Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tactics Of The 3 New MLS Coaches

Week 1 of Major League Soccer is in the books, and we had the debut of three new managers - Peter Nowak with the expansion Philadelphia Union; Hans Backe with the New York Red Bulls, and Carlos de los Cobos in Chicago.

Steve Davis of analyses the tactics used by each of the three new coaches in Week 1.

So now we know. We had hunches and suspicions about how three particular debuting managers would align their sides prior to MLS opening weekend—but you never really know until you know. You know?

New York’s Hans Backe and Chicago’s Carlos de los Cobos were new managers to MLS. We’ve seen Peter Nowak’s handiwork before at D.C. United, but now he pulls strings at expansion Philly, which is clearly a whole new jar of Cheez Whiz. (Nowak, in particular, approached his selections of personnel and tactics with a “State Secret” level of caution.)

In preseason, Backe had shown himself to be a 4-4-2 guy, and sure enough, Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Joel Lindpere were central in a “straight line” four-man midfield.

Across the field, de los Cobos opted for a diamond midfield. Logan Pause screened the defense while Peter Lowry, and later, Baggio Husidic, worked closer to the strikers. So much for innovation.

Nowak also went with a 4-4-2. Here, it wasn’t the alignment but the choice of personnel within that alignment that drew attention—and reminded everyone that it’s more about players than tactical deployment.

Philly started Michael Orozco and Danny Mwanga in the middle. Orozco is a defender, inserted awkwardly and surprisingly into a central midfield role. Mwanga is a forward, inserted awkwardly and surprisingly into the same. All of Mwanga’s scorer’s instincts, all that size, skill and athleticism seemed wasted on a player clearly not comfortable with the 360-degree bustle encircling him in his first pro game.

Regardless, Philadelphia’s shape and personnel were never going to matter so long as Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso was lurking. The Sounders’ little fireball of a defensive midfield destroyer was all over the place, back to his early 20009 best. So Mwanga and Orozco, stationed centrally opposite Alonso and Brad Evans, were at a loss from the word “go.”

Mourinho Fed Up With Italian Football

Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho has sparked speculation about his future in Italian football after insisting: "I don't like it and it doesn't like me."

Mourinho has not spoken to the Italian media for a month and was recently fined £35,000 by the Italian Football Federation for criticising officials.

"I am very happy at Inter but not in Italian football," said Mourinho.

The 47-year-old, who left Chelsea in 2007, has made no secret of his desire to return to the English game.

"I always speak with my heart but if I spoke with my heart now about Serie A I would be suspended," added Mourinho.

His comments came on the eve of his side's Champions League quarter-final first leg against CSKA Moscow.

Mourinho's Inter knocked out his former club Chelsea in the last round of the Champions League and are currently top of Serie A.

But his side have seen a healthy lead whittled down to just one point by Roma, to whom they lost 2-1 on Saturday, and three points by AC Milan.

He received a £16,000 fine last month for claiming "everything was done for us not to win" following a 2-0 defeat of AC Milan, a game in which Inter had two players sent off.

Mourinho also said the game had left a "strange taste" in his mouth, adding: "I've realised they won't let us wrap up the championship early".

He subsequently received a three-game touchline ban and was fined £35,000 for "insulting officials" during a game against Sampdoria.

Can United Cope Without Rooney?

Manchester United and England were left fearing the worst when Wayne Rooney suffered what appeared to be a serious ankle injury towards the end of the 2-1 Champions League quarter-final, first leg defeat by Bayern Munich last night.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, played down the injury, saying that he did not think it was “terribly serious”, but Rooney left the Allianz Arena on crutches, with his right foot in a protective plastic boot. He will have an MRI scan today to determine the extent of the damage.

There are fears that the 24-year-old may have damaged ligaments, which could rule him out for months, and Rooney seems certain to miss the Barclays Premier League match against Chelsea at Old Trafford on Saturday and the second leg against Bayern next Wednesday. However, Edwin Van der Sar believes United can cope without the loss of their 34-goal talisman.

"Against Bolton we also played with some other players," Van der Sar said. "It can happen in the season. You always want your best players available but we know the players coming in can also do a good job."

