Top 10/50/100

FourFourTwo USA's 25 Best Coaches in American Soccer: 15-11

We pass the halfway point of our #FFT25BestCoaches countdown by narrowing our focus, with MLS and the NWSL dominating our path to the Top 10.

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15. Laura Harvey

For all of the United States’ bold progressivism in women’s soccer, many still fret over the paucity of female coaches at the sport’s highest levels. One thing that’s not subject to debate is Laura Harvey’s reputation and influence.

Still well short of her 40th birthday, Harvey had already won just about every piece of hardware in the English women’s game with Arsenal and Birmingham City when she crossed the Atlantic to become the first (and only) head coach in Seattle Reign history in 2013.

Shaped by the West Midlands native’s tactical nous and person-to-person charisma, the Seattle Reign has set the standard for quality and success in NWSL’s infancy. Harvey steered Seattle to the league’s Shield in 2014 and 2015, winning the English FA’s Coach of the Year award along the way and earning a reputation as both a savvy trade merchant and affable cult personality.

Back-to-back NWSL final losses to FC Kansas City and a narrow failure to qualify for last year’s postseason have not dislodged the perception that Harvey is a measuring stick for the young league and its coaches. She’s scoured the world for rare talent, coaxed the best out of her players – including a league MVP performance from Kim Little in 2014 – and nurtured some aesthetically pleasing soccer along the way.

-- Charles Boehm

14. Brian Schmetzer

MLS has never seen a better case of right place, right time than Brian Schmetzer in Seattle. Last season, amid of his team’s worst MLS spell, the Emerald City native emerged as a hometown savior, revitalizing the Sounders to claim the only league honor that had eluded the northwest superpower.

It was the culmination of a 22-year rise for the Seattle-born boss, one that began when his playing career stopped in 1995. After on-field spells with Seattle’s NASL outdoor, NASL indoor and USL versions, Schmetzer embarked on a similar path as coach, managing the team for seven seasons in USL before joining Sigi Schmid’s staff at the next level.

Seven years later, Schmetzer’s chance finally came. When it did, the Sounders lifer immediately made his mark, halting the team’s emotional rollercoaster with an appeal to its better self. Wearing the Seattle badge demanded more, he told his squad. With what the messenger had given to the club, Schmetzer’s demand earned an immediate response.

Within four months, the Sounders were MLS Cup champions, a testament to the league’s hot-at-the-right-time postseason gauntlet. But given the depths to which Seattle had fallen, Schmetzer had still performed a miracle. No matter what happens in year two, the Seattle legend will always be a champion in year one.

-- Richard Farley

13. Wilmer Cabrera

Cabrera was part of those fantastic Colombia sides of the late 1980s and early 1990s, but when he decided to become a coach, it was in the United States. He calls himself an American coach.

That informs the Houston Dynamo team he has rejiggered after taking charge last fall, following the club's worst-in-the-West finish. He has devised an exceedingly speedy and technical side relying on Latin skill and savvy, one that has the grit and physical wherewithal to go toe-to-toe with its more bruising rivals. He'll be a coach-of-the-year contender if the Dynamo, on track to make its first postseason appearance in four years, continue on this path.

The former defender has a unique variety of coaching experience. He started at the junior college and youth club levels before taking charge of the U.S. Under-17 men for nearly three cycles, taking them to the round of 16 in successive World Cups. He toiled on countryman Oscar Pareja's staff with the Colorado Rapids, and then, in his debut as an MLS head coach, did well to keep a spiraling Chivas USA team competitive in its final season. Last year, he had Rio Grande Valley, Houston's USL affiliate, No. 2 in the West, triggering his jump back into the top U.S. league.

-- Scott French

12. Vlatko Andonovski

When FC Kansas City launched at the NWSL’s inception in 2013, few people in women’s soccer had even heard of its new head coach.

Three years down the line, after FCKC won two of the league’s first three championship trophies and were the only team to qualify for the playoffs in all three seasons, Vlatko Andonovski’s name had a great deal more heft attached to it.

An indoor standout during the latter years of his own playing career, Andonovski coached both FCKC and the Kansas City Comets MISL team (which he also led to a league championship) for several years. He studied meticulously and relentlessly upon his entry into the women’s game, to good effect.

“He put in hours and hours of research, watching old tapes,” star defender and FCKC original Becky Sauerbrunn told the Kansas City Star last year. “When I first met him, he could recall plays I’d made in previous games from years ago, which is pretty crazy.”

The Macedonian has not only won titles in KC, he has also established a strong club culture built around mutual respect and a commitment to possession-oriented soccer. Identifying talent that other clubs didn’t fully value and maximizing the abilities of those already on the books, Andonovski has quietly become NWSL’s Midwestern wizard.  

-- Charles Boehm

11. Veljko Paunovic

After leading his native Serbia to an unexpected championship at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup – the soccer-mad nation’s first world title at any level – Veljko Paunovic had a wealth of options for his next career move.

Many were surprised to see the 39-year-old accept the head coaching post at the Chicago Fire, seen for years as the sick man of MLS, with myriad issues both on and off the field. And when Paunovic found himself and the Fire in last place at the end of his first season in charge, cynics figured the troubled organization had claimed yet another would-be savior as a victim.

Fast-forward to today, and the man they call “Pauno” has been vindicated and then some. Chicago has raced out to the league’s second-best record in the first half of 2017, playing both attractively and effectively.

Helped by driven talents like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty and Nemanja Nikolic, he has transformed both results and locker-room culture, setting the Fire’s sights not on mere respectability, but capturing hardware.

Paunovic is a cerebral student of the game, remembered fondly for his attacking vision during his playing days. He has made a smooth transition into the coaching discipline. However long he elects to stay in Chicago, his star will likely continue to rise at speed.

-- Charles Boehm

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