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A closer look at the MLS Coach of the Year race

Caleb Porter

Photo by Michael Janosz/


The MLS regular season is as tight as ever and many are labeling parity as being the reason why. What is not being discussed nearly as much are the bang-up jobs that several head coaches have done to keep their teams in the thick of things.

From Jason Kreis to Oscar Pareja to Mike Petke, there is no shortage of head coaches who have done tremendous jobs in 2013. Their jobs might not be done yet, not with a month left in a season that is as close as this one, but that does not change just how well they have managed their respective sides this year.

That is also why the MLS Coach of the Year race is equally as tight as the one for the playoffs, as the coach that claims the award could be determined on the success during these final few weeks of the regular season. Who ultimately does so this year might still be uncertain, but what isn’t is that there are a handful of names worthy of consideration.

Here is a closer look at the 2013 MLS Coach of the Year candidates:


It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Real Salt Lake, but it has been far from that. RSL are currently in the thick of things in the Supporters’ Shield race with a team that lost several key starters in the offseason and boasts plenty of youth, something that speaks volumes to Kreis’ ability to nurture and manage. It is no wonder that New York City FC is keen on trying to lure Kreis away from Salt Lake.


Plenty of questions surrounded Caleb Porter when it was announced that he would be in charge of the Portland Timbers, and the former Akron head coach has answered them emphatically. Porter has the Timbers near the top of the Western Conference with an outside shot at the Supporters’ Shield and they are playing an attractive brand of soccer. It may be Porter’s rookie year at the professional level, but it sure does not look like it.


Not many people gave the Colorado Rapids a chance at the start of the season, but Oscar Pareja has helped lead his young club to the brink of a playoff spot. Further making the case for Pareja is the fact that his team was plagued with injuries at the start of the season, and yet he still managed to get some quality results out of his squad. Colorado will need to reach the postseason for Pareja to continue to receive consideration, but that is not a stretch given how the club has played under the second-year head coach.


Expectations in New York are always high and Mike Petke has more or less met them thus far in his first year as a head coach at any level. Petke currently has the Red Bulls, the team that he is known to have plenty of passion for, in first place in the overall MLS standings and has done so while learning on the job. Things have not always been pretty or easy for Petke on a side filled with big talents and bigger egos (his well-publicized practice argument with team captain Thierry Henry is the biggest example), but it has been effective.


Who do you think should win the MLS Head Coach of the Year award? Think this year’s race will come down to the wire? Is there anyone else you would consider for the award?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Porter is the sexy pick for Coach of the Year: big pedigree, playing attractive soccer, Portland location (league loves to rep those Cascadia teams), first time coach in MLS. I will be shocked if he doesn’t win it.

    But…there’s a strong case for Petke here. He was basically the fall-back option when all the other coaches turned RBNY down. Started the season with only nine players from last year’s team.

    Other than Cahill, Henry (your 2 DPs for all the screaming about “look at the payroll / resources that NYRB has), Pearce, Dax and Olave – with a question mark about Olave’s durability – he had a bunch of unknowns. Heck, their biggest acquisition (Juninho) was a bust and shown the door at mid-season.

    He’s basically filled in the roster with castoffs and question marks, overcame a horrendous start and has gotten them in first place with 3 games to go. All this as a first-time ever as a head coach at any level.

    If RBNY runs to 1st in the east or the SS Petke is completely deserving of it.

  2. In my mind, is it Petke just edging Porter.

    Kreis has an established system that is proven success. He has a great eye for talent and the players he picked came in and did very well. Not such a leap, unfortunately for Kreis, the expectation for him to succeed is already ridiculously high.

    Pareja did a good job upgrading his roster.

    Porter has a great system. He’s done a fantastic job with Portland. Watching them play the Quakes in the preseason was a jaw dropper. I posted at the time that if they could get two high quality forwards they could seriously have a shot to take it all…Even though the Olympic debacle took the shine off him, he was already a well respected coach.

    But Petke had a mountain to climb. Did he have much prior coaching experience? He was a last minute fill in for the most dysfunctional, diva ridden marshmallow soft team in the league. Where Henry was allowed to run the roost… season after season undercutting the coaches’ authority…total coach killing situation. Petke had no pull or leverage at the start. He deftly handled Henry early in the season while slowing weeding out the softies. He brought in gritty skilled players, and for the first time in probably a decade gave the franchise a backbone. When the team was strong enough, he finally had it out with Henry and set him straight. Huge turning point for the entire franchise. His impact on that team really transcends this season. He’s changed the mindset and has the financial resources in New York to bring in high quality players to add to the grit…killer combination…and it all starts with Petke.

