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Who would you hire to coach your MLS expansion team?

Paul Mariner ( 

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With rumors circulating that the Philadelphia Union has already selected its first head coach, you have to wonder just who are the best head coaching candidates in MLS these days. With foreign coaches in recent years showing that coaching in MLS without experience in the league is extremely difficult, it is difficult to imagine that Philadelphia, or any of the upcoming expansion teams, would turn to coaches who didn't know the league well.

So who are the best head coaching candidates out there? New England assistant Paul Mariner (pictured), Houston assistant John Spencer, New York assistant Richie Williams, U.S. national team assistant Peter Nowak and Kansas City general manager Peter Vermes are among the most respected names, while several former MLS head coaches, such as Puerto Rico Islanders head coach Colin Clark and LA Galaxy assistant Dave Sarachan are also possibilities.

Who would you hire? If you were set to launch an expansion team next year which head coach would you look to be signing up this summer?

Share your selection, and why you would pick them, in the comments section below.


  1. Jay Vidovich.

    He has built a dynasty at wake forest. He’s going to make a great pro coach one day but probably won’t beat out a big name coach for philly.

  2. Not one mention of Coby Jones. Career in MLS. USMNT mainstay. Played with a variety of excellent players and under a wide array of coaches. Won two championships and played in another one or two. Three years on the Galaxy bench.

    Only downside is I hear he’s a bit of a prima donna but what the hell? Arrogance plays a huge role in getting things done.

    I vote for Coby Jones…

  3. I heard the sunderland coach wants to come here and coach, hes a good coach before sunderland he coached under sir alex.Ohh yeah…and he is scottish!

  4. I still hope(ever since the Arena firing) that Mariner will be Red Bulls next head coach!!!

    So if Philly will follow the new MLS tradition, their head coach will be who ever wins MLS cup this year

  5. Wol,

    I’m no New England fan, but I think that they have a pretty good set-up there. Sure they’ve choked in a few MLS finals, but Steve Nicol, and I would think by extension Paul Mariner, have put a good system in place and know what to do when it comes to building a team and having that team be competitive. I’d rather have Peter Nowak continue with the US Nats and I figure Dave Sarachan sucked in Chicago and Colin Clarke sucked in Dallas. John Spencer, I don’t know much about other than his playing days and I’ve never heard of Afshin Ghobti, so I can’t comment on him. As for Richie Williams, when Osorio gets the boot, I’d want him to coach RBNY.

    So, given the choices, I’d say that Paul Mariner is the best candidate. And he played with Arsenal, so that’s that.

  6. Ruud Gullit struggled, but did he ever establish himself as a top-level manager anywhere? It was a weird hire.

    From a financial standpoint, hiring from within MLS seems like the best way to go, but I’ve never bought the “they have to know the system!” argument, used both for MLS and the USMNT. The fact is, I’d still take a top European manager over Bob Bradley or any MLS coach.

    I’m not suggesting we have the option of Nowak versus Mourinho or Bradley versus Hiddink, but if given the option “A or B?” I know which I’d choose.

    Could all European managers dominate in MLS? This is demonstrably not the case. Would hiring a truly top-level European manager be worth the price to an MLS club? Almost definitely not. But I don’t think we should play this game of telling ourselves that good foreign managers couldn’t hack it in our crazy, almost-impossible-to-understand system (not that this is necessarily the position Ives is taking…it’s just something I’ve heard over and over again…). I say, a good manager anywhere. There’s obviously an adjustment period for anyone, but I think that’s just the nature of moving to a new team in a new league.

  7. Is it only foreign coaches who have been “showing that coaching in MLS without experience in the league is extremely difficult”?

    Anyway, I second Afshin Ghotbi. A shame so few in the US know him, despite the fact that he’s an American who used to be an assistant in MLS. BBC’s international service had a very long feature on him a couple years ago.

  8. I would think Mariner would be the top candidate.

    I was hoping Chicago was going to hire the man. Instead it was a race to see who would accept less money to coach the club, Spencer or Hamlett. Spencer lost, which was a good thing for him and frustration for Chicago fans.

    I’d say fire Hamlett now and hire Mariner in Chicago. Denis would be a great fit for Philly. Maybe a Sarachan, Hamlett co-head coach combo would be even better!

  9. Isn’t Klinsmann still available? I know he was supposed to ship to man city, but… I guess Philadelphia can still dream.

  10. How could you not go with Paul Mariner. He was a good pro,…has international experience, has absolutely proven his worth as an assitant and knows all of the oddities that come along with the animal that is MLS. Not to mention,…he seems like a very decent person.

  11. Kaca wrote: “i’m hoping the only mls job nowak is interested in is replacing hamlett in chicago.”

    From your keyboard to God’s ears!