Park Ji Sung also expressed his confidence that United could reach the semi-finals. "We are disappointed because we were leading," he said. "The early goal was good for us but we weren't able to build on it and get the result. But we have our chance to go through at Old Trafford. Bayern have an experienced team, and the club has a proud history.

"They did well but the situation will be different at Old Trafford. We're waiting for them to come there."

Does Wenger Change Tactics Versus Barcelona?

Arsene Wenger has always been characterised by how his team plays as much as by his team's success. On the eve of his UEFA Champions League match-up versus Barcelona, Matt Hughes of the Times writes how Wenger refuses to ditch his principles in the battle of the pass masters.

With his unswerving devotion to the beautiful game, promotion of young players and disdain for financial extravagance, Wenger is often characterised as a man of unbending principle, but in some respects he is as pragmatic as they come.

The Frenchman’s favourite word when it comes to his sport is “efficiency”, an objective to which most football managers, businessmen and politicians aspire. It just so happens that the Arsenal manager believes the most efficient football involves the participants passing the ball to their team-mates.

“Is the ugly way the best way to win?” Wenger pondered yesterday when discussing his tactics for combating the balletic grace of Barcelona. “That is where you have to convince me. I believe the most efficient way is to play good football and not to kick the ball in the stand. There is no goal in the stand; the goal is on the pitch.”

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Zeman Was Tactical Genius

As the finest tactical minds prepare to do battle in the Champions League quarter-finals, Gabriele Marcotti of the Times writes about who he felt was the most innovative coach in Europe.

"Without question it is Zdenek Zeman, the Czech coach, who has worked mostly in Italy. His created an almost unique attacking philosophy that turned conventional wisdom on its head - particularly that of Serie A, where the emphasis is on defence - and repeatedly found success with teams of average players.

"Zdenek was not a footballer. As a young man he had played handball and volleyball and felt the ideas about movement and spacing used in those sports could be applied to football without affecting its increased fluidity.

"His teams were set up in a 4-3-3 formation featuring a deep-lying holding midfielder, two midfielders whose game was based on frequent attacking runs into the penalty area, and three centre forwards who constantly swapped positions. The philosophy underpinning the formation was that the more players you had in goalscoring positions, the more you scored.

"His play was highly structured. Schooled in two three-hour training sessions every day, players knew exactly which runs to make in which part of the pitch, so that a team-mate knew his options as soon as he received the ball. Zdenek refuted the criticism that he eliminated improvisation, claiming that any new 'move' or 'technique' could be incorporated into his system.

"In two decades in Italy, he was hardly without a club and he had much success with teams such as lowly Foggia - repeatedly bringing them to the verge of Uefa Cup qualification - and Lazio but rarely stayed at clubs for more than a few years. That was partly down to players becoming fed up with the extremely high fitness levels he demanded and partly due to his outspoken personality. A fierce critic of doping, corruption and, most damagingly for him, defensive coaches, he has made many enemies.

"That is partly why he has been out of work since leaving Red Star Belgrade two years ago, too. You hope, however, that he will not remain unemployed for long and that more coaches will attempt to apply his tactics. Some have - Louis van Gaal and Arrigo Sacchi were influenced by his ideas about using a highly controlled system - but there have not been many. That is a shame because, in a game dominated by superstars and money, he showed you can succeed with less heralded players."

Bayern must cut Rooney supply line

Oliver Kay of the Times on how Bayern Munich must cope with Wayne Rooney and Manchester United's attack in tonight's UEFA Champions League quarterfinal match-up:

How will Bayern try to cope with Wayne Rooney?

OK: Assuming that United play with only Rooney up front and with two players in support out wide, the central defenders will share the responsibility for marking him. I doubt very much that they will man-mark him.

If you stop Rooney, do you stop United?

OK: Many have portrayed United as a one-man team recently but much of their success has been down to the service Rooney has been received. If you stop Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher controlling the midfield, much Rooney's threat disappears. Likewise if the ball doesn't reach the wide players, it doesn't reach Rooney.

Bayern have a very good coach in Van Gaal and they will have a game-plan to stop Rooney and cut off the service to him.