    • ‘Petke had a mountain to climb.’

      yeah, must be tough playing in a god-awful conference with a budget 10 times the size of your opponents’.

      i like petke, and i’m glad he’s been proving people wrong, but honestly, with nyrb’s budget, he’s achieved the bare minimum so far. it’s not meant to be a criticism of him–it’s just the downside of playing with a stacked deck: it’s only notable when you don’t win.

      • How many coaches have failed with that same budget in NY. How many teams and franchises have spun their wheels with big budgets. I get what you’re saying, but a big budget doesn’t guarantee success…does help though. I think Petke had to deal with a lot of deadwood and team chemistry issues in a short amount of time. It is fragile balance coming in with almost zero credibility and not losing “that” locker room… and getting yourself fired in the process. Especially with the team piling up losses in the beginning of the season…practically a death watch situation that he navigated and emerged from..Ballsy move benching coach killer – could have gone either way. He earned respect within the team and organization to pull that off. I think he did a fine job in a very difficult situation. No amount of money is going to save his a$$ if he loses the locker room.

      • ‘I think he did a fine job in a very difficult situation.’

        totally agreed. just not good enough (at this point) for coach of the year.

  3. The difficulty for guys like Schällibaum and Pareja is that they don’t coach one of the league’s high-profile darling teams, so they’re at a disadvantage from the start no matter how well they actually do. This recurring tendency was most recently underscored in striking fashion on the player side of things in the MLS 24 Under 24 voting. If one of them doesn’t win the SS or at least make the MLS Cup Final — or even if they do but the voting takes place beforehand (can’t remember when it is) — they’ll lose out even to a coach who was not necessarily better by any objective measure, and who might in fact have been arguably a bit less effective overall, because that coach is with a NY or RSL or Seattle or Portland.

    • I’m not sure RSL or Portland have any high profile darlings which is all up to personal definition of high profile. As I see it high profile indicates a high degree of previous success in a highly visible team and league. Henry, Cahill, Dempsey, martins and nestsa fit the bill. Divaio is as much high profile as valeri and j morales. Most US soccer fans hadn’t heard of this last three before that came to MLS but divaio certainly has a higher profile pedigree than the argentinos. They’re all quality and it shows.

      Pareja doesn’t have a high profile player and g Torres may be the closest thing to it so you’re right on with him but not schallibaum.

      • I wasn’t talking about players but about teams themselves that are league darlings. There’s a pretty clear group of these: Seattle, Portland, LAG, SKC, RSL, etc. Not all of these offer likely coach of the year candidates this season, but the one who wins will almost certainly be from one of them. Then there’s a pretty clear group of dispreferred teams, here most clearly represented by Colorado, but including basically everybody who isn’t in the first category. Which teams in either category have high-profile star players would be a different question, though.

  4. Sorry, but I still hold a grudge against Porter for screwing up a chance for bunch of good talent to go to the Olympics. Oh well, that’s just the way it is!

    • I blame Klinsy/US soccer for that debacle as much as anyone. Firstly, Klinsy had a lot to do with the player selection. Also, one of the only two camps prior to qualification was held in GERMANY when Porter could not be there. Do you think that was his idea? That was plain stupid and was done for the benefit of the German American players. It should have been held in Akron so Porter could run it and have more time with the players. It was frankly just a bad idea to hire Porter for that job when he had a full-time job with a team for which he would compromise nothing. I was incredibly upset too, but Porter was more crushed than anyone, I believe, so I cant hold it against him.

    • Unfortunatly Kreis is kind of like Jerry Sloan in the NBA. Consistent year in and year out, does well with young talent, brings out the best in the team,but has a hard time winning hardware. Coach of the Year should be renamed most improved team of the year. No love for consistency. Kreis rebuilt RSL to the powerhouse it is today and did it in a small market. Kreis should have won it 2 years ago, he won’t win it this year. I think it’s between Petke and Porter.

  5. i have to admit that i am biased but petke is coach of the year hands down….no coaching experience at any level…and he has his team fighting for overall most points in the league…..for me coach of the year by a wide margin….

    • Hands down? Really? I’m not saying he shouldn’t be in the discussion, but his inexperience leapfrogs him “by a wide margin” ahead of the 3 or 4 other coaches (some that aren’t even being mentioned in this post) that have put their teams in the same position with 3-5 games left? You can certainly make some good arguments for Petke, but his green-ness should hardly be a factor.

