Analysis

No shortage of candidates waiting to land MLS' next head coaching jobs

The second coaching vacancy of MLS' season just surfaced, but the list of viable candidates goes far beyond two names. Steve Davis takes inventory of the candidates ready for work.

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?

The “Now Hiring” sign is out around MLS; interested managers should apply within.

Orlando City SC is looking for a coach, perhaps a splashy-dashy name. The Houston Dynamo might be collecting resumes, too, although interim man Wade Barrett is making a good case for himself with early results

Soon enough, Atlanta United will fill its managerial post; the countdown clock sits at about eight months before the club’s inaugural MLS contest.

LAFC has a cool crest and an amazing stadium plan and lots of Cristiano Ronaldo whispers to keep the team chat-worthy, but no coach. Prepping for a 2018 launch, they’ll need to gather that massive cast of owners and make a choice before too much longer.

Elsewhere, Minnesota United has a manager in Carl Craig, but the history of coaches taking on the MLS expansion challenge is not encouraging, especially at clubs making the jump from the second tier. Either way, the suits could decide they need a new man or a new plan or whatever as they get into that fancy ground being built in the capital city St. Paul.

And then there is Seattle, where the ground beneath Sigi Schmid’s feet seems increasingly unstable. It was all pretty tenuous after the Sounders went no further than MLS final eight last season, so it’s fair to say last place in the West (currently) won’t be the bounce back year Schmid sorely needed.

Ben Olsen at D.C. United or Jay Heaps at New England could be in danger if they don’t make the playoffs, and there’s a reasonable chance one won’t.

So there you have it. Head coaching vacancies today, likely more tomorrow. Here’s a look at who could fill those spots. (Listed in order of likelihood to get the interviews.)

Jason Kreis

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Last seen: I slight disbelief outside Yankee Stadium. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Dossier: People around MLS aren’t stupid. Nor are they negligently forgetful. Why is that important? Because they understand that Kreis’ chances at New York City FC died the minute the nebulous City Football Group handed him two late-30 something DPs, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard, and more or less demanded a playoff appearance, even though expansion outfits don’t typically get there. Meanwhile, everyone remembers how he built a bully on a budget. Real Salt Lake claimed MLS Cup in 2009 – Kreis remains the youngest coach to lift that bad boy – and almost won again in 2013.

Possible landing spots: Given his experience at expansion NYCFC, it seems highly unlikely Kreis would wade into what looks like choppy ownership waters in Orlando. On the other hand, if Seattle comes open … well, there’s an obvious connection there: he and former Garth Lagerwey (now Sounders president and general manager) were the party planners for all those good times at RSL’s Rio Tinto Stadium.

Tab Ramos

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Last seen: Helping the U.S. at the Centenario. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Dossier: The U.S. national team assistant and U.S. under-20 head coach was an early candidate in Chicago last year as Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez looked for choices to replace Frank Yallop. (And you wonder if Rodriguez, watching his club languish in last place in the East, might not want a do-over on this one.) He’s highly respected inside MLS communities and, at age 49, seeing plenty of younger managers in the league, might not want to wait forever.

Possible landing spots: Chicago, if it loses patience with Veljko Paunovic. Atlanta also looks like a decent possibility. Plus, he’s a “name,” which might appeal to the planet Hollywood crowd in L.A.

Bob Bradley

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Last seen: Considering the existential significance of one goal deciding French promotion. (Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports)

Dossier: The former U.S. national team manager, 58, has made no secret of his desire to keep chopping wood in Europe, courageously seeking ever tougher proving grounds. Bradley is about to start a second season at Le Havre, where he recently came so tantalizingly close to pushing the second-tier side into Ligue 1.  Bradley may well keep chasing bigger and better; then again, any MLS club would be foolish not to make inquiries, at least. And sooner or later, the guy who built a stable platform at Chivas USA (against all odds, as we found out in the years to come) just might want to get closer to his grandchildren in North America. Besides, the MLS he left in 2006 bears almost zero resemblance to MLS today. Which is to say, it’s a different challenge, one he might just be interested in taking on.

Possible landing spots: Atlanta, where Carlos Bocanegra is the club’s technical director. Bocanegra had his best national team days under Bradley, who named him team captain.