Capello Looks Ahead To South Africa

Gabriele Marcotti of the Times recently caught up to England manager Fabio Capello, who looked ahead to this summer's World Cup in South Africa.

On players who have impressed him this season - “Last season, Theo Walcott was a surprise to us, he came in and was very important in crucial qualifying games,” Capello said. “This year our most improved player is Milner. He played with us three or four times and he will be part of the squad. “Plus, of course, there is [Wayne] Rooney who this year has scored plenty of goals, both for his club and his country. He’s been devastating this season and I can only hope he’ll carry that form with him to South Africa.”

On players being in form, and the idea of playing Lampard and Gerrard together - “I think good players can always play together, but a lot depends on what kind of form they’re in,” he said. “In a team you have to play the players who are in the best possible form. That said, both are important players who are very talented and that’s why I say I believe they can play together. "In fact, they’ve shown on many occasions that they are the kind of players who can swing a match your way.”

On the role of the captain for England - “The players know that I believe the armband must go to a player who can be an example to youngsters,” he said. “And what happened with Terry was not good. That’s why I explained to him that he could not continue as captain but would continue to be a leader on the pitch and important player for us.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tale of Two Coaches

Kansas City defeated DC United, 4-0, to open the 2010 Major League Soccer season. Listening to the coaches of the two teams, it sounds like two different directions that these teams headed in.

“We talked as a team that we spent 62 days getting ready for tonight," Wizards coach Peter Vermes said. "We knew we were going to make some mistakes, but we had to come out with all the ideas of how we wanted to play and stay disciplined to that, and the guys did an excellent job of executing."

His opposite number and former coach of Kansas City Curt Onalfo didn't have a similar response.

“For me, at the end of the day, for whatever reason we stepped on the field thinking we were just going to win the game. In real life, we actually need to roll up our sleeves and fight and earn it on the field. It was a disappointing performance. Having said that, it’s one game and we have to put it behind us quickly, learn from it. You know, we made a lot of youthful errors. We struggled with the size of the field, we struggled with the surface, we struggled with clearing the ball. A lot of things went wrong in one evening.”

Is this season Ferguson's crowning glory?

When looking back on the greatest Manchester United teams that Sir Alex Ferguson has ever managed, it is easy to look at the teams of the mid and late-90's.

Those teams were littered with players who had a persona or spirit that Manchester United teams are held up against. Even with United winning three straight EPL titles, and advancing to the UEFA Champions League title match in each of the past two seasons (winning it all in 2008), those teams aren't usually mentioned in the same breath as the teams of the past decade.

Considering the standards that have been set by previous teams, this current group could be Ferguson's crowning achievement - Oliver Kay of the Times writes of how this season could be Ferguson's crowning glory.

The most fascinating aspect of this Nineties nostalgia is that Sir Alex Ferguson basks in it like everybody else. Last May, with United on the brink of a third successive Barclays Premier League title and still the European and world champions, he was asked to name his favourite team and he opted, as he has always does, for the 1993-94 vintage, going dewy-eyed at the thought of such fearsome characters as Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce, Roy Keane, Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Eric Cantona in the same combustible dressing room.

For Ferguson, that remains the yardstick against which all other United teams fall short. Never mind that they were routinely embarrassed in the Champions League (hamstrung by the limitations on foreign players, yes, but also guilty of great naivety against more experienced European campaigners) or that the late-1990s team — in which Ryan Giggs was joined by Gary Neville, David Beckham and Paul Scholes — achieved more. The class of 1993-94, for Ferguson, remains the epitome of what a United team should be.

The modern United side do not seem to inspire anything like the same affection, whether from Ferguson or from those players who span the generations. When Scholes was asked last year to name the greatest XI of the players he had played alongside at Old Trafford, there was no Nemanja Vidic, no Patrice Evra, no Wayne Rooney and no Cristiano Ronaldo. In their places were Wes Brown, Denis Irwin, David Beckham and Teddy Sheringham. (Cantona, curiously, was not named in the XI or among the seven substitutes.) While Scholes’s choices were typically homespun, Giggs’s XI (again no Vidic, Evra or Ronaldo) was strikingly similar.