    • By a wide margin? He has great facilities and a loaded roster. Just because they have historically underachieved and he is a new coach doesn’t mean he should be coach of the year for coaching a loaded team in a weak division into first place.

    • Pareja hasn’t been a coach before either. Yea, Porter was a HC at Akron and got his feet wet with the U23s, but the NCAA and MLS are completely different animals so idk if you give Petke more “credit/points” since he was an assistant for RBNY. Also, he has Robin Fraser as an assistant to help guide the ship.

  6. 1. Pareja if the Rapids make the playoffs
    2. Petke if the Red Bulls win the Supporters Shield
    3. Porter if neither of those things happen

    • +1 i forget, when are these awards given? before or after or during the playoffs?

      you always hear those debates should mvp or coach of the year consider playoffs…also should usoc and ccl count as well.. i think so

      id say Petke had the most difficult situation to begin with. If he ends up with the SS and/or brings NY deep into the playoffs then he is the easy Coach of the Year.

      Porter, Pareja and Kreis have all done more than expected and made the west more difficult than ever. id pick Pareja out of those just because of the turbulence he has gone through this year without skipping a beat.

  7. As a rapids fan, I don’t want pareja to win. He’s a terrible coach and doesn’t put any effort into coaching the team. With that said, there is no reason for any team anywhere in the world to try and poach him. On the other hand, kreis is an AMAZING coach and NYCFC would be crazy not to pluck him away. If not NYCFC, then a premier league team really should consider taking their chances on him.

    • What makes you say he doesn’t put in any effort? Media obviously has painted him as a success story given the crappy situation he was in early w/ injuries.

    • Also, I believe pareja should have another year or 20 to prove his worth

      Regarding the rationality, it is very rational. You just have to read between the lines sometimes

      • It’s not rational in the least unless you just as a rule give zero credit to coaches for how their teams perform. Colorado’s improvement this year is a credit to Pareja, and not something the team accomplished in spite of Pareja, as you indicate.

    • i was with you trying to chase Paraja out after the first year. he was terrible last year. but you have to admire the way he has rebuilt this team and surprised everyone with win and win despite all the injuries.

      unlike Petke, he never had an experienced assistant coach, unlike Porter he wasn’t trusted and supported by the fans/FO at the beginning and he did have any experience or foundation of a team that Kreis had and look who owns the RMC now..

  8. I’m with those who think Sigi should get consideration. Yes, Seattle is deep. But they have had injuries, call ups and seldom had all their top players at once. Yet they keep getting better and better.

    I’d probably vote for Porter, but he needs to finish strong. The numerous ties are sort of a double edged sword there.

    I think Petke is a reasonable candidate, considering what perianal underachieves they are and the fact that he has shown brass balls as a first year coach.

    • Right, but if you follow the history, the Sounders were pretty bad-to-mediocre until after the international call-ups subsided and injuries healed. I don’t know how much of Seattle’s improvement can be credited to Sigi and how much can be credited to timing.

  9. The photo seems to suggest that SBI believes Porter should win for his nice tie(s). He does have 13 of them, leading the league. Although the overall look is a tad goofy. Not unlike matching a Ferrari U23 offense with some guys you slapped together from Akron on defense.

    Personally I’d go with Petke or Schalilibaum. NYRB may do its traditional playoff swoon but Petke has done quite well for a fallback choice thrown into the spot on the eve of the season. Lots of doubters including me when the season started.

    Montreal is guaranteed to improve from last season and is probably doing as well as a Canadian team has done, in year 2 of its existence. It may prove a bit “Carolina Panthers” over time given the age of the players composing the team — short window — but they’ve been winning little trophies all season and will be competitive.

    Of the others, Colorado is doing pretty well for a bunch of nobodies, although that could go south fast with a couple of losses and a marginal rank. RSL has had some turnover but to me is a talented team with a pretty good chunk of core intact still.

  10. As a Metro/RB supporter, I am rooting for Mike Petke to get it. 🙂

    However, I respect what Caleb Porter has been doing with the Timbers, so I could see him getting the honor.

  11. I agree that it’s a bit surprising Schällibaum isn’t in the discussion — but only a bit surprising. At the midway point to the season it looked like Porter and Schällibaum were running away with it, but as a lot of people rightly projected, Montreal’s form has fallen off down the stretch and so has his COY stock.

    Anyway, COY can be a tricky beast. It seems it goes to either the biggest turnaround of the year or to the guy that leads his team to a dominant season (last year just happenend to be both). In a tight supporter’s shield race, that might favor a turnaround story like Porter.

    Now if there was a best coach of the past 5 years, Kreis would be the hands down winner, but I wouldn’t be upset if he won it this year.

