MLS, as a league, has a bit of a habit of hiring and firing the same coaches over and over again. Case and point: 15 of 18 currently employed MLS head coaches have previously coached with a different MLS club, either as a head coach or as an assistant.
There’s a logical reason for coaching carousel in MLS. Attaining a high level of performance, while also navigating the draconian MLS roster regulations, is a learned skill. A skill that often requires on-the-job experience to fully master. Countless international coaches have come and gone, undone by the MLS imposed roster limitations.
That’s why it’s entirely possible, if not likely, that the Revs select a manager from the below list of the recently unemployed.
ELEVEN coaching changes in MLS this season:
1. #CF97 Hendrickson
2. #RBNY Struber
3. #InterMiamiCF Neville
4. #TFCLive Bradley
5. #RCTID Savarese
6. #Rapids96 Fraser
7. #NERevs Arena
8. #LegionOfLoons Heath
9. #VamosUnited Rooney
10. #ForTheCrown Lattanzio
11. #CFMTL Losada
— MLS NETWORK (@mlsnetwork) November 9, 2023
There are, of course, alternatives. They could go and poach an existing coach whose contract may be running out or elevate an assistant coach, or even hire from outside the league entirely.
For the purposes of this article, however, lets limit our scope to the usual former/current MLS coaching candidates. Let’s break down the best options, their track records, and how they might fit in New England.
Why New England Should Be an Attractive Opportunity
While fans are feeling the frustration of yet another disappointing season, there’s reasons for optimism for next season. As recently as August, the team was sitting pretty, on 1.84 points-per-game, and competing for Supporter’s Shield. It was only after MLS announced their investigation of Bruce Arena, and the following coaching/staff shakeup, that things started to take a turn for the worse.
The roster has the talent to compete.
Unlike many clubs with a coaching vacancy, the Revs aren’t really in “teardown/rebuild” mode. They have, arguably, one of the best attacking midfielders in the league in Carles Gil. That’s a focal point to build around.
Not much building will be necessary, however. The Revs have already supplemented their attack with a DP center forward, a 22-Under-22 caliber winger, and another DP out on the other wing. Behind that formidable attack lies a boot room full of talented veteran (and not so veteran) central midfielders, and a defense that, when healthy, profiles as top 1/3.
There is, of course, a downside to having a nearly complete roster. It limits the ways a new coaching prospects can put their stamp on the team. If you’re a coach that likes to play a specific style, you won’t have much ability to bring in reinforcements to support that style.
That’s especially limiting as it pertains to Designated Players. Pending further news, MLS allows just 3 players to receive salaries above $1.65M per year. With the signing of Tomas Chancalay to a permanent deal, New England has all 3 of their DP slots filled. Any new coach looking to bring in an impact player would need to exercise an expensive buy-out-clause in order to free up the roster space to do so.
Some Available Coaching Options
MLS Coaching Record:
- MLS Cup Runner-Up: 2018, 2021
- MLS Playoffs in 4 of 5 full seasons in charge
- “MLS-is-Back” winner: 2020
Savarese is my top choice among former MLS coaches. His 1.76 points-per-game as an MLS coach are by far the best of the available options.
More than just regular season success, Savarese has a reputation of building teams that execute well in tournament formats. In 5 seasons as head coach with the Timbers, he advanced his club to MLS cup twice and won the “MLS-is-Back” knockout tournament. New England has struggled in recent years in those types of tournaments. If MLS cup is the goal, Gio could be the answer.
Add in some local roots, with Savarase playing for the Revolution back in 1999, and you’ve got a compelling candidate for the head coaching position.
With Hernan Losada out in Montreal this morning and Christian Lattanzio out in Charlotte yesterday, there are seven open @MLS jobs…
I have zero inside info, but Savarese feels like a good bet for the Revs. We'll discuss the openings on @Extratime!
— Andrew Wiebe (@andrew_wiebe) November 9, 2023
It appears that I’m not the only one who thinks so.
The knock on Savarese is that his tactics don’t work well against all opponents. For years the trope with the timbers is that they would lose the easy games and win the hard ones. Savarese’s tactics often made use of direct/high pace counter-attacks and… not much else. This meant that against teams that were willing to cede possession, the Timbers had a hard time breaking them down with the ball.
On the other hand, seemingly no matter how bad their record was, you could always count on them to mollywhop the Sounders.
That sort of gameplan may work particularly well in the playoffs, against teams with a set identity, but won’t provide the type of consistency that wins Supporters Shields.