If the United of last season failed to inspire affection, while winning a third consecutive Premier League title and cruising to the Champions League final before losing to Barcelona, there seemed little hope for the class of 2009-10, who lost six league matches by mid-February and, with Ronaldo now at Real Madrid, have at times looked like a pale imitation of some of their more illustrious predecessors.

They are a team that lack the flair or the cavalier spirit that is more readily associated with the great United sides, yet they have managed to score 72 goals in 31 league matches, four more than they managed in the 38-game campaign last season. At times they have appeared to lack authority and steel, yet they have dug in to record victories in the biggest matches, when the stakes have been highest. Even their hunger has occasionally been called into question, but they, like all the great United sides, appear to be running into championship form at the right time.

This might not, on paper, be a great United team — and it is quite feasible, at this stage of the campaign, that they will end the season empty-handed — but in some ways this is beginning to look like the most admirable of all Ferguson’s sides. There are perhaps fewer world-class players than in any of his successful teams — Rooney certainly, Evra probably, Vidic and Rio Ferdinand theoretically but with question marks over their fitness — yet it is slowly proving to be greater than the sum of its parts, epitomised by Darren Fletcher, once an ugly duckling of a footballer, now beginning to fancy himself as the cock of the North.

And even some of the more problematic parts, such as Nani and Dimitar Berbatov, have begun to fit into place; their combination for the third goal in the 4-0 victory away to Bolton Wanderers on Saturday was something to behold.

Three games in eight days — away to Bayern tomorrow, at home to Chelsea in the Premier League on Saturday and at home to Bayern a week on Wednesday — will go a long way towards determining what kind of United team this is. In many ways they are the antithesis of the 1993-94 side so beloved of Ferguson — mild-mannered and at times lacking the character, as much as the physique, to stamp their authority on opponents — but the resolve that characterises all his teams has certainly been in evidence recently. It will never be anything like the 1990s again, but, in Manchester, it can often seem like nothing will.

Should O'Neill trust his fringe men?

Peter Lansley of the Times Online answers the question "Why has Aston Villa's form tailed off so badly? " in their 'Ask the Expert' column-

Martin O'Neill appears in thrall to a notion of Brian Clough's that a club can succeed by fielding practically the same XI each week. Much as Clough won the title with Nottingham Forest with a side that changed little - and featured O'Neill - so the Villa manager seems to think he can qualify for the Champions League while barely changing his preferred line-up.

"Repeatedly before games in their recent congested run of fixtures, O'Neill admitted it was time to rotate only to stick with players who were showing clear signs of fatigue and the result has been draws against sides such as Wolves and Sunderland, whom Villa should beat. On Saturday, O'Neill finally tinkered with his side, promoting Steven Sidwell and Luke Young but that came a little too late. They were thrown into a hugely difficult game lacking match fitness, rhythm and presumably with the feeling that their manager does not fully believe in them. And it showed.

"That has been the prinicipal problem, but there are others, too. Again much like Clough, O'Neill believes the first responsibility of a defender is to clear his lines, even if that means picking a player who is less comfortable on the ball than a rival for his position. The case of Carlos Cuellar's inclusion ahead of Young and Habib Beye at right back is a perfect example of that. And, while that has given Villa a mean defensive record, they have a problem retaining possession at the back.

"Villa are also a little short in attack. O'Neill has spent the greater part of his transfer budget on defenders: think Cuellar, Young, James Collins, Richard Dunne, while choosing to stick with three frontline forwards in Emile Heskey, Gabriel Agbonlahor and John Carew. When Agbonlahor is injured, as he has been recently, that leaves them lacking subtlety up front.

"Villa fans should not be too pessimistic, though. Until the past couple of months, their side had been excellent. They were very strong at the back, impressive in central midfield and attacked effectively with pace and width. With no midweek games for the next couple of weeks and an inner steel that reflects the manager's personality, they should recover their form fairly soon."

Ivory Coast appoint Sven-Goran Eriksson as coach for World Cup

Sven-Göran Eriksson, the former England head coach, will lead Ivory Coast to this summer’s World Cup finals after he was named as their new coach.

