Major League Soccer oftentimes feels like a crapshoot. How else can you explain the San Jose Earthquakes finishing seventh in the Western Conference last year and winning the Supporters’ Shield this year or a fifth seed meeting a fourth seed in the MLS Cup final?
Looking through the league’s history, one thing has been consistent: Great coaches give teams a chance to win championships.
Consider this fact. After the conclusion of today’s MLS Cup final, Bruce Arena, Dominic Kinnear, Sigi Schmid and Frank Yallop will have combined to win an MLS championship 10 out of 17 years, and they have accounted for four of the last five Supporters’ Shield trophies.
Those four coaches have been to 16 MLS Cup finals – winning nine of them so far – with either Kinnear or Arena adding to that total today.
Arena alone has been to six finals. Schmid and Kinnear have each been to four. Yallop, this year’s MLS Coach of the Year and Supporters’ Shield winner, has been to two. That’s more remarkable when you consider that only Schmid has coached more than 10 seasons in MLS.
With the exception of Kinnear, all of the coaches have found success with multiple teams.
David Beckham recently credited Arena with coming into the team and settling things down after a tough first year and a half with the Galaxy.
Arena said the change was more about bringing in better players than changing the atmosphere. When he evaluated the personnel upon arriving in LA, he found the team did not have enough talent to compete.
“I don’t think the previous issues with the Galaxy had to do with order,” he said. “A lot of the things I’ve done is really upgrade the talent level on the field and make our roster a little bit deeper.”
The job Kinnear has done with Houston is equally impressive if not more so. Landon Donovan, who played under Kinnear during his first year as a head coach, heaped praise on his former boss.
“His demeanor every day is really good, and his guys play hard for him,” Donovan said Friday. “Any Houston team has always had that attribute: They play hard, and that’s because of Dom.”
Kinnear downplayed his role in the Dynamo reaching the MLS Cup final four times in seven years.
“I think the key to that success is I’m a coach of a very good team,” he said. “If a guy’s coaching a poor team, it’s not going to be happening for him.”
Kinnear also credited his time learning from Yallop. The two played together briefly for the Tampa Bay Mutiny, and when Yallop took the head coaching job for the San Jose Earthquakes from 2001 through 2003, Kinnear served as his assistant.
If this year shows anything it’s that signing the best designated players in the world will mean nothing without a great coach.