FourFourTwo USA's 25 Best Coaches in American Soccer: 5-1
5. Peter Vermes
Like the two previous coaches on this countdown, Peter Vermes has the virtue of being recognized for a distinct approach, one that is no less well-founded and proven than those of Caleb Porter and Gregg Berhalter. There is a big difference in perception, though. Whereas Porter and Berhalter are seen as developing fluid, progressive styles that settle nicely into this era of technique, space and movement, Vermes’ approach is seen as more rugged – an appeal to pragmatism over progressiveness.
Perhaps that’s not entirely unfair, as the degree to which Vermes prioritizes defending does lead to fewer risks going forward. But just like his peers, Vermes’ priorities are based on one goal: Winning. And in that respect, there’s little doubt of Vermes’ value.
Since taking over for Curt Onalfo at Sporting KC in 2009, Vermes has delivered an MLS Cup, a U.S. Open Cup, and two runners-up finishes for MLS’ Supporters’ Shield. He has consistently identified, developed and integrated new talent, establishing Kansas City as one of the most consistent teams in Major League Soccer. And in players like Kei Kamara, Benny Feilhaber, Ike Opara and Tim Melia, we see an ability to raise the level of players poached from rivals.
It’s why Vermes, the only person to win MLS Cup as a player and head coach, is one of the first names connected to the U.S. as a successor to Bruce Arena. It’s also why, despite the qualms of some, the former U.S. international ranks so high on our countdown.
4. Patrick Vieira
The Frenchman was a World Cup winner and repeat conqueror of both the Premier League and Serie A in his playing days, and while that skillset hardly guarantees managerial excellence, the midfield general has shown every sign of becoming a sideline mastermind.
Barely six years after retiring, Patrick Vieira has turned heads as perhaps the brightest young thing in the City Football Group’s multinational empire. Taking a particular focus on youth development at Manchester City, he eventually prospered in charge of the Elite Development Squad, the Under-21 team intended to bridge the gap from academy to the first team.
Foreign head coaches were perceived as risky propositions in MLS when Vieira replaced Jason Kreis in charge of New York City FC following its tumultuous 2015 expansion campaign. He’s needed little time to blow that conventional wisdom into smithereens, however, molding the Pigeons into a fluid, aggressive unit that routinely plays the league’s most expansive and engaging soccer, even in the cramped confines of a baseball stadium.
Sure, the club’s owners are among the richest in MLS and have spared little expense on the Gotham venture. But NYCFC made a marked transformation from year one to year two, and the stateside City is on course to push for both the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup this season. And the effect of Vieira’s tutelage is clear to see, even – perhaps especially – further down the roster, where previously overlooked players like Ethan White and RJ Allen have become trusted performers.
Comfortable with the ball, committed to building out of the back despite the dangers and driven by the quality and desire of David Villa, NYCFC reflects Vieira’s personality and philosophy in a way that suggests he’s got a long, successful coaching career ahead.
3. Gerardo Martino
There is no coaching resume in MLS that can match that of Gerardo "Tata" Martino. The 54-year-old Argentine has held two of the biggest jobs in the world, coaching Lionel Messi at both Barcelona and with the Argentinian national team. Despite mixed results at both jobs, Martino’s pedigree as a coach may be the best since Carlos Alberto Parreira to grace the sidelines in MLS.
Martino was a standout player for Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina, and after building his coaching career through the Argentinian and Paraguayan leagues, he took his first major job when coaching Paraguay’s national team from 2007-2011, leading Paraguay to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2010 in South Africa. From there, Martino returned to Argentina to take over his former club, Newell’s, which he led from near-relegation to the Copa Libertadores semifinals. His work eventually caught the eye of one of the world’s biggest clubs, and in 2013 he took over Barcelona after the departure of Tito Vilanova.
