has continually told local media that it takes new players up to a year to become fully implemented into his system; couldn’t the same be said of coaches trying to turn struggling teams around? Shouldn’t they at least be given three years to find their players and get their formation and system philosophy in place?
The other option is watching great athletes run each other out of the stadium with more physical play than the athletes can tolerate. That style may be good for a month or two, but it will eventually take its toll on everyone in the team from club president to coach to fan.
Patience, which modern society is losing more and more of, unfortunately is crucial at this stage in MLS’s growth. Coaches need plans and clubs need systems, wins need to be somewhere after both. Sir Alex Ferguson after all finished 11th his first two years in charge of Manchester United and managed to bring them within the top 3 only one time in his first 6 seasons. That patience by club owners, board and fans … has since paid off handsomely. Same with FC Barcelona, Spain, Germany and Mexico.
MLS fans, media, management and owners need to be patient in order to get to the next level. With 19 teams in the league and 20 looming in the coming decade, many more will lose than will win the Supporters Shield, MLS Cup or US Open Cup. If all can agree to be more patient with their coaches and insist on creating systems and styles instead of stat keeping and seat shuffling, all win benefit in the long term.