News broke out earlier this week that the San Jose Earthquakes had made their hire for the vacancy at head coach: Matias Almeyda.
Some readers will, understandably, not recognize Almeyda’s name. He’s never coached in Europe or at the international level, which means that he hasn’t been under the kind of heightened global exposure that one gets for managing in the World Cup or the UEFA Champion’s League. Still, he’s got quite the CV. His first coaching job was to restore the famed River Plate back to the Argentine first division. After that season, he went to a less prestigious Argentine club in the 2nd division, Banfield, and also got them up to the top flight. He then went to Mexico and brought Chivas back from the brink of relegation, winning 4 trophies, including 2 Copa MX’s and this year’s CONCACAF Champion’s League. Which makes him one of the biggest coaches on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
But, here’s the thing. As of late, we’ve begun to see a number of notable names jump to MLS. Rémi Garde joined the Montreal Impact earlier this year, having managed a surprisingly good Lyon side in France, followed by a disastrously bad Aston Villa side in England, in years previous. Domènec Torrent, the coach for NYCFC after Patrick Viera left to join Nice in Ligue 1, was the assistant for Pep Guardiola for the entirety of that historic spell at Barcelona (including Pep’s time with Barcelona B), up until this year. We’ve seen a pair of Americans return to the league after mixed success abroad in Gregg Berhalter and Bob Bradley. But, of course, the big name is Tata Martino. After leaving Barcelona and then the Argentine national team, Martino, originally made famous for his time with the Paraguayan national team and a slew of Argentine and Paraguayan clubs, joined Atlanta United as their first ever manager.
Historically, MLS has been a very insular league, at least as coaching goes. The common refrain used to be that you had to have played or been an assistant with either a club or the national team in order to succeed as a manager in MLS. However, the disastrous days of the likes of Ruud Gullit and Juan Carlos Osorio are clearly long gone. MLS is now attracting a higher calibre of manager, pulling from both Europe and the Americas.
But what does that mean for American soccer?
Not every incoming star manager is going to be a success in MLS. While Berhalter, Bradley, and Martino have performed well this and other recent seasons, Guarde has had a rougher spell and the Impact may yet miss the playoffs. Still, this is an indication that coaching quality in the league is improving. Even as some clubs hire retreads and assistants, others are demonstrating a greater ambition. And to keep up with the fruit of that ambition, clubs must begin to match it, or else be left in the dust. When one manager takes a risk and sees that risk pay off, the opposing managers have to either figure out how to accommodate that risk, how to copy it, or how to thwart it. They, in turn, have to step up their game, or else see results falter and, eventually, lose their jobs. That kind of competitive pressure forces improvement. We’ve been able to see that, with coaches like Peter Vermes, Oscar Pareja, and Jesse Marsch, the quality of American coaches today is a clear step up from the coaches of 10 or 15 years ago.
With that increase in quality in the manager pool comes, obviously, better managing. But that managing trickles down. A good manager will improve his players, pushing them to play in ways that are more skillful and more tactically astute. It also passes to the coaching staff, improving them before they ever reach the position of head coach. And, whether we like it or not, those managers who find success have a high chance of moving into the national team jobs. Which means that bringing in good managers will indirectly lead to improvements in the national team. That’s the sort of virtuous cycle that drives up the quality of American soccer.
It also means that more and more coaches will make the jump abroad. It was only in 2011 that Berhalter became the first American to manage a top flight European league. Then came Bradley’s short and poor spell with Swansea in the English Premier League, followed by David Wagner with Huddersfield (though Wagner was raised in Germany.) Now, we’ve seen Marsch and Viera (who’s first head coaching job was in the league) make the jump to Europe this past summer. One more, and its a trend.
All of this signals to how much MLS has improved as a league (and how much the clubs are beginning to pay for talent.) More high quality managers means higher quality play. Higher quality play means more players and more managers going to Europe (and, hopefully, succeeding). And that brings the sort of reputation that attracts yet more high quality managers.
I don’t know if Almeyda himself will be a success in MLS or not. The San Jose Earthquakes have been dire all year, so success certainly won’t be assured. But either way, his hiring does show a sort of growth that is good for American soccer.
What do you think? Which managers are most exciting — or most disappointing — for you in the league? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.