MLS

MLS Soccer 2014 Predictions: Coaches Most Likely to Be Fired Early in the Season

Sep 11, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen on the bench against the Chicago Fire at BMO Field. Chicago and Toronto tied 1-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Spo
Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2014

When it comes to managing a soccer team, you know it's always better to rent than lay down a payment on a new house.

This past offseason saw a lot of turnover in Major League Soccer, with eight new coaches taking over ahead of the 2014 season.

While that limits the potential pool for the sack race, you can bet that plenty of coaches will be sitting on the hot seat from the opening week and beyond. These three appear the most under threat to not finish the season with their current clubs.

 

Ryan Nelsen, Toronto FC

Jan 13, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto FC new players Jermain Defoe (left) and Michael Bradley (middle) are introduced while seated next to head coach Ryan Nelsen during a press conference at Real Sports Bar and Grill. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szcze
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

It doesn't matter how poorly Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, Julio Cesar and Gilberto play this season; Ryan Nelsen will be first to go if things don't start off well a Toronto FC. Sacking the coach is much easier than sacking the players.

The fact that he is still the manager is a little surprising. You can draw a parallel to Jason Kidd and the Brooklyn Nets. The team hired a rookie coach to lead a bunch of aging veterans with a win-now mantra. While the Nets have leveled off, the results were comical early in the season.

Unfortunately for Nelsen, he doesn't have an 82-game season to make things right.

He already has a season under his belt, but he remains a coaching neophyte, going right from Queens Park Rangers to TFC.

To his credit, Nelsen already has the respect and faith of Bradley, per Kurtis Larson of the Toronto Sun:

“Even when you look back at Ryan’s career as a player, he was a leader, he was a competitor, he was somebody who even on the field, other guys looked to him,” Bradley said. “When now you talk about the transition into being a coach, I think he’s done a great job with that and I think there’s no doubt who now is the person that’s going to be bringing us forward.”

Melding all these high-profile acquisitions won't be easy, though, and you have to believe that Nelsen won't have a long leash in the event Toronto FC struggles out of the gate.

No pressure, man.

 

Ben Olsen, D.C. United

Oct 27, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; DC United head coach Ben Olsen stands on the sidelines during the second half against the Houston Dynamo at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The hot seat and Ben Olsen are old friends by now.

This is a conversation that he's been having as far back as May 2013. D.C. United may have made the Eastern Conference final in 2012, but soccer is often a win-now business where you're only as good as your last performance. Finishing last in 2013 means Olsen doesn't have a lot of room for error in 2014.

The fact that United have had a poor offseason doesn't help. With both Maurice Edu and Marco Pappa sitting there in the allocation pool, the club traded its top allocation ranking for Jeff Parke. Parke is a solid defender, but the fact that D.C. United would rather have him than either Edu or Pappa sends the image that ownership is cheap and lacks ambition.

It also signed Eddie Johnson to a designated player contract, per Steven Goff of The Washington Post:

That's the kind of move that could go either way. Johnson played well for the Seattle Sounders, but at 29 years of age, shouldering him with the goal-scoring burden may lead to trouble.

All in all, this D.C. United team looks old and slow on paper, and Olsen may lose whatever equity he's built with Erick Thohir.

 

Sigi Schmid, Seattle Sounders

Jun 8, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid during the National anthem prior to the game between the Seattle Sounders FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps FC at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Vancouver 3-2. Mandatory Credit: S
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Clint Dempsey undoubtedly brought a lot of attention to the Seattle Sounders and made the club a lot better on paper. It also made Sigi Schmid's job a lot harder, too.

When an MLS club splashes a lot of money to bring a player like Dempsey in, results are expected.

Oct 30, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey (2) during pre game warm ups prior to the game against the Colorado Rapids at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

It would seem crazy that Schmid would be considered expendable by the Sounders. He's the only coach the club has ever known since arriving in the league.

However, the fact that Seattle has yet to win an MLS Cup may catch up with Schmid. Not to mention the club's early season struggles last year and subsequent fourth-place finish in the Western Conference.

Speaking to Joshua Mayers of the Seattle Times, the 60-year-old said, "You can never stagnate. The moment you stagnate is the moment you go backwards."

Mayers went on to write:

Simply put, that is something the Sounders can’t afford after another season without a trophy or MLS Cup appearance. More accurately, that is something Schmid can’t afford if he is going to keep his job.

Add that pressure to the fragility of what some might label a rebuilding year, as more than a dozen new players are on the roster, and this looks to be a defining chapter for the future of the franchise.

Schmid is in the last year of his contract, with an option in place for 2015. You could see it where Seattle starts poorly, and Schmid worries that the club isn't moving forward. Rather than seeing out the duration of the contract knowing full well he won't be back, the manager comes to a mutual consensus with Adrian Hanauer that stepping away midseason is the better move.

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