It is no soft option for the Swede, who will be thrown in at the deep end in group G, where he will face Brazil, Portugal and North Korea. The group may well send a shiver down the spine of Eriksson, having suffered shattering defeats with England by Portugal, in the quarter-finals of Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup, and Brazil, at the same stage of the 2002 World Cup.

Souleymane Alex Bamba, a member of the Ivory Coast FA (FIF), made the announcement on national television last night, one month to the day after Jacques Anouma, the FIF president, fired the previous coach, Vahid Halilhodzic.

Eriksson was chosen for being “an experienced coach who has proved himself”, FIF said in a statement.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lennon Calls For Mental Strength & Character

Neil Lennon was named as interm manager for Celtic, and he wants to draw from his lessons learned under Martin O'Neill to resuscitate some life - as well as future title challenges - at the Glasgow club.

The 38-year-old former Celtic captain and erstwhile youth coach has no illusions about what he first has to do with his team since replacing the sacked Tony Mowbray. Lennon, who played under O’Neill for ten years at Leicester City and Celtic, lamented the current team’s lack of mental hardness.

“There is a softness about us which I would like to eradicate,” said Lennon, whose first game in charge is against Kilmarnock this afternoon at Celtic Park. “Mentally, I don’t feel we are as strong as we should be.

“I learnt a lot under Martin [O’Neill] and I would like my team to have that same mentality about them that Martin’s teams had. I’d like us to play hard, professional football, and not accept defeat.”

Lennon, who had been the Celtic under-19 coach, was swiftly put in charge following the sacking of Tony Mowbray on Thursday afternoon. The 38-year-old Northern Irishman has ten games in which to prove himself, and said he wanted the job for the long-term.

“These are not the circumstances in which I would have liked to have got this job, but when the club offered me the role until the end of the season, it was a no-brainer for me,” Lennon said.

“This is a huge chance for me to make a name for myself. I am ambitious and I’m hungry. This might turn out to be the shortest managerial reign for quite a while, but I’ve got to try to take the chance when it comes. In my own mind I am the Celtic manager until I’m told otherwise.”

Lennon argued that, after being a youth coach at Celtic, he was ready to make the step up, and dismissed his lack of managerial experience.

“People with lots of experience could come here and not do as well as expected,” he said. “The one thing you can make a difference with is in motivation. I think I was fairly successful at that as a player and now I want to try that as a manager. This was the next logical step for me.”

Fabregas Sees The Light To Lead Arsenal

Arsenal's club has always been built around playing attractive and possession-oriented football, but over the past 4 years, has failed to capture any medals and trophies.

Manager Arsene Wenger has built a club philosophy on the aesthetics (what it looks like) as much or more than on the pragmatics (getting results), and their results have proven to have won more admirers for their attractive brand of football than winning titles in recent years.

Spanish star Cesc Fabregas is the team leader, and over the past couple of seasons, has learned the proper approach to competing for English Premier League supremacy.

"Nothing else will do and it doesn't matter how we win, just as long as we win. Obviously it's good to play well, to play attractive, entertaining football. We pride ourselves on that at Arsenal.

"But there are three teams trying to win the league and ask any one of them what's the most important thing - they'll all say to win!

"I didn't always believe that but I have learned in the last three years that it's true - it is more important to win, win, win.

"Because if we do win the Premier League I don't think everyone will remember the way we played, they'll just remember we were champions."

Ferguson Talks About Big-Game Jitters

Jitters and nerves are natural to have when you participate in sports, and no one can be affected more than the manager or coach of a team that is the thick of things competing for a title.

Even Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United gets affected by nerves, and even coined the phrase 'squeaky bum time' for this stage of the season.

Neil Custis of the Sun writes of Ferguson's thoughts on dealing with 'squeaky bum time'.

"Whether you're at the top of the league or the bottom that's what football does to you. If it wasn't that way we are all in the wrong job."

"I think it tells that you still care about the game."

"Managers are subject to that more than anyone - that uncertainty about winning a game, that anxiety, that apprehension about every game you play in simply because the result is important to you."

"Some people are relaxed about the game and don't show great emotions, but they still care."