  12. Right now I’d give it to Porter for turning the Timbers around so quickly, but I think Schmid is a close second for having the highest PPG this season while dealing with so many injury and absence problems that he’s never been able to field the same lineup twice this season. 28 lineups in 28 matches is unheard of. I’d also throw Kreis and Petke’s names in there for exceeding expectations.

    • PPT is good for sigi but if you bring up injuries then Pareja stands out as well as Kreis and Porter have had injuries and call ups as well. The Sounders are very deep and have flexed their superior financial muscle and for that reason it’s clear the coaches listed in the article have done more with less.

      Put it this way, if Kreis and Porter were in charge of Seattle Sounders they would be better. Sigi is a good coach but it’s puzzling why he hasn’t done more towards MLS cup over the last few years.

      • In MLS spending a lot on top talent tends to make you less deep since you’re spending about a million of cap room on your top three players. What makes the Sounders deep is that they get above average performances from average players. Neagle and Fucito are huge pieces for Seattle, but when they were traded away they couldn’t even crack the 18 for other teams.

        You can’t just assert that Kreis and Porter would do better with Seattle’s lineup. This is the first year that you could say that Seattle’s really broken the bank on players and Seattle’s had a better record over its existence than RSL.

      • Dempsey is an extreme example of breaking the bank, but Seattle has had 9 DPs compared to 2 for RSL (and those were contract upgrade DPs). And the points difference over the past 5 years is only 265-257 in favor of Seattle (granted there are the 2 games in hand this year). Anyway, the claim that Kreis or Porter would do more with the Seattle roster is a foolish exercise because in the real world they wouldn’t have built the same team as Sigi. However, it’s more interesting to think what Kreis could have done to further build or hold onto his current or past rosters if he had some of that Seattle ownership money behind him.

    • Ironically it is Pareja who ticks all the boxes you mention there: remarkable turnaround from last year, exceeding all expectations, and doing so in the midst of a huge wave of injuries.

  13. If getting a team to the play-offs, when few gave the team much of a chance, gets you considered, then I’m not sure how you can leave out Schallibaum. Except maybe because so few league observers seem to know who he is that he’s fallen off the radar.

  14. Petke probably won’t win, but having a team in first at the beginning of October is more than “beating low expectations.”

  15. Not trying to be a homer here, and I don’t necessarily think he should win, but shouldn’t Sigi Schmid at least be in the running? They have a legitimate shot at the Supporters Shield and a Championship, when’s the last time that didn’t earn consideration?

    • He is not in the running because that has been expected from him and Seattle every year. What he is doing now with Seattle isn’t above expectations at all. What Porter, Petke, Pareja, and sort of Kreis are doing is above expectations. Only players/coaches performing above expectations are considered for coach, player of the year type awards.

      • History is against you here, my friend. Why did Arena win in 2011 & 2009? Schmid in 2008?

        High expectations does disqualify your achievements. Furthermore, Seattle has had some of the worst injury and USMNT call ups of any team in the league. If Dempsey, Martins and EJ were scoring in troves, then I’d agree with you. But instead, your wrong.

    • sigi doesn’t get into the conversation unless they win the supporters shield and the mls cup… anything less would be less than impressive for a team that should be a league above the rest of the league.

  16. Caleb Porter is my vote as a commoner. I was interested in the Olympic Team. I liked the approach he made with the team. He has proven himself very will with Portland (my secret favorite team behind the LA Galaxy in MLS). I can see he places a lot of emphasis on first touch. His team plays with some discipline and creativity at the same time. I do not vote, but as a commoner subject to Kings Obama, Caleb Porter has my vote.

      • Funny cause the Timbers are my favorite team and LA is behind Seattle and San Jose as my least favorite! Another secret I would watch LA over any other team other than the Timbers!

    • Truth be told, I followed Portland a bit when they were in the USISL/ A-league. One of the guys on my team went on to play with Seattle and later Portland for one season. Great town and best traveling fans in the league.

  17. I would think that Sigi Schmid would get some consideration if the Sounders win either SS or MLS Cup, and would definitely get consideration if the Sounders did the double.

    For me Kreis is out of consideration unless RSL win a trophy.

    Pareja and Petke are both somewhat weak candidates in my mind. This is the classic “we didn’t expect this coach to be very good at anything and then he was OK” candidacy.

    Porter has a fairly strong case, but the Portland Draw Machine might be his undoing.

    I see it as a race between Schmid, Porter, Kreis, and Petke. With the award going to the coach with the most silverware at the end.


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