Soccer America’s Paul Kennedy has a provocative piece on Major League Soccer teams’ wild misses in judging talent. Sure, teams make mistakes all the time, but in this new era with more guaranteed contracts, those mistakes can be more costly.
Kennedy singles out Toronto and the signing of Latvian left back Raivis Hscanovics, about whom Wikipedia says the following: “In March 2010 his contract was terminated with Skonto FC because of knee problems. He later joined Toronto FC.” (We’ll have to take Wikipedia’s word for it, because the source cited on that note is in a language I don’t even recognize.) After a messy spring that included a protracted breakup with Ali Gerba and the shock retirement of Jim Brennan, Toronto put out a starting lineup last weekend that looked like a preseason lineup full of trialists.
“What has Preki been thinking all these months?” Kennedy asks. But Preki’s only part of the Toronto brain trust. There’s also “Trader Mo” Johnston, the wheelingest, dealingest soccer director in the business. Players and coaches have come and gone, but Toronto hasn’t yet found the right mix.
The coaches are always the most visible player personnel people. But do they always have the most influence? Hard to say.
In most cases, they have a fair amount of input, always able to bring “their guys” into a roster. Adrian Hanauer is the guy who can be fired by the fans if things are going wrong, but Sigi Schmid clearly has players he wants to keep around. In New England, Mike Burns has the player personnel job but hasn’t been in that position as long as Steve Nicol has been head coach. Curt Onalfo brought Kurt Morsink with him to D.C. United.
D.C. might be the best place to inquire about the brain trust, because it’s not delivering as well as it used to. United hasn’t shaken off the disastrous class of 2008 South American imports — Jose Carvallo, Gonzalo Martinez, Gonzalo Peralta, Franco Niell and designated player Marcelo Gallardo. The younger players on the roster that year also fell off the team, leaving an unsupported core of Jaime Moreno, Santino Quaranta, Clyde Simms, Marc Burch and Bryan Namoff.
Coach Tom Soehn has departed. General manager Dave Kaspar remains. That might be fair to Kaspar, who also has presided over the building of an excellent academy program that is producing solid prospects. But was it fair to blame Soehn?
Generally, the coach/GM relationship is co-dependent. MLS champions Real Salt Lake were built by a pair of Duke classmates, coach Jason Kreis and GM Garth Lagerwey. Where coach and GM are less close — Los Angeles in the brief Ruud Gullit era springs to mind — results aren’t as good.
The new collective bargaining agreement has changed the landscape — not dramatically, but enough so that teams need to adjust. And 15 years of evolution have given the teams plenty of leeway in finding players. For all the braying over the league’s single-entity structure, teams control their own rosters and destiny. And it’s no accident that New England and Houston have been successful in replenishing rosters year after year while others struggle.