The Export of American Coaches

The next generation of MLS coaches will outgrow the league soon
by Robert Hay   |   Friday, December 13, 2013

Soccer Americana - column on the intersection of American culture and soccer in media, politics and pop-culture

Days after his team’s narrow loss in the MLS Cup, Jason Kreis announced he would leave Real Salt Lake to take the head coaching job at New York City FC, which is slated to join MLS in 2015.

However, NYCFC might have been looking at the wrong sideline in their search for a head coach for their inaugural season. In the other dugout was another MLS veteran who had imprinted a successful team with his own style of play and achieved incredible success, considering where his team had been prior to his hiring: Peter Vermes. Vermes had successfully led a rebrand on the field while the Kansas City franchise off the field had its own rebranding.

As MLS approaches the end of its teenage years, it is beginning to draw into its coaching ranks its own players, just as any healthy league would do. This next generation of coaches, in their 30s and 40s, bring a uniquely American perspective to the beautiful game and create a class of coaches that one day soon will be ambassadors to the world of the American style of soccer. Much has been made of Bob Bradley’s journey outside of the United States and its rarity, but soon this will not be unusual. Just as American players are becoming more common as major contributors to high-profile European teams, our coaches will soon be prowling the sidelines of major European clubs.

Of course this notion brings scorn from European soccer fans. Players who can contribute as 1 among 18 is one thing, but European clubs in the biggest leagues are very unlikely to hire an American coach. They either stick to coaches from their own nationality/coaching school, or poach big-name coaches from other leagues. From the current trends, there is no place for an MLS coach.

There are, however, a few factors working against this trend. Increasingly, American owners are investing in European clubs, and some of these owners (Stan Kroenke, Arsenals’ majority shareholder, for example) are also MLS investors. MLS teams are travelling more and playing friendlies against European powers, allowing the staffs to make connections and the Americans to impress their European counterparts. DC United now has a partnership agreement with Inter Milan where staff will be shared, and such an agreement may become more common.

But the biggest reason that we may soon see more American coaches in the major leagues is that we are seeing a new influx of former players who have shown their ability to coach. Besides the 2 successful managers in MLS Cup, there are a number of promising names populating the coaching ranks. Mike Petke and Caleb Porter both were MLS Coach of the Year candidates in their first years in MLS (Porter actually won the award), and both were able to overcome unique obstacles to succeed in the current clubs. Other coaches like Jay Heaps, Ben Olsen and John Hackworth have shown that they could be stars in the future if their teams are set right. This does not even include stalwarts like Dom Kinnear who, if given the chance, probably could succeed in the lower leagues in Europe.

Due strictly to sheer numbers and playing experience, we are seeing a much deeper bench of American coaches who are finding success in their own league and gaining potential experience that could carry overseas.

While we still may have to wait a few years for an American coach to get the chance at a “name” club, inevitably we will see a Yank standing on the touchline in the EPL and it will be as common as seeing an American in the starting XI.

Robert HAY

Club Domestic:
DC United
Club Foreign:
Arsenal & Bari
By day, saving the world in Washington D.C. By night, morphing into a soccer writer & podcaster. Serie A & MLS fan that writes about the intersection of soccer & American culture & how the two influence each other in politics, media & pop culture.