"Deep down, they are probably turning inside out like the rest of us because that is what the game does to you. There is no one in the game more directly responsible for results than the manager."

"No matter which way you look at it, we're all subject to winning games of football and if not, we're on the dole line."

"Players carry on, coaches carry on, directors carry on, journalists carry on."

Davies Out To Prove People Wrong

Charlie Davies said in a news conference recently that the next three weeks will be important in his bid to return to action this season with French club Sochaux and hopefully make the U.S. World Cup team.

He has resumed training at Sochaux and spoke on Friday, five months after the serious car accident in Virginia that left him with multiple injuries, and said he is "closer and closer to being back."

"It's great to prove people wrong," he said. "It just adds more fuel to the fire when people tell me, `There's no way you're going to be back for Sochaux this season. There's no way you're going to be in the World Cup.' It really speaks volumes to how much I want it."

Since returning to France and completing a rehab program, Davies started an individual training program.

"I've done technical training," he said. "Just individual, not team stuff. I don't have any pain anymore. That's a big positive. I'd say the most difficult is maybe just to get fit again. I started running, and it was difficult just to get my fitness back. But I'd say in three days I already got it back. I can run now without getting so tired

Friday, March 26, 2010

MLS - The Coaches' Season

With more teams (16) and the same number of playoff berths (eight), the battle for a Major League Soccer (MLS) post-season spot becomes that more intense and more competitive. Translated, more coaches will find themselves on the hot seat earlier and more probably will face the axe this season.

As the league upgrades itself with more soccer-specific stadiums, slightly higher salaries, and guaranteed contracts for veteran players, there is so much more at stake and much more to lose. And the loses could come in the way of a coaches' job if a team underachieves or fails to reach goals or the playoffs. Remember, a coach that is considered safe in the pre-season is always a horrible start of a long winless or losing streak away from getting sacked.

Michael Lewis of Big Apple Soccer analyses the challenges each coach will face (in alphabetical order by Conference):

Eastern Conference

Chicago Fire
Perhaps this is the year a foreign coach breaks through what has turned into a steel ceiling - a plus. 500 record. Sooner or later it has got to happen, right? Mexican Carlos de los Cobos, who replaced Denis Hamlet as the Fire chief, will try to make some history while trying to keep the team competitive and in the playoffs. That's most likely without fellow Mexico Cuauhtémoc Blanco. Barring a horrendous beginning, he should get through this season.

Columbus Crew
Depending on your vantage point, coach Robert Warzycha acquitted himself pretty well in his first year as coach as the Crew captured the Supporters Shield. However, the team stumbled in the opening round of the playoffs as Warzycha benched star Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Just wondering if there will be fallout from the controversial move this season and if it will affect the team. Warzycha is safe through the regular season, but the Crew need playoff success.

DC United
Curt Onalfo is accustomed to challenges. He was the advance scout in the Caribbean and Central America (no mean feat traveling by yourself) for former U.S. national coach Bruce Arena for 2006 World Cup qualifying. His next challenge is trying to find a way to turn around this once powerhouse of a franchise. He should get a pass in his first season.

Kansas City Wizards
Did someone say hot seat? Technical director Peter Vermes fired Onalfo and took over the coaching reins last year, but the Wizards still failed to make the playoffs. You have to wonder what a bad run does to the coaching job in Kansas City. His assistant can step right in - former MetroStars and L.A. Galaxy coach Octavio Zambrano.

New England Revolution
While some teams seemingly change coaches whenever the mood hits (see New York Red Bulls), Steve Nicol has become an anomaly. He will start his eighth season in charge. A three-year run is considered pretty decent in MLS. Nicol's challenge this season is piecing together a competitive team after losing his right-hand man (assistant coach Paul Mariner) last season. Even if the Revs miss the playoffs, Nicol should be considered untouchable unless he leaves of his own choice.

New York Red Bulls
Like the Fire, Swedish coach Hans Backe needs to go where no other foreign coach has gone before - a winning record. He probably won't change lineups and formations as quickly as his predecessor, Juan Carlos Osorio did. Backe has not promised the moon, so expectations aren't that great, although the team will have the added pressure of the new Red Bull Arena. You can only sell out a new stadium for a certain amount of time before the fans get turned off.

