Despite the on-pitch action being over for another year for Canada's three MLS teams, there is still plenty to be resolved in the coming weeks as the Whitecaps, Impact and Toronto FC all have crucial decisions to make ahead of the 2014 season. On this week's blog, I look at three big questions surrounding our MLS clubs.
1. Who is next in Vancouver?
When the Whitecaps took the decision not to renew the contract of head coach Martin Rennie after two years with the club, it seemed as though Frank Yallop would be the man to take over the job. However, the former Canada head coach instead became the top man in Chicago with the Fire - a deal that was completed in the space of 24 hours, something that maybe caught Vancouver a little bit by surprise and ruled out a leading contender to replace Rennie.
The Whitecaps have now started the interview process. Current assistant coach Carl Robinson should be a leading candidate. Another name in the running is Richie Williams. Marc Weber reported in the Vancouver Province this week that Williams was in Vancouver to meet with club officials about the position. The former New York Red Bulls player and assistant coach is currently head coach of the United States U17 team.
Promoting Robinson would be a move that is welcomed by many of the Whitecaps' players. Both Canadian Russell Teibert and MLS Golden Boot winner Camilo have given their support to the former Wales international who has plenty of experience in Major League Soccer since joining the league in 2007. He is well-respected around the league as a bright young coaching mind who will go on to be a successful head coach in Major League Soccer.
The Whitecaps have a wealth of young talent within their squad and their Residency Program so the new coach must be someone who is capable of developing that talent. Both Robinson and Williams have experience in that area. There is also the possibility of the Whitecaps holding out to see who else becomes available in the coming weeks. Will Sigi Schmid stay in Seattle? Is out-of-contract Jason Kreis really a viable option? With decisions needing to be taken regarding players' futures, the Whitecaps need to move swiftly to fill the void if they are to have the maximum time available to prepare properly for next season.
2. Will Marco be back in Montreal?
Montreal Impact president Joey Saputo apologized to the 'MLS family' during his post-season press conference earlier this week following his club's meltdown in Houston a few days earlier. The 3-0 defeat against the Dynamo was hard to take, but the way in which the team lost their heads was a bitter pill to swallow. Finishing with eight men was bad enough, but losing top scorer Marco Di Vaio for the first three games of next season after supplemental discipline was a further kick in the teeth.
Whether or not the loss of Di Vaio will be a problem for Marco Schallibaum to deal with remains to be seen. The Swiss coach is keen to come back for another year, but Saputo and Sporting Director Nick De Santis are still unsure whether they want to stick with Schallibaum in 2014. That would have been unthinkable even two months ago, with Montreal still tied for first place in the Eastern Conference as late as mid-September, but the way they plummeted down the standings has raised concerns.
Saputo is wise to take his time over the decision instead of making a rash move while the emotion of the playoff exit is still very raw. If Schallibaum isn't back, it would be the third coach in as many years for Montreal. The decision must come down to why Saputo and De Santis believe things went wrong in the closing weeks of the year. In late summer, they were happy with the coach and expected him to lead them into next year. Does the last two months of the season change that?
Down the stretch, the Impact were unable to field a settled lineup due to a number of significant injuries. It seemed the squad also struggled to deal with the impact of the added Champions League games in the schedule. That is beyond Schallibaum's control, but there were also questions surrounding some personnel decisions as well as some key games where they looked flat. Schallibaum is an intelligent coach and someone who has the respect of many of the players. If given the opportunity to return, I believe he will have learned some key lessons from his first season in MLS, and will come back a stronger, wiser leader next season.
3. Is Toronto's DP search nearing an end?
Toronto FC supporters have grown tired of broken promises in recent years, especially in the 2013 season when there was plenty of talk about Designated Player signings that wasn't backed up with actions. However, it seems under new MLSE president Tim Leiweke, the club is finally getting close to securing a couple of big name additions.
Two of Toronto's main targets right now are Italian forward Alberto Gilardino and England striker Jermaine Defoe. Gilardino's agent attended the final match of the season at BMO Field against Montreal a couple of weeks ago, and reports suggest a deal has been agreed upon with the striker's current club Genoa which would see the man who won the World Cup with Italy in 2006 added to the Reds' squad at some stage next year.
The club is also doing all it can to woo Defoe. The Tottenham Hotspur striker is a former teammate of Reds' head coach Ryan Nelsen and when asked about the 31-year-old, Nelsen said he would be a 'phenomenal' signing, speaking in glowing terms about his finishing ability and also his character on and off the pitch.
While the additions of Gilardino and Defoe alone would not guarantee a turnaround, they would go a long way to finally giving the long-suffering fans a team capable of challenging for the playoffs. It would give the club two proven goal scorers who have the potential to be prolific in MLS – if they get the service. That's where new GM Tim Bezbatchenko and Nelsen would have to work hard to ensure they can secure the pieces necessary to give those big name players the opportunity to thrive.
While these deals are still not across the finish line, it does seem as if significant progress has been made, and Toronto are closing in on a couple of major signings that would finally provide the fans with something to smile about.