Who is the Best Head Coach in MLS?

As the preseason gets into full swing and rosters begin to stabilize, it’s time to take a look at the men who pull the strings and have the greatest impact on the team itself.  The modern manager is part tactician, part showman, and part PR man.  The best are the ones who can bring a diverse team together and make it into a trophy-winning side.  Rarely can a side win an MLS Cup, Open Cup, or Supporters Shield with a mediocre or poor manager.  However, at times its the team that makes the man and only the perfect marriage of players and manager that can make a championship.  A manager is especially important in MLS, with the salary cap and built-in rules designed to promote parity.

These men are masters of the realm, the best managers in MLS today.  The following ranking is my own top five managers in MLS going into the 2012 season.  Keep in mind this is not an all time list but simply looking ahead to the 2012 season.  Agree or disagree?  Make your opinions known in the comments section.

5.  Piotr Nowak:  Maybe the restructuring going on in Philadelphia is Nowak’s way to challenge himself.  The veteran coach has taken a new franchise and by year two had made the Union into a Eastern Conference championship contender.  Building the team around a stout defense and the timely scoring of his offense, Nowak has made the club in his image and, even with the departures, Philadelphia is now a team to watch every year.  His work with DC United, leading them to their fourth MLS title in 2004, only adds to his coaching resume.  Although he does not have the large number of trophies some of the others on this list have, he is undoubtedly established himself as one of the best head coaches in the league.

4.  Schellas Hyndman:  Although at times his decisions are questionable (Brek Shea as a full back?), Hyndman is a long-time collegiate coach who finally got the right opportunity to prove his worth with FC Dallas in 2008.  His defining win was a 3-0 defeat of Los Angeles in the 2010 Western Conference finals over a team that looked like the best in the league with a healthy David Beckham.  Although Dallas lost the 2010 MLS Cup in overtime, the former SMU head coach has done a good job balancing his roster and replacing departed players, especially in the midfield.  Under his watch David Ferreira blossomed into one of the most dangerous midfielders in the league and with some promising youth coming up through the system this year, Hyndman may soon be able to chase down that elusive MLS Cup.

3.  Sigi Schmid:  For a guy who never played professional soccer, Schmid gets this league.  His uncanny ability to identify talent and his in-game ability to identify mismatches has made the former UCLA Bruin the brain behind the constantly-successful Seattle Sounders.  A team with a rich history and demanding fan base, Schmid gave the league a blueprint for how to compete in MLS from year one, a blueprint that teams as recently as Montreal are looking to emulate.  He is the most successful U.S. Open Cup head coach in the modern era and has guided the careers of many of MLS’s greatest stars.  His LA Galaxy team was also one of two MLS clubs to ever win an intercontinental cup.  He is the winningest head coach in MLS history and has the Sounders poised to challenge for the 2012 MLS Cup.

2.  Dominic Kinnear:  The coach of this year’s Eastern Conference champions narrowly edges Sigi Schmid in my rankings because since 2006, Houston has been one of the league’s most successful teams.  Besides winning back-to-back MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007, this year may have been his best coaching job, leading an arguably less talented team to the MLS Cup.  All of this is even more impressive considering the fact that the team has worked within a tight budget and a changing ownership situation.

1.  Bruce Arena:  The National Soccer Hall of Famer continues to prove that he is arguable the greatest American soccer coach of all time.  Even though he had three famous designated players, it was his work with the Galaxy’s defense that was most impressive about the 2011 Galaxy.  The keys to the defense were that the two major contributors, A.J. De La Garza and Omar Gonzalez, were Arena draftees.  Arena guided a dominant team through a dominant season, essentially staking claim to the MLS Cup early in the season and never relinquishing it.  His history is unparalleled in the U.S., but even going into the new season he is still in a class by himself and recognized by many as the best head coach out there.

15 Responses to Who is the Best Head Coach in MLS?

  1. Denz says:

    Wow what a totally typical and crappy list, so you list credits
    back to 2001 for coaches but only one coach has been in 3
    conference finals in his 6 years as a coach, won a MLS Cup, had his
    team in the top 3 teams in the league the last 2 years, oh and
    taken his team to a CONCACAF Champions League final (was the first
    to win a group as well). How you could make a list of the best
    coaches in MLS today and not include Jason Kreis is simply a joke.
    You discredit your entire list by including Hyndman and Nowak at
    the cost of Kreis.

    • Oscar says:

      So the dude who runs a (mediocre) RSL blog is the first to comment
      … about the RSL coach being snubbed? If people bet on this stuff,
      you couldn’t get odds. You shouldn’t troll w/ your real name.

