Coaches Show How MLS clubs Will Use USL PRO

Who the teams hired to coach reflect the philosophies that will be used
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, January 01, 2015

Major League Soccer (MLS) 2012 Season Preview

How the MLS clubs looks at how their in-house USL PRO teams will develop players for the parent club is starting to become quite clear.

All one has to do is look at who was hired as their coaches.

Most are hiring from within for their USL PRO clubs. However, where those coaches came from are vastly different.

Last week, Real Salt Lake announced that Freddie Juarez would coach their USL PRO side, Real Monarchs. Juarez’ background is at the academy level, having overseen RSL’s Arizona academy for four years and won national titles and developed more than 70 players who advanced to college and pro levels. RSL is looking at Juarez, who played in the old A-League/USL First Division in El Paso and Minnesota, as someone who can develop young players at the USL Pro level and get them ready for the big club.

This is a different approach than what the Seattle Sounders has taken. They promoted Ezra Hendrickson, a long-time assistant under Sigi Schmid in Seattle (and a former player for Schmid in Columbus and Los Angeles), to become head coach for Sounders FC 2. The plan there will be to run the same systems as Schmidt uses with the Sounders, while developing players who can step in on the MLS level as needed and getting playing time for those who can’t break into the first team. Hendrickson can also point to himself as a success story, playing 12 seasons in MLS and winning MLS Cups at DC United and Columbus.

While it’s a similar approach being done in Portland, the Timbers went outside the organization for their coach and snagged one of the biggest names in college soccer in Jay Vidovich. He had spent 21 years as Wake Forest head coach before being lured to Cascadia to oversee Timbers 2, developing numerous players who would go on to MLS (including 11 first-round picks in the SuperDraft, second only to UCLA). It was his skill in developing players while maintaining a top program at Wake Forest that made him the coach Caleb Porter wanted for the USL PRO side, and that Vidovich will also be one of Porter’s assistants with the first team as well as coaching Timbers 2 shows how much he will be relied on in all levels of Portland’s organization.

While RSL, Seattle and Portland went for those with no experience as a head coach on the professional level, LA Galaxy II went for a coach who not only was a top assistant to Bruce Arena, but also was an MLS head coach, as well. Curt Onalfo led the Kansas City Wizards from 2007-09 and DC United for part of 2010 before becoming a Galaxy assistant. He also was an assistant to Arena for the US Men’s National Team and for a time was an assistant for the USMNT’s U-23 side. His responsibility to mesh the Galaxy reserves with young players being developed worked well on numerous levels in 2014, as Galaxy II finished third in USL Pro. Players like Robbie Rogers were able to get valuable time under Onalfo before heading back to the first team, while graduates from the Galaxy’s academy got valuable professional experience and were able to learn from a coach with an impressive MLS background.

One team that still hasn’t hired a coach for their USL PRO side is Vancouver. Whitecaps FC 2 seems well behind RSL, Seattle and Portland in getting their team together, but they have already decided to end their U-23 PDL club as part of their commitment to USL PRO (Seattle and Portland are keeping their U-23 PDL teams for now). They are also well behind Montréal, who already have a coach, a club name (FC Montréal) and a program set up. But they might be ahead of Toronto FC, who has a coach for their USL Pro club but not much else, not even a name.

Speaking of Montréal, they went with a coach with college, semi-pro and academy experience in Philippe Eullaffroy. The former Troyes AC star was a successful coach at McGill University, won a Canadian Soccer League title with Trois-Rivières (who were affiliated with the Impact) and coached the Impact’s academy side for five years before being named as FC Montréal coach. He’s been a stable presence among the Impact’s instability, and he’s been rewarded with top job with FC Montréal. His experience with all levels of the Impact will be vital as the USL PRO club comes to form.

As for Toronto, they have a USL PRO coach, but that’s about it. Jason Bent, much like Eullaffroy in Montréal, has survived much of the craziness that always seems to surround TFC, whether as an academy coach or as an assistant with the Reds. But he also brings a unique qualification to the job; he’s a former Canadian international, having 32 caps with the national team. If Toronto is looking to develop Canadian talent at the USL PRO level, Bent is a good role model to have.

In all, six MLS clubs will have their own USL PRO sides in 2015. Each club’s choice of coach (except Vancouver, who don’t have a coach yet) reflects a specific philosophy in how they look at their new team. While the Galaxy got a head start, the other clubs are developing their own strategies for how they will use their USL PRO teams within their organizations.

We will also learn how much development will be taking place, and whether systems and the pressure to win will turn them into glorified reserve sides.

But, unlike past years, at least the six clubs have control on what happens.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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