The MLS is distinctive in the sense that many of the coaches are about as old as some of the league’s best players. Furthermore, save for two Colombians, one Welshman and one Kiwi, every coach in the league right now is from either the United States or Canada, making it a largely homegrown league as far as bench bosses are concerned.
On this list, we’ll be ranking the top 10 coaches currently working in the MLS based on their overall reputation and their history in the league, as well as their managerial statistics. Some have won MLS Cups, others have not. Some have been in managing – whether for their current club or just in general – for a very long time, while others are relative newcomers to managing after just coming out of having played in recent seasons. Regardless, they have found success in a league where managers’ shelf lives can be short, and one can only hope that some of them will be good enough to break that trend.
In the case of some, they have experience managing national teams – Frank Yallop with his native Canada, and Bruce Arena with his native United States. Others such as Gregg Berhalter and Peter Vermes had previously established themselves as players in the MLS before going on to have successful roles as managers. Time will dictate how long these 10 men last as bench bosses of their respective clubs, but their track record so far helps them stand out among everyone else in a league that is growing extremely fast and has four more teams waiting to join the MLS by 2017.
However, managers are often hired to be fired, thus these 10 men need to prove they can establish their places in the MLS more than those before them. With that in mind, here are the top 10 MLS managers in the league right now.
10. Gregg Berhalter — Columbus Crew
Coming to the Crew’s bench after a somewhat disappointing year-long stint at Hammarby IF in Sweden that saw him get axed from the coaching role, Gregg Berhalter has only been Columbus’ manager since November. However, he’s wasted no time making Columbus into a strong club, as they currently hold the top spot in the East after the first seven games of the season. A former U.S. international as a player, Berhalter hasn’t had much time to settle as an MLS coach, but he’s off to a pretty good start as far as results are concerned. However, it remains to be seen how long he can keep it up for.
9. Oscar Pareja — FC Dallas
A former international for Colombia as a player, Oscar Pareja has established himself well as a manager in the MLS since arriving to the States first in 1998 as a player and then in 2012 as the manager of the Colorado Rapids. He stepped down after two years as their boss before quickly being hired by FC Dallas – the same club he once played for. Currently, he’s off to a good start: Dallas are currently tied for first in both the West and the MLS after the first eight games, winning five and getting 16 points, albeit with a somewhat slight four-goal difference.
8. Mark Watson — San Jose Earthquakes
This Vancouver native first established himself as a player in England, Sweden and the MLS and was a regular for the Canadian national team before taking up coaching in 2004. After several years as an assistant for the Earthquakes, he became San Jose’s full-time manager last June and got off to a pretty hot start by winning 13 and drawing five in his first 23 games at the helm. His season so far isn’t starting off as great, winning only one out of six so far with the Quakes on the outside looking in as far as a playoff position is concerned.
7. Dominic Kinnear — Houston Dynamo
Known initially as a player for the United States national team in the early ‘90s, the Scottish-born Dominic Kinnear has arguably achieved plenty more success as manager of the Houston Dynamo since 2006, winning the MLS Cup in his first season in charge and then repeating the year after. So far, the Dynamo are outside of the playoff picture at the early point of the season with two wins out of eight games, but Kinnear’s reputation is sealed based largely on his two consecutive victories. Prior to the Dynamo, Kinnear was known for his nearly two-year long stint in charge of the San Jose Earthquakes.
6. Frank Yallop — Chicago Fire
Born in Watford, England, the Canadian-bred Frank Yallop first became known for his long time as a player at Ipswich Town before coaching in the MLS since 2001 – interrupted by a stint managing the Canadian national team. However, his MLS coaching record is far more decorated, winning the MLS Cup twice with the Earthquakes in his first of two stints with the club. With another shorter stint as manager of the Galaxy under his belt, Yallop is currently in charge of the Chicago Fire, who are currently at the bottom of the Eastern Conference without a single game won out of seven so far.
5. Mike Petke — New York Red Bulls
A relative newcomer to a manager’s role after years of playing as a defender in the MLS, Mike Petke is currently at the helm of the New York Red Bulls, the team he last played for before retiring in 2010. He’s seen some definite success already: Petke helped guide the Red Bulls to an MLS Supporter’s Shield last season, though his team has some work to do to usurp the top dogs of the East, as they currently sit with 11 points tied with Sporting Kansas City, DC United and the New England Revolution. However, all three of those teams have games in hand.
4. Caleb Porter — Portland Timbers
He’s also a bit of a newcomer to coaching after failing to succeed as a player, but Caleb Porter made quite the first impression in his rookie year as bench boss of the Portland Timbers, guiding the team to a 14-5-15 season and making them top dogs of the Western Conference. His season also won Porter the award for MLS Coach of the Year. However, he’s having a bit of a sophomore slump so far: the Timbers are winless in their first eight games and currently sit bottom of the Western Conference; a stark contrast from their success the year prior.
3. Peter Vermes — Sporting Kansas City
Known previously as a longtime player in the MLS – and going to the 1990 World Cup in Italy with the United States national team – Peter Vermes’ reputation as a coach since 2009 has made a serious threat to challenge his feats during his playing days. Last year, he guided Sporting Kansas City – who he played for while they were known as the Wizards – to a penalty shootout victory against Real Salt Lake in the MLS Cup final, making him the only person to win an MLS Cup as a player and manager with the same club. His Sporting KC are tied for second in the East so far with 11 points in seven games.
2. Bruce Arena — Los Angeles Galaxy
His track record as a manager of the United States national team speaks largely for itself, as he brought the national team to two World Cup tournaments in 2002 and 2006 – the former seeing the U.S. make a historic run to the quarterfinals before crashing out 1-0 to eventual finalists Germany. Since 2008, Arena has been bench boss of the Los Angeles Galaxy, and has guided them to two MLS Cups in 2011 and 2012, with previous coaching experience with DC United and the New York Red Bulls. His Galaxy are currently just barely outside of the playoff picture, sitting sixth in the West with eight points in five games.
1. Sigi Schmid — Seattle Sounders
Although he never played at a professional level, the German-born American manager Sigi Schmid has established himself as arguably one of the most successful managers in MLS history. With two MLS Cups won in 2002 (with the Los Angeles Galaxy) and 2008 (with the Columbus Crew), Schmid also has two MLS Coach of the Year Awards under his belt thanks in part to his defensive style of play. His Sounders are currently tied for the top of the MLS and Western Conference with 16 points won in eight games, and his experience coaching in the league since 1999 is a testament to his reputation.