Mike Petke

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Last seen: On the tee-vee, coping with RBNY's change of course. (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

Dossier: How could you not consider the first guy to finally drag a trophy into the New York Red Bulls’ locker room (the 2013 Supporters Shield)? Petke was cruising at the New Jersey club when the rug got yanked by new management’s newfangled plan (which, in fairness, is working out fine.) He was 32-22-21, not bad at all in a parity driven league. Heck, right now that kind of winning percentage would be dashing away with the Eastern Conference crown.

Possible landing spots: The question with Petke is whether he even wants to be considered beyond his native New York region; that man is more New York than a classic pastrami on rye. If changes were made, perhaps New England or Washington would be sufficiently “East Coast” for him.

Richie Williams

Andrés Piña-ISI Photos

Last seen: Helping the correct the course at RSL. (Andrés Piña-ISI Photos)

Dossier:  Somebody is bound to hand this guy the full managerial post at some point. He’s been an assistant at pretty much every level of the U.S. coaching community, in college, in MLS and on the national team staff. Williams, who played 216 games in the league, is currently an assistant under Jeff Cassar at RSL.

Possible landing spots: Houston if Barrett cannot retain momentum. This would be Dynamo general manager Matt Jordan’s first MLS coaching appointment, so it’s difficult to say which way he’ll go (other than saying, repeatedly that he’s determined to take his time in assessing all options.

Wilmer Cabrera

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Last seen: Paying his dues in USL. (Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports)

Dossier: No, Cabrera didn’t do well at Chivas USA. But c’mon. We could roll Jose Mourinho, Rinus Michels and Mario Zagallo all into one, and he might have struggled to get above .500 at that misguided, lost cause of a franchise (R.I.P.). Cabrera now runs the Houston Dynamo’s USL affiliate, Rio Grande Valley FC. More importantly, Cabrera has close ties with FC Dallas’ Oscar Pareja, as an assistant previously at Colorado and on the U.S. national team youth staff. Cabrera’s work with the U.S. under-17 and under-18 teams and his Colombian nationality makes him look and sound a lot like Pareja.

Possible landing spots: Minnesota, Houston or any team that decides to build a on budget, through youth development channels, the way Pareja and his bunch have in Dallas.

Steve Ralston

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Last seen: Serving his apprenticeship under one of the standard-bearers. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Dossier: Few know MLS like Ralston. He spent years as the league’s all-time assist leader (before Landon Donovan assumed the top spot) and has spent the last few years deputizing under Dominic Kinnear, who certainly knows a thing or two about the league’s unique quirks.

Possible landing spots: Minnesota, Atlanta or Houston.

Adrian Heath

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last seen: At dinner with Phil Rawlins. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Dossier: It’s difficult to gauge how Heath’s time at Orlando will be judged. He nearly got the expansion team into the playoffs last year, and his team’s signature was its never-say-die fight and ability to rally. Then again, as colleague Graham Parker so wisely put it, Heath “built a team that's tough to beat but sometimes forgets to win.”

Possible landing spots: Minnesota has an English head coach at the moment in Newcastle native Carl Craig, so another Brit would not be a stretch.

Marcelo Bielsa

Last seen: Scratching the Italian stamp out of this Argentine passport.

Dossier: Yeah, a little bit of a flier here. Then again, who knows? Maybe the man who put Chile in such a good place in international soccer is so frustrated by this ridiculous episode at Lazio he’ll seek something that looks less like a three-legged stool. MLS has its faults, but generally speaking, the business is handled correctly.

Possible landing spots: Remember that part (above) about Orlando perhaps chasing a big name, especially with growing concerns about a fan base adrift (a bad thing to have when they’ve got a new stadium opening, one that ideally gets stuffed with season ticket holders).

Tony Pulis

Last seen: Enforcing a minimum height on all central defenders.

Dossier: Lots of connections make him a candidate for Orlando. That’s only if England’s West Brom gets right into the relegation fight – decent chance of that according to oddsmakers – and deciders around the Hawthorns make a change. If so … 

Possible landing spots: Pulis’ son, Anthony Pulis, coaches Orlando City B. And consider that OCSC owner Phil Rawlins was on the Stoke board as Pulis managed from 2002-2005 (information pointed out from the smarties over at The Mane Land.) Yes, there is an evolving dynamic at Orlando (documented well here) and, yes, he’d be expensive. But Orlando will certainly spend; it’s paying the frustratingly brittle Kaka $7 million this year to make just over half the team’s starts so far.

More features at FourFourTwo.com/us/

Steve Davis writes a weekly column for FourFourTwo USA. Follow him on Twitter @SteveDavis90.

Topics