    Please, Lord, makes this happen today!

  12. coaches who are comfortable as an assistant coach should stay were their at. saracan’t doesn’t deserve another chance at head coach. not sure about mariner, spenser or williams. why doesn’t dave dir get another chance let alone a mention?

    i’m hoping the only mls job nowak is interested in is replacing hamlett in chicago.

    andy dick, larry brown lol!

  13. I never understand why Peter Vermes gets talked about in these discussions. He’s a good GM(arguably) but theres a difference in being a business guy and a coach of a team. First Im not even sure he has enough tactical knowledge to even be considered, I mean sure he was a former player but if that was the case then every former player would be a coach. Second, you have to learn how to man manage players who act, think and all feel differently. It might not be that much different than running an office you might say, but office life is a lot different than field life, theres alot of things you might do as a player that you might not even think about doing in a office. Im sure he knows this part of the deal somewhat but knowing it and managing it are 2 different things.

    Now Im not saying he isnt capable of being a coach, he might take the plunge in KC if things go bad, but when youre are talking about who I am going to hire when I have my pick of coaches, he’s got to be waaaaay down the line.

  14. I think part of the lesson from Seattle and the ongoing lesson from NE is how critical it is to have a management team. in the early days of DCU, you had Kevin Payne and Bruce Arena and that was the best braintrust in MLS in the early days. In Seattle, Henderson and Schmid put together an OUTSTANDING group of players that fit a cohesive, coherent style that the coach wants to play. With NE, Nicol and Mariner have been a yin and yang duo. It’s more than just getting a good coach, you need a good GM who knows soccer and will work well with that coach. I’m convinced that part of “Il Bruce’s” problem since the USNT is that he insisted on controlling all player issues at RBNY and LAG. And one of the things that MLS shows us with foreign coaches is that while you need a coach who’s heavily involved in scouting and draft evaluation (that means YOU Ruud Gullit), the coach can’t do everything on the personnel front. So it’s more than just choosing a coach.

    I think Nowak is a really good coach, especially for a team starting over. Before DCU even rolled out a ball in preseason, Nowak was asked how serious he was going to take the Carolina Cup and his response (I”m paraphrasing) was effectively “I want to win everything–there is no such thing as an acceptable loss.” He builds a mentality that says:
    –we work, we run, we hustle, we defend, we WILL win every 50-50 ball.
    –he creates an atmosphere that breeds confidence and success
    –it was under Nowak that Brian Carroll emerged, Ben Olsen discovered he could play central midfield, Alecko Eskandarian became a factor.

    Paul Mariner has always struck me as more than just a really good assistant coach but almost an alter ego of Steve Nicol. He’s have tremendous credibility with foreign talent. The NE staff has always done a great job with college scouting, know US talent resources well. My only dig against them is they don’t seem to have much patience with GenAd players and really young (teenage) Americans. If you’re only willing to draft college junior and seniors, that’s going to cut off a significant talent base. But it’s really hard to argue against Mariner.

    I personally think Steve Morrow is worth a look. He did a very under-rated job with FCD. He did a great job bringing in a lot of young talent. But he’d work only if you had a good GM pairing.

    Houston’s Spencer gets mentioned a lot. I don’t have enough of a feel/knowledge to really comment intelligently about his situation other than: foreign experience, MLS success, affiliated with a very good MLS program–certainly worth a look. But by those standards, you’d also hire Thomas Rongen too.

    I think if you look at expansion teams, it takes a lot more than just a good coach or someone good at development. You need someone who organizationally is strong, has a strong network into talent (domestically and internationally) and will work well with the GM. Otherwise you get a situation like in SJ with Frank Yallop (who is an outstanding coach).

  15. Colin Clarke is the man. He has had success everywhere he has gone. I’d rather have him in NY than Philly, but Osorio unfortunately will probably be here at least until the end of this season. If I were them, I’d hire him in a second. Just look what he’s done for Puerto Rico. Taking a USL team to the CONCACAF semifinals. Not too shabby in my book…

  16. I second the Special One. He would fail miserably but boy would it be fun to watch (and listen to) in the meantime.

  17. I would go with current Iran national team head coach Afshin Ghotbi.

    Yeah, but he was just named. I’m not surprised either. Club row or not, after their last coach lost to the Saudis at home, I figured he was on his way out.

  18. Peter Nowak.

    He plays beautiful, flowing soccer. I watched him at DC United, and he did fantastic things with the Olympic team last year. I love the way his teams play.

  19. Colin Clark would be a great choice, but he seems pretty fed up with MLS and is having a good time in Puerto Rico. Beyond that, I’d go with Mariner.

  20. I have no clue. I think it is impossible for fans to accurately assess what a coach does — mostly off the field — especially for someone that has no coaching experience.


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