Philadelphia Union
One game certainly does not make a season, although the entire MLS universe now knows how much Peter Nowak must do after Thursday night's 2-0 loss at Seattle. Barring an 0-8-4 start or some dreadful record like that, Nowak's job should be safe. However, this team is nowhere near what Seattle was last year.

Toronto FC
After a successful two-year run at Chivas USA, Preki will try his luck in Toronto, which hasn't reached the post-season since joining the league as a 2007 expansion team. It remains to be seen if trader Mo Johnston, who could be the host of soccer's version of Let's Make A Deal, will help or hinder a team that seems to be always in flux. But if Toronto fails to book a spot in the playoffs this time around you have to wonder if Johnston's days could be numbered (before Preki winds up in the hot seat).

Western Conference

Chivas USA
The club hasn't been around as long as the Red Bulls, but Chivas USA actually averages more coaches per season than the team that invented the MLS sack. Martin Vasquez is the team's sixth in as many seasons. He coaches LA's version of Manchester City as Chivas USA, like it or not, is the second banana to the Galaxy and its celebrity soccer show at Home Depot Center. If he could find a way to close the gap, Vasquez will have done well. By the way, Vasquez is one of a handful of players who have performed internationally for the US and Mexico, so you have to think he can relate to Hispanic talent.

Colorado Rapids
The Rapids have done just enough to miss the playoffs the past three seasons. Gary Smith, who took over late in the 2008, definitely has some attacking players in Conor Casey and Omar Cummings to make life miserable for the opposition. If he can't get it done this season, you have to wonder if his days will be numbered. Smith did direct the Rapids to a 10-10-10 mark last season, one of the best by a foreign coach.

FC Dallas
Once one of the most stable of teams with coach David Dir directing the fortunes the first five years of the franchise, Dallas has been a merry-go-around at the coaching position the past decade. It has five men running the show, the latest being Schellas Hyndman. Hyndman has Jeff Cunningham, but that didn't help matters last season as the team fell short. Dallas is the only one of the remaining original teams that has failed to reach MLS Cup.

Houston Dynamo
If Nicol is the poster child for MLS coaching stability, Dominic Kinnear is certainly runner-up. He has ruled the roost in Houston since it moved there from San Jose in 2006, where he coached two years prior. Kinnear has done a remarkable job, winning two MLS Cups. This year he faces his greatest challenge, trying to replace the departed Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark in midfield. Even if Houston somehow falls short of the playoffs, Kinnear should be safe.

Los Angeles Galaxy
Sometimes its not way you start with, but what you end up with. You have to wonder what Bruce Arena will have at the end of the season. Will Beckham recover to regain his previous magic touch on passes and free kicks? And moreover, will Landon Donovan stay with the team after the World Cup or move on? But unless Arena rubs people the wrong way as he did with the Red Bulls - it looks like the southern California weather has mellowed out the former US national coach - his jobs (he's also GM) should be safe.

Real Salt Lake
After stunning everyone but its most ardent fans by earning MLS Cup honors, Jason Kreis should get a pass if the team stumbles out of the starting gate. Knowing the way the competitive Kreis coaches and demands of his team and himself, that is quite unlikely. But come October and November, RSL and Kreis will discover how difficult it is to repeat (only DC United - 1996 and 1997 - and the Houston Dynamo - 2006 and 2007 - have done it).

San Jose Earthquakes
After escaping from the David Beckham circus in LA in 2007, Frank Yallop returned to San Jose, trying to build a team from scratch. After a pair of disappointing seasons, will his third season at the Earthquakes helm be the charm? Coaches usually do not survive three years without going to the playoffs. Besides winning, Yallop's biggest challenge is trying to find someone who can put the ball into the net once in a while.

Seattle Sounders FC
Sigi Schmid, the only coach to direct two teams to MLS championship glory (LA in 2002 and Columbus in 2008), will try to make it a hat-trick. Don't bet against him. He has one shrewd soccer mind and knows how to coax the best out of his players. It certainly doesn't hurt playing in front of those voracious fans at Qwest Field. Safe.