MLS Coaching Record:
- MLS Cup Winner: 1998
- US Open Cup Winner: 1998, 2000
- Supporters Shield: 2019
- Canadian Championship: 2020
- MLS Coach of the Year: 1998, 2006, 2019
Bob Bradley is one of the elite old-guard of MLS coaches, in the same way that Bruce Arena was (slash is?). He got his first MLS head coaching gig with Chicago in 1998 (after being an assistant coach under Arena at DC) and never looked back. He’s coached 5 different MLS clubs (Chicago Fire, NY/NJ Metrostars, Chivas USA, LAFC, Toronto FC), as well as 2 national teams (USA, Egypt). This doesn’t include managerial stints in Europe with Stabaek, Le Havre, and Swansea.
You don’t earn that kind of resume without knowing what you’re doing. Particularly not in the high-turnover coaching field. And he has the results to back that resume up. Across 5 clubs, Bradley has amassed the third most wins in MLS coaching history, behind only Arena and the late Sigi Schmidt.
He has a respectable trophy cabinet winning MLS cup in 1998 and a pair of US Open Cup titles in ’98 and 2000. He also, more recently, molded and guided what is generally considered to be one of the best MLS teams in league history — in 2019 LAFC.
There’s also his reputation as a tactician and a student of the game. Those qualities have helped him develop and mold players like Sacha Kljestan and Carlos Vela, as well as eventual coaches like Jesse Marsch and Jim Curtin.
He would command instant respect within the locker room in a way that very few coaches can.
The first, obvious hurdle, is that he’s not technically available at time of writing. He’s currently coaching (for a second time) with Stabaek in Norway, where he’s attempting to help them avoid relegation. Since his arrival, they’ve risen in the standings to 13th on the back of a 3-4-3 record since September. If he’s able to keep them on track, he may not even be available.
There are also downsides to Bradley as a manager. His career isn’t littered with wins at every stop. One need only look as far back as…July to see what I’m talking about. For all his tactical vision, he was unable to take a high spending Toronto FC team and make them remotely competitive. Toronto was poised to make a huge leap on the backs of players like Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi in 2023, and instead found themselves at the bottom of the table. For all his reputation for developing young players, Toronto failed to get the most out of their academy during his time there.
Now, it’s fair to say that Toronto FC’s Front Office has been the subject of some controversy that could have contributed to a lack of success. It’s also fair to say that New England finds themselves in a similar boat.
MLS Coaching Record:
- Western Conference Winner 2021
Let me know if this sounds familiar: An MLS team finds themselves in dire straights in 2019, lacking in ambition and promise. They fire their head coach, a former USMNT player, after a poor run of form. A New coach arrives, and suddenly their fortunes turn around. The team finishes 2019 on a blazing pace, earning above 1.6ppg to end the year. COVID makes 2020 a weird season, but they make the playoffs. In 2021, under this coach, they hit their stride and win their conference, even if they weren’t able to win MLS Cup.
If you haven’t figured it out yet… the above timeline is true of both the New England Revolution under Bruce Arena AND the Colorado Rapids under Robin Fraser.
Things took a marked downturn, for both managers really, in 2022 and beyond — but the similarities are there.
Fraser got his shot with with Colorado by being regarded as one of the best assistant coaches in the league. He was with Toronto FC during their most successful run. He brought some of that success with him to Colorado. His 13 wins, 43 points, and 47 goals were the best of any Rapids manager through their first 25 matches. It all culminated in 2021, with the Rapids topping the western conference.
All of that in spite of Colorado’s continued lack of investment into the roster. The Rapids consistently failed to bring in high level impact players. Fraser was able to rely on young players like Cole Bassett and Jonathan Lewis while maximizing value from intra-league trades to find success.
Well success for a short time, anyways. 2022 and 2023 went the way a lot of Rapids seasons end up going.
Like Bruce Arena, Fraser followed up a conference leading 2021 with a 10th place conference finish in 2022. And it was right back down to the basement in 2023.
While Fraser got the most out of a shoe-string budget roster in 2019-2021, that type of success is fleeting. Eventually talent wins out, and Colorado never had the best talent.
That talent deficit became more apparent through Fraser’s possession oriented playstyle. Positional play and trying to control the game through possession can be effective tactics but it requires mistake free soccer. The Rapids did not play mistake free soccer.
