MLS Managers: The Vacant, The New, & The Untested

Major League Soccer’s 2014 SuperDraft kicks off in just over a week in Philadelphia and Business of Soccer has not left the event unexamined. 

From financial analyses of top Superdraft selections going back to 2007, to an examination of Generation Adidas and its predecessor Project 40, even insight into selection trends & rookie season impacts of Top 10 Superdraft picks, we approach January 16th and the Philadelphia Convention Center with a perspective on this pillar of league stability that is nuanced yet ironically one-sided in a sense.

The SuperDraft of course naturally gravitates around two major components of the league structure: the club as an organization, and the players.  While both are very important for incredibly obvious reasons, a significant influence from within the organization on exactly which players are brought in is the manager (or head coach whichever term you prefer)

Part of what makes this upcoming SuperDraft that much more interesting is the current state of this significant influence within the league.  When the 2014 season begins, there will be nine clubs with managers who were not in that position a year prior. The Vancouver Whitecaps, San Jose Earthquakes, Real Salt Lake, Montreal Impact, Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, Colorado Rapids, Chivas USA and FC Dallas will all find themselves with managers who were not there at the start of 2013 regardless of whether the previous manager stepped down or was fired.

The fact remains that almost half of the league will be under new management which makes this upcoming SuperDraft increasingly important.  It will provide insight beyond a club’s need for depth.  With each draft selection comes the potential for a current player to find out how essential they are in their manager’s plans.  With nine new managers, this potential becomes even greater because there’s not only a new season approaching but a new project and team design as well.

This current manager dynamic is made even more interesting by the fact that 1/3 of the clubs have filled their positions with men who haven’t held a head coaching position before.  Real Salt Lake’s Jeff Cassar, San Jose’s Mark Watson and Vancouver’s Carl Robinson were all promoted internally from assistant coaching positions at their respective clubs, though Mark Watson is somewhat of asterisk since technically he was San Jose’s interim head coach roughly halfway through the 2013 season.

Photo Courtesy of Tsn.ca

Carl Robinson – Photo Courtesy of Tsn.ca

Carl Robinson retired as a player in January of 2012 and almost immediately joined the Whitecaps as an assistant coach.  Jeff Cassar has been an assistant head coach since ’07 after joining FC Dallas’ back room staff as a goalkeeper coach and then moving to Real Salt Lake in the same year.  Mark Watson is the most experienced of the three with an assistant coaching resume that goes back to 2004 that includes the Canadian National Team work in Senior and U-20 capacities as well as with USL Pro side Charleston Battery for 3 years.  Watson became an assistant for San Jose in 2010 and was made the Earthquakes permanent head coach in October after finishing the season in an interim role.

The Chicago Fire hired Watson’s former boss and fellow countrymen Frank Yallop while Montreal signed Frank Klopas who had stepped down form the head coaching position in Chicago.  Columbus represents the only organization not part of this convoluted in house merry-go-round by bringing in Gregg Berhalter, an american and former Galaxy assistant coach who had previously been the head coach of Swedish side Hammarby IF.

As though this wasn’t enough spice to add to the SuperDraft pot, the Chivas USA, FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids positions are still vacant.

Chivas USA is the only team of the nine without a pick in the first round  but Montreal makes up for it with two in the first round.  Add Toronto FC and the Portland Timbers whose head coaches Ryan Nelson and Caleb Porter respectively only have one year of head coaching experience at their organizations and suddenly eleven of the nineteen first round picks will be to teams who are still in the earliest stages of their managerial projects.

All of this simply points to the idea that this SuperDraft will be about so much more than just picking up reinforcements or a future star.  As mentioned above it will be the first glimpse into the managers’ plan for the team that could very dramatically depart from their predecessors’ blueprints.  Even more important is that three of these new blueprints will be by men who haven’t been in head coaching positions before, making this their very first SuperDraft in that capacity, not to mention the three clubs

With the established significance that Superdrafts and Generation Adidas players can and have made in the past, the apparent instability and relative inexperience that clubs will be bringing could make for a very exciting and interesting time in Philadelphia’s Convention Center.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.