  2. Mickey says:

    No Jason Kreis, but putz Nowak is? Robert Hay, do you secretly work
    for MLSsoccer.com? I agree that Schmid, Arena, Kinnear and Hyndman
    are great coaches, put to say Kreis in the bottom 2/3s is just

  3. Michael says:

    I vote for Bruce Arena as the best head coach of the old MLS style.
    For all his club’s vaunted offense, they play a crappy
    attack-and-defend style that kept them in the middle of the pack in
    Goals Scored, requiring them to play 10-men-behind-the-ball to win
    matches. Put Kreis or Winter or (irony) Schmid in the LA coach’s
    seat and you’ve got a club people in Europe might be tuning in to
    watch. As far as the best coach FOR MLS in your very faulty list,
    it would have to be Schmid, who has actually showed great ability
    to change with the type of club he’s given and the new need to
    actually entertain fans, rather than decide that winning matches is
    all the entertainment fans need (if that were true we could all
    just stay at home and play Barca in FIFA 12).

    • Brian says:

      Hehe what is an “attack-and-defend style” and why is it crappy?
      There are a few exceptions (Aston Villa don’t attack; Arsenal don’t
      defend, New England do neither) but most teams do both or at least
      try to. I assume you mean a crappy defend-and-counter style. It’s
      mind-numbingly boring (I believe LA won 18 games last year in all
      competitions by 1-0 and they were the best in the league at
      suffocating the life out of a game) and that’s one of many reasons
      all neutrals hated them but LA was good at it and that’s all they
      and their fans care about.

  4. Daniel Nieves says:

    Well Michael, it’s a good thing championships are not based on
    styles. I see the title who is the “best head coach in MLS” and I
    only think of one thing “results” PERIOD. Now did I prefer my
    flashy showtime Lakers under Riley, better than Jackson’s sometimes
    boring (triangle offense) Lakers, heck yeah. But you can’t argue
    Jackson’s results; just as you can’t argue Arena’s. 2002 we were so
    close to heading into the semis of the world cup. Can you even say
    that without a little astonishment. But it did happen. Yes, Galaxy
    can be boring even with their star laden team (MLS standards),
    however it was our defense that won the title and with most sports
    DEFENSE wins championships. As for entertaining fans, our
    attendance at HDC does just fine, as for Europe watching who cares;
    we all know they have the best 3 leagues (EPL, La Ligue, Serie A)
    throw in Bundesliga, after that I’d take our top teams to compete
    with some of there’s regardless of styles. Overall, Coaches get
    paid for results and on that alone, Arena has a heck of a track
    record that can’t be topped in the U.S.

  5. Wascal says:

    What about Frank Klopas? How about that turn-around for the Fire?

    • Robert Hay says:

      Wascal - I personally like Klopas but I need a full year of him to
      add him to such a list. I suspect if they improve this year like
      they could, then he will soon be here.

  6. Charles says:

    Giving credit to Sigi for the US Open Cups is not right. Sounders
    spend more and didn’t spend like LA did ( all on starters ).
    Because of this they are deeper than any other team, they crushed
    the reserve league last year to prove it even further. Plus they
    beat CCL champions, Monterrey away with the subs last year. Sigi
    has been TOTALLY outcoached by Kinnear, Arena and yes, the one who
    was left off, Kries in the 3 playoff failures. If Kinnear came back
    to the Sounders, and had Sigi situation, it would be game over. 30
    days. Santos won’t know what hit them.

    • Oscar says:

      Agree re: US Open Cups. One team takes this much, much more
      seriously than the rest. I don’t see it as much of an

      • Charles says:

        The idea that the other teams don’t take it seriously is wrong. It
        is hard to play all the competiitons seriously. The other teams
        just don’t have Ianni, Neagle, Fucitio etc sitting on the bench. It
        is a huge accomplishment for the team, but for coaching ? I think
        the deck was stacked WAY in his favor with home games and a way
        deeper team than anyone else who had a shot of winning.

        • Real Charles says:

          Sorry. I’ll read again! Guy above us didn’t say other teams don’t
          take it seriously. He just said Seattle take it more seriously. I’m

  7. Chuck says:

    Pretty tough pill for me to swallow. I cannot dispute the quality
    of the likes of Arena, but I think that it’s wrong to hold more
    value (in this “analysis”) to tight budgets and changing ownership
    than you do to things like building depth and winning 3 consecutive
    Open Cups. And other teams “not caring as much” about the cup is
    just a way around having to say “we got our asses handed to us by

  8. Pasto Nemal says:

    Bruce Arena? You mean, the guy who was utterly mediocre at leading the US team, then needed Beckham and Keane to barely win MLS once (not counting the days when my grandma could have won it)? My grandma would have won EPL with that funding. Bruce - a joke. The real good coaches - Preki while at Chivas - look at where they were before and after him, and look at their budget. Another one - Kinnear - Dero goes, Holden goes, Clark goes, no problem. He still goes to the finals. Give Houston to Arena, and they would dissintegrate under those circumstances, just like Chivas did after Preki left. Again, Bruce is a joke.

    • Pasto -

      The man has won MLS Cups in every iteration of MLS - the early years and the current MLS. Does he have a major advantage by having major financial backing and star power? Undoubtedly, I agree with you there. But you can look to New York to see that even star power needs a good coach guiding it.

      BTW #5 looks pretty dumb in hindsight….

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