With 2013 just a few days old, there are already plenty of talking points on the Canadian soccer landscape with the latest being Montreal's appointment of a new head coach.
The announcement of Marco Schallibaum's hiring on Monday caused quite a stir in MLS circles with many questioning the move, but this type of appointment certainly doesn't come as a surprise. It is, however, a big gamble.
It's no secret that the most successful coaches in Major League Soccer have deep roots within the North American game. They either came through the college system in the United States or played in MLS during their career, which gives them a major advantage when coaching in the league and dealing with the unique aspects of the game here. There has been a long list of coaches who have come from Europe who haven't been able to find success in MLS, but there are also exceptions such as Gary Smith, who came over from England and won MLS Cup in 2010 after just three seasons in the league.
Although Schallibaum is a name that will be new to many people, Impact president Joey Saputo had very specific criteria when searching for his new head coach and Schallibaum ticks all of those boxes.
When I spoke with Saputo at the MLS Cup in Los Angeles in early December, he told me he wanted someone with European experience but said that man wouldn't be an Italian. He wanted someone who agreed with the footballing philosophy that the club has and also someone who could speak both English and French. But one of the key aspects of the appointment was the desire to teach. Saputo wanted his new coach to mentor players but also develop the younger coaches currently at the club.
Schallibaum arrives in Montreal having spent the last couple of years as a FIFA coaching instructor so he has the teaching abilities that Saputo was looking for. He also speaks four languages, including English and French, and has almost a decade of experience managing in the Swiss top flight.
None of that means that he will be a success in MLS, but in a unique market, Saputo has managed to find someone who meets his requirements.
Until we see what the rest of Montreal's coaching staff will look like and also get a chance to watch Schallibaum at work, it's difficult to fully assess the appointment, but it will be key for Montreal to learn from mistakes at other clubs and ensure their new coach has the support necessary to navigate uncharted territory.
Along the 401
Speculation continues to gain momentum surrounding the potential arrival of New Zealander Ryan Nelson at Toronto FC.
The 35-year-old is currently playing for Queens Park Rangers in the English Premier League but, according to his current manager Harry Redknapp, he's been offered a coaching job in MLS. Toronto FC is the likely destination for Nelson, who previously played in MLS for DC United and is therefore well known to TFC's new president and general manager Kevin Payne.
Given Kevin Payne's public statement that Paul Mariner will be the club's coach in 2013, it seems logical that Nelson would be brought in as an assistant to work alongside Mariner. However, at a club where nothing should come as a surprise, it can't be counted out that Nelson's position could be more than just an assistant and that he would be given the opportunity to manage the team.
The rebuild continued on Monday as technical manager Bob de Klerk left the club. The move comes as no surprise, given that de Klerk didn't really fit into management's plans following the departure of fellow Dutchman Aron Winter last spring.
Miller For Canada
The news broke Sunday night on Team 1040 in Vancouver that, as expected, Colin Miller will be named as the interim head coach of Canada's Men's National Team. The current FC Edmonton head coach will take charge of Canada for friendly matches against Denmark and the United States later this month.
There's no doubt Miller provides a safe pair of hands for Canada and that is exactly what they need right now. After the humiliation of the 8-1 loss to Honduras in World Cup Qualifying, it's important that the Canadian Soccer Association doesn't rush into hiring a full-time successor to Stephen Hart. They need to make sure they get the right candidate for the long haul. That doesn't mean just having someone in place for 2013, but a leader who can take the team forward towards the next World Cup qualification campaign. That man might not be available right now.
So the CSA has turned to a man who is steeped in Canadian soccer. Miller is a former captain of Canada and has held the position of interim coach before. Just as importantly, he places great emphasis on developing young Canadian talent, something he talked about in great depth when he was appointed as FC Edmonton head coach recently. At a time when it is important to give younger players the experience of international football to groom them for later years, Miller seems a good fit until a full-time head coach is hired.