A Christmas wish for Canada's Major League Soccer teams - stability. With Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact appointing new head coaches last week, Toronto FC's Ryan Nelsen is now the longest serving manager of the three teams as he enters just his second season in charge of the club.
Through seven seasons in MLS there has been constant change at Toronto FC both in management and playing personnel, while the Whitecaps and Impact are also yet to find the precious winning formula since joining the league.
Carl Robinson was appointed as Martin Rennie's successor in Vancouver last week as the Whitecaps named their third “permanent” head coach in as many MLS seasons. In Montreal, Frank Klopas was handed the job of replacing Marco Schallibaum as the Impact named the third head coach heading into just their third year in MLS.
What all three clubs need now is stability. Robinson and Klopas were both handed multi-year contracts, and they need to be given time to implement a plan. Short-term success is desirable of course, but executing a plan that will make their teams playoff contenders for the long-term is much more important.
Robinson's appointment was met with many plaudits within the game. Players from within the Whitecaps welcomed the promotion of the assistant coach and talked in glowing terms about his qualities, and those who have played alongside Robinson for club and country such as Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey also voiced their belief that he will become a successful coach.
I believe Robinson has all the qualities necessary to establish himself as a top coach in Major League Soccer, and hopefully he will be given the time and support from Whitecaps' management to allow that to happen in Vancouver. At his introductory press conference, the former Welsh international made no secret of his desire to give younger players a chance in the first team. The Whitecaps have some excellent younger players coming through their Residency Program, along with those already in the team.
The Whitecaps have the potential to be an exciting, young, attacking team next season, and Robinson seems to be the perfect person to lead the charge. Of course, it won't always be easy. A new head coach will make mistakes, and young players will lack consistency. It might take some time, but hopefully everyone connected to the club will support the plan and have patience in working towards long-term success.
The departure of Marco Schallibaum in Montreal certainly came as no surprise after the Impact coach had been left in limbo following the club's exit from the playoffs. Schallibaum got off to a fantastic start in Montreal before the team collapsed in the second half of the season, and the way they lost their discipline as they crashed out of the playoffs in Houston was totally unacceptable.
In mid-summer, it seemed certain that Schallibaum would return to the club for a second season, but now the Impact will be heading in a different direction for the third successive season. In their expansion year it was Jesse Marsch – a young head coach with vast experience as a player in Major League Soccer. His record was pretty good, but in the end his vision for how to achieve success didn't match with that of the owner Joey Saputo and Sporting Director Nick De Santis. They wanted to regain the Impact's identity and hired an experienced head coach from Europe who had very little knowledge of MLS. At first it seemed like a master-stroke, but the trials of a long MLS season took its toll on both Schallibaum and his team.
So now it's season three, and a third different type of coach. This time the Impact have tried to find some middle ground. Frank Klopas has European experience spending some of his playing days in Greece, but he also has a deep knowledge of Major League Soccer having been a player and coach in the league for almost two decades.
Klopas has the European background that Saputo and DeSantis were looking for when they hired Schallibaum, and also the MLS knowledge they wanted when they chose Marsch. Klopas also has the experience to be able to continue developing the younger coaches within the Impact staff. As with Robinson and the Whitecaps, Klopas needs to be given time in Montreal.
As we enter the 2014 season, Ryan Nelsen in Toronto has the shortest leash of the coaches in charge of Canada's three teams. The New Zealander had a poor squad to work with and management upheaval in his first year as a head coach, but now those issues have gone. With Tim Leiweke and Tim Bezbatchenko in charge, the club finally seems to be moving in the right direction. The squad of players will be much improved, and Nelsen will get the support he needs from above.
However, Nelsen knows he has to get things right on the pitch quickly. “They won't give me much more time,” he said in a New Zealand newspaper interview this week. Toronto FC needs success or the club is in danger of becoming irrelevant. Stability is key, but Toronto doesn't have the luxury of giving the coach time to work things out. With what we have seen so far this offseason from Leiweke and Bezbatchenko, it's likely Nelsen could have the best squad ever assembled by TFC to start a season. With those pieces in place, the pressure will be firmly on the coach to get the team to perform from day one.