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The MLS season is set to end on Sunday after the 2009 MLS Cup, and the MLS Expansion draft is looming just eight days away, meaning all the teams that need head coaches are about to take part in one of the most frantic coaching change flurries MLS has ever seen.
Four teams currently don't have head coaches, while a fifth may already be looking for a new head coach. That means as many as five teams who may not know who their coaches will be when MLS Expansion lists are submitted on Monday.
So who should we expect to wind up in these positions in the coming weeks? Here is a closer look at the jobs that are in play:
CHICAGO FIRE– You would think that the only Eastern Conference head coach with two playoff series victories in the past two seasons would be safe, but not so for Denis Hamlett, who is out of contract and remains in limbo as Fire ownership considers other options.
Why? Chicago's bosses were never enamored with Hamlett in the first place, and sources tell SBI that nothing has changed in the two years since he's been hired. That's disappointing considering how well the team has done amidst a steady stream of injuries. Consider that not a single member of Chicago's first-choice back-line was available to start in this year's playoffs, including MLS Best XI defender Wilman Conde. That didn't keep the Fire from posting 210 consecutive scoreless minutes in its last two playoff games.
Hamlett's critics will point to the team's disappointing home record during his tenure, as well as the club's failure to win any hardware despite boasting one of the league's most talented rosters.These are fair points, but Hamlett has also led the Fire to a pair of first-round playoff victories and Chicago lost a tough East Final to eventual champion Columbus last year and lost on penalty kicks in this year's East Final.
In short, Hamlett has done more than enough to merit a third season at the helm, but it is sounding like he hasn't done enough to convince a Fire front office that has its sights set on other possible coaches.
Who could take over for Hamlett? Preki had long been considered the front-runner, with his connection to Fire managing director Javier Leon (who hired Bob Bradley as Chivas USA head coach) making the move a strong bet. That is, until Toronto FC stepped in with a serious offer that has Preki ready to make the move North.
If Chicago can't change Preki's mind before he signs a contract with Toronto FC, then the Fire could be left scrambling. Former LA, Chivas USA and Bayern Munich assistant Martin Vasquez is someone to consider, as is former D.C. United head coach and Chicago Fire player Tom Soehn. Chicago went after Houston assistant John Spencer before hiring Hamlett, but Spencer's very public comments about the Fire's salary offers might have burned that bridge for good.
Another potential idea? How about former Fire head coach Dave Sarachan. Current Fire owner Andrew Hauptman wasn't the owner when Sarachan was fired mid-way through the 2007 season and one look at Sarachan's resume may be enough to tell Hauptman that he should give Sarachan another chance with the Fire.
Preki's time with Chivas USA was always going to end this year. The only question has been who would replace him. Martin Vasquez remains the coach most often mentioned as a replacement, but now rumors are circulating that Chivas USA is considering former LA Galaxy head coach (and 2005 MLS Cup-winning head coach) Steve Sampson.
Who else could be considered? No other names have been seriously linked (there have been rumblings of Curt Onalfo being in the mix as well), but one coach who would make for an intriguing selection is former LA and New York head coach Octavio Zambrano. His teams were known for their attacking qualities, but he has struggled to break back into MLS after being fired by the MetroStars after the 2002 season. Zambrano is believed to be in the frame for an assistant coaching position within MLS (with Kansas City a possibility), but he just might be the right candidate for the job if Chivas USA couldn't reach a deal with Vasquez.
The race is on to find Tom Soehn's replacement, but unlike some other teams, D.C. isn't in quite as much of a hurry because general manager Dave Kasper can handle the upcoming expansion draft and MLS Draft. That said, D.C. isn't about to wait around to make a decision and risk losing out on the top prospects.
Red Bulls assistant Richie Williams and former Kansas City head coach Curt Onalfo are the front-runners for the position, and the two former D.C. United players have already been interviewed.
Who will it wind up being? If New York hires Williams as its head coach, then Onalfo looks like a good bet to get the D.C. nod (which he might get anyway). If not Onalfo, then D.C. could consider Los Angeles assistant and former D.C. United assistant Dave Sarachan, who did a commendable job as Chicago Fire head coach.
If TFC Director of Soccer Mo Johnston could have his way, he probably would have gone after New England head coach Stevie Nicol, but since Nicol still has two years left on his Revs contract, Johnson has gone after another one of his favorites, Preki. Sources have told SBI that Preki is finalizing a deal to take the TFC job, but no contract has been signed yet, meaning another suitor could still potentially swoop in.
If Preki winds up not taking the job, then Johnston will have consider fellow Scotsman and Houston assistant John Spencer, as well as Denis Hamlett, if he became available. The TFC job shouldn't be hard to pitch considering the talent on the roster and the club's quality set-up.
NEW YORK RED BULLS
No team is doing a worse job of dragging its feet that New York, which has been effectively searching for a new coach for four months. The issue with the Red Bulls is that they need to hire a general manager before they can hire a head coach. The delay in getting that done could wind up costing the Red Bulls Richie Williams, who could pounce on the D.C. United job if he chose not to wait for a New York decision.
It is tough to get a sense of who the Red Bulls will hire since the person who will have the most say in the hiring hasn't been hired yet. That said, Williams still has to be considered the front-runner because of his two successful stints as interim head coach, and because of his knowledge of the team.
Whoever the team hires, a decision needs to come quickly. Perhaps even more scary than the fact that the team doesn't have a coach is the reality that technical director Jeff Agoos, the co-architect of one of the worst seasons in league history, is still employed by the Red Bulls and continues to have input on team personnel decisions. At least until a new head coach and general manager are hired.
What do you think of these coaching situations? Who would you hire if you were looking for an MLS head coach? Where do you see Richie Williams winding up?
Share your thoughts below.