Martino’s start at Barça was fantastic, including 16 straight unbeaten, but Atletico Madrid won La Liga on the final day of the season and Barcelona failed to win a trophy other than the Spanish Super Cup. Martino left Barcelona and took the Argentina national team job, where he led La Albiceleste to two Copa America finals, losing both on penalty kicks to Chile. Martino resigned from the job amidst unrest with the association and shocked many when he took the job in Atlanta.
Martino has, in a short amount of time, shown his style of coaching with Atlanta. The expansion team likes to run and press, trying to break out into a track meet whenever possible while controlling the game through possession if teams sit deep. With a number of weapons at his disposal, Martino has shown a clear vision for attacking soccer, and he has the expansion side well in contention for a playoff spot in its first season.
2. Oscar Pareja
Might Oscar Pareja be the heir apparent when Bruce Arena's second stint as U.S. men's national team boss concludes? The FC Dallas head coach certainly has to be in the conversation after building his team into one of Major League Soccer's model franchises. With 60 points in each of the past two seasons and a U.S. Open Cup-Supporters' Shield double last year, FC Dallas has become a winning club, doing so the right way with lots of youth, lots of skill and standard-setting explosiveness.
Pareja has spent most of the past two decades in North Texas, and he, perhaps more so than anyone, is responsible for Dallas' rise from middling contender to feared powerhouse. The Colombian was a midfield fixture for nearly eight seasons when the club was called the Dallas Burn, spent two stints as assistant coach, constructed MLS' premier academy and, from 2014, has governed the club's richest era.
He's developed some of MLS' finest young talent, most notably Kellyn Acosta, and has brought in difference-makers from Latin America to create a lightning-quick counterattack that utilizes flank speed and sublime skill. The team benefits from a superb rear six featuring arguably the finest holding-midfield and center-back tandems in the league.
Pareja got his first head coach job in 2012 with Colorado, which the following year snared a then-club-record 51 points. He resigned when the job in Dallas opened up, and the team has won 16, 18 and 17 games in respective seasons since, twice setting club marks for points. When Dallas is on, nobody in MLS plays better soccer.
Among the domestic candidates to succeed Arena, Pareja employs the most attractive brand of soccer, but it's his approach to young players -- his ability to nurture talent and provide the tools to succeed -- that might be most valuable. His influence on the American game promises to be profound.
1. Bruce Arena
The greatest coach in the history of MLS remains the best coach active in American soccer. Arena has won at nearly every stop in his career, helping grow the University of Virginia into an NCAA powerhouse, directing two MLS dynasties with D.C. United and the LA Galaxy, and taking the U.S. men's national team to the World Cup quarterfinals.
Now, Arena is back in charge of the national team with a chance to one-up his 2002 coaching job. He’ll have one of the more talented pools in U.S. men's national team history to work with if he gets the team to Russia in 2018. That World Cup berth looks all but sealed up now after Arena was hired to turn things around following two straight losses to start the Hex under Jurgen Klinsmann. It didn’t take long for Arena to find the right players and formations to get results. Eight points in four games later, the U.S. is well on its way to Russia.
Arena’s strengths as a coach have always been as a man-manager. Whether it was balancing the needs of star players like Marco Etcheverry against the early struggles of MLS rosters, when most players came from the amateur ranks, or balancing a team that included superstar personalities like David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane in LA, Arena has managed to strike the right balance with his teams. That usually leads to success.
Arena took D.C. United to three MLS Cup finals in three seasons coaching the team, winning twice. He then became the all-time winningest coach in U.S. men's national team history, posting a 71-30-29 record in his first stint in charge, a .658 win percentage that included two Gold Cup titles and a thrilling quarterfinal run in 2002.
Upon returning to MLS, Arena had a short stint with the New York Red Bulls before building yet another MLS dynasty. He led the Galaxy to MLS Cup titles in 2011, 2012 and 2014, with two Supporters Shields and a fourth MLS Cup appearance mixed in among those trophies.
The many trophies and three MLS Coach of the Year awards only begin to tell the impact Arena has had on the American game. And as he takes on his second act with the U.S. national team, he remains the best coach on American soil.