FourFourTwo USA's 25 Best Coaches in American Soccer: 10-6
10. Jesse Marsch
When Marsch took over in New York, the expectations could not be much higher. The former midfielder, who played 14 seasons in MLS, had been fired despite a decent record as an expansion coach in Montreal three years before. His predecessor in New York, Mike Petke, had just led the Red Bulls to a Supporters Shield and was the most successful coach in franchise history.
Marsch entered tumultuous circumstances, navigated the club through major changes with the departure of Designated Players Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill and has at least met some of those lofty hopes. The Red Bulls won the Supporters Shield in 2015 and then finished atop the Eastern Conference in 2016. And while they have fallen short of reaching MLS Cup, Marsch has developed an identifiable counter-pressing system and married that with a willingness to integrate young players into the first team.
Since taking over the Red Bulls, Marsch has led New York to a 41-27-17 record in the regular season and a 49-32-19 record in all competitions. His work has been enough to capture the attention of Red Bulls headquarters in Europe, where he was reported to be a candidate for the top job in Salzburg, Austria. Marsch did not get the job and denied the reports, but he has spent this season balancing head-coaching duties in MLS with earning a UEFA ‘A’ License in Europe.
The Red Bulls are 7-8-2 this season, nearly matching their highest mark for losses in a season since Marsch took over two years ago. Despite those problems, Marsch is still considered one of the top coaching prospects in the league, and if he does make a move to Europe, he would join a small list of American coaches to make the leap overseas, joining Bob Bradley and Gregg Berhalter, among others.
-- Paul Tenorio
9. Greg Vanney
The architect of Toronto FC's rise from doormat to MLS Cup runner-up seeks no less than to revolutionize the American game, create the finest side this league has seen, and create a template that could guide soccer in the U.S. and Canada to unprecedented heights. It sounds lofty, for sure, but the Reds' ascension in the past year offers hope.
Vanney has TFC atop the Supporters' Shield standings with a 10-2-5 mark, but it's the ‘how’ more so than the ‘what’ that most impresses. He has eschewed a concrete system in deference to a sort of collective improvisation, in which the group, based on set principles, reads and reacts to situations en masse. It isn’t quite Total Football, but further up the spectrum.
Vanney, a cultured defender and midfielder who missed the 2002 World Cup through injury, was best known as an academy guru when TFC hired him in late 2013 to revamp its youth set-up. The two seasons he had previously spent as an MLS coach were difficult but enlightening. That stint with Chivas USA allowed him and head coach Robin Fraser, his current assistant in Toronto, to test philosophies they'd discussed over the previous decade. It was hit and miss, but it was also good preparation for the next opportunity, wherever that might be.
That opportunity arrived in Toronto. The Reds made the playoffs in Vanney's first full season in charge, and everything clicked in the middle of last year. TFC went on one of MLS' most spectacular postseason runs en route to its shootout loss against Seattle. This year could bring better.
-- Scott French
8. Jason Kreis
A remarkable eight-year tenure with Real Salt Lake hinted Kreis, not so far in the future, was destined to guide the U.S. men’s national team. If his profile has diminished following a lost couple of years with New York City FC, don't count him out. Intense, blindingly intelligent and boldly competitive, Orlando City SC's boss is among the most revered American minds in the game.
Kreis was a coaching phenom, of sorts, at 34 stepping directly off the field and into the head job a month into abysmal RSL's 2007 campaign. He immediately constructed a new foundation and culture for the coming success. He'd been a hard-nosed forward who scored 108 MLS goals, the league's top mark when he made the move, and his teams have always reflected that aspect of his game. He built a tight, savvy, propulsive team around an enormously effective diamond midfield that had Javier Morales in front of Kyle Beckerman, and it played some of the most beautiful and aggressive soccer MLS has witnessed.
RSL was in the conference final his second season, won MLS Cup in year three and averaged 55-plus points per season the next four campaigns. Kreis closed his club account with another MLS Cup appearance in 2013 but within days of the PK-shootout loss at Sporting Kansas City was off to NYC, with a year to prepare for the club's 2015 debut. When it didn't go as well as parent club Manchester City demanded, Kreis was gone.
He stepped in at Orlando City last May. A late slump denied the Lions a postseason berth, and a wonderful start this year has faded over the past two months. Kreis needed a year and a half to get RSL in tune, so let's check in again at season's end.
7. Gregg Berhalter
The 43-year-old holds the distinction of being the first American to take a head-coaching job in Europe. Since returning to MLS in 2013, he’s also established himself as a top coach on this side of the Atlantic, taking Columbus to one MLS Cup and putting the Crew back in the playoff picture in 2017.
Berhalter may be considered one of the more cerebral coaches in MLS, a tactician who loves to dive into the nuances of the game. His teams play some of the most attractive soccer in MLS, a possession-based game with players capable of keeping the ball and playing out of the back, but also one just as skilled at breaking out on the counter.
Berhalter has led Columbus to the playoffs in two of his three seasons in charge, including a visit to MLS Cup in 2015, when it hosted the championship game but fell to the Portland Timbers. His record through three and a half season hovers at 50-51-32, and the small-market Crew continue to fight the higher-spending teams to finish in the top three in the Eastern Conference. Berhalter leads the way there as both coach and technical director, and he’s had some solid finds in recent years, including Artur and Harrison Afful, as well as leading the development of players like Wil Trapp, Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay.
The down season in 2016 put some pressure on Berhalter, but in MLS missing out on the playoffs for one season is hardly an indictment. Berhalter remains one of the top soccer minds in the country, and continued success in Columbus will only lead to speculation about whether his future may also lead to paths with the U.S. national team or overseas.
6. Caleb Porter
Is it bad form to reveal that originally, during the straw poll point of this project, Porter ranked a couple of rungs lower? He wasn’t out of our top 10 or anything, but when our panel’s first ballots came in, Porter was not this high. And, when we reviewed those original rankings, that lower slot didn’t strike us as wrong.
Then we went out and talked to people. An MLS coach here. A general manager there. Porter’s peers in the field. The feedback from different sources, told to different reporters, all struck the same note: ‘You’ve got Caleb Porter too low.’
The reason made sense. How many coaches in U.S. soccer can you trust to implement a coherent, positive system of play, one that reflects a clear philosophy of the game and can produce winning soccer? Quibble about Porter’s results all you want – it’s a process that doesn’t stop with one MLS Cup triumph – but when you watch his teams play, you know you’re watching Caleb Porter’s product. And his style has always, at worst, produced a competitive product.
Is it the best product? That’s open to debate, but as Porter’s history shows, you can win big playing his brand of soccer. And when you apply those litmus tests to the rest of this list – tests that measure approach and results – you see why Caleb Porter needed to be bumped up.
Porter’s fierce competitiveness has created some meme-able moments for foes, and his media persona has pluses and minuses, of which he’s well aware. What he really cares about, though, is how his teams play the game. He believes it’s the right way; he believes it wins games, and he gets his players to execute.
No matter what you think of Porter, you have to give him that. And that is certainly worth something in the big picture of U.S. soccer.