- MLS Cup Winner: 2015, 2020
- Campeones Cup Winner: 2021
- Western Conference Winner: 2013, 2017
- MLS Coach of the Year: 2013
I mean, a pair of MLS Cup wins is a pretty good haul for any MLS coach, especially over 9 seasons as a head coach. That he was able to win MLS Cup with 2 different franchises also bodes well and shows that his coaching style is transferrable.
Revs fans who followed the team during the Bruce-Era will likely remember New England’s 2020 playoff run. A last gasp winner against Montreal, in a play-in game, would give the Revs the juice to earn huge playoff road-wins against the Philadelphia Union and Orlando City SC.
This would set up an Eastern Conference Final matchup against Porter and the Columbus Crew.
Revs fans who followed the team during the Bruce-Era will also likely remember how that game ended. New England fought valiantly, in what was a close affair, but eventually Porter’s Crew would find the go ahead goal late. His 1-0 win over Arena and the Revolution opened the door for him to earn his 2nd MLS cup.
His style of play is effective.
You can see that in his stats above.
But, while it is effective, it isn’t the most exciting.
He tends to play a possession heavy 4-2-3-1. That format leads to good control of the game, but also tends to slow things down. In 2022, the Crew were one of the slowest teams in the league at advancing the ball upfield.
This playstyle also isn’t the most consistent.
Porter claimed a bit of a reputation for failing to turn initial success into lasting success. He would yo-yo between making a deep playoff run one year, and missing the post-season entirely the following year.
Another issue appears to be with player management. Where other coaches on this list may have been able to out-perform the talent on their roster, that doesn’t appear to be present with Porter.
His demeanor during press conferences often felt defensive. He was quick to find faults with his players, as opposed to with his system. That could be why, even when his rosters were flooded with talent, like Lucas Zelarayan and Cucho Hernandez, they still struggled to find consistency.
MLS Coaching Record:
- MLS Cup Winner: 2001, 2003, 2006, 2007
- Supporters Shield: 2005
- Conference Winner: 2003, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012
Just a quick peek behind the curtain. This article was finished. Done and dusted. Mid proof-read, this news drops:
I can confirm that the New England Revolution have had discussions with Caleb Porter. The team has also expressed interest in Robin Fraser and Dominic Kinnear.@TommyQuinlan_IV was first on Porter. #NERevs
— Seth (@SethMan31) December 4, 2023
News moves quick when you write slow.
Luckily all the names (including Bob Bradley in another post) have already been mentioned. Well, all except Kinnear, that is.
The reason for that is mostly “out of sight, out of mind” on my part. Kinnear has a long and storied MLS coaching career, but hasn’t been hired for a head-coaching gig since 2014. Since then he’s been an assistant coach for the LA Galaxy (assuming interim duties twice) and with FC Cincinnati.
As someone who got into MLS about 10 years ago, I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember a ton of the highly successful Dom Kinnear teams in Houston or in San Jose. And that’s not fair, because by all accounts he was a well liked and well respected coach, who expected (and often got) the most out of his players.
He’s a tactically versatile coach, capable of making adjustments on the fly. While he has a reputation for expecting maximum effort, both in practice and in games, his former players have nice things to say about him. Without really having seen him as a head coach (outside of limited interim roles) since 2017, it’s hard to say which of those coaching tendencies are still in place.
He’s hardly a new or exciting hire. While he has a hefty resume from the MLS 1.0-2.0 eras he never quite amassed the reputation that Arena, or Bradley, or Schmidt did. Nor did he experience the continued success of Arena or Bradley in the MLS 3.0+ eras.
As a result this sort of feels like reaching into the past and hoping the success translates to a modern era. It could work out, or it could go like 2016 in Houston.
Bonus – Oscar Pareja:
- Supporter’s Shield: 2016
- US Open Cup Winner: 2016, 2022
There are lots of good reasons to give Pareja a look if you’re the revs. I’ll let MLSSoccer’s Matt Doyle do most of the heavy lifting:
– 4 straight playoff appearances (team had 0 before him)
– US Open Cup title (team had 0 trophies before him)
– two straight CCL appearances (team had 0 before him)
– team record for points
– team record for wins
– multiple young players developed & sold https://t.co/kgqnK1PIp6
— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) November 26, 2023
The obvious con here, is that he’s possibly not available. He’s currently out of contract with Orlando City, but there’s optimism within that camp that he will re-sign.
🚨Head Coach Oscar Pareja had a meeting today with the club regarding the duration of his possible new contract, and it seems that the negotiation is progressing positively. Let's hope it continues in the same direction.#orlandocity
— Alonso Contreras (@alonso_purple) December 1, 2023
Photo Credit: MLS