Real Salt Lake became the first MLS team to fire their manager this season on Monday when they let go of head coach Jeff Cassar, who had signed a contract extension just months ago. Cassar oversaw a draw-loss-loss start for his injury-riddled RSL, and they now will begin the search for a new, hopefully Homegrown-trusting, manager.
Ranking the Five MLS Managers Currently on the Hot Seat
As the coaching carousel begins in Salt Lake City (sorry, Sandy), Utah we begin to think of the other MLS managers who could be shown the door this season if results do not go their way. Here are the most likely five:
5. Gregg Berhalter (Columbus Crew SC)
One of the more talented young managers the United States has to offer, Berhalter took the Crew to an MLS Cup in 2015 and has assembled one of the more talented rosters in the league. But after a ninth-place finish last season and a lethargic-looking draw-loss-win start to the year despite a starting XI that looks similar to (if not better than) the one that won the Eastern Conference just a couple years ago, Berhalter’s seat should be getting just a bit warmer in Columbus.
The former US national teamer continues to lose sleep at night over the multitude of tactical problems he has yet to solve. The 3-6-1 he tried in D.C. produced a 2-0 victory, but that looks to be nothing more than a holdover until he figures out how to 1) turn possession into final third chances without 2015 Federico Higuain and 2) how not to get decimated along the right flank when Harrison Afful bombs forward.
Without top-three level results and long term solutions to those problems and others, the organization could face pressure for the fanbase to relieve Berhalter of his duties. I expect them to lenient, though, given the team’s talent and his previous accomplishments.
4. Ben Olsen (D.C. United)
There is real panic in D.C. as United have two losses and a draw to start the season, and they have yet to pull the ball in the back of the net once despite two home games. It’s early — and DCU’s two best attackers, Patrick Mullins and Luciano Acosta, have had just 28 minutes on the field together — but the front office won’t take too many more eggs on the scoreboard no matter who is on the field.
Possibly contributing to an Olsen departure would be the mid-table mediocrity that D.C. has suffered from over the last two seasons (or at least as close as you can get to that in this league). They have finished fourth in the Eastern Conference each of the last two years, and they have struggled to make much noise in the postseason since, to be honest, 2012. He’s a club legend, but finishing fourth every year is not enough.
Moving away from “Benny Ball” last season could be his saving grace. Olsen implemented a more aesthetically-pleasing style of play that was enough for a late run into the playoffs, and it should give the front office and the fanbase reason to believe that he is capable of making the necessary switches to turn things around.
3. Dominic Kinnear (San Jose Earthquakes)
When you miss the playoffs two seasons in a row, you are going to be in serious danger of getting the boot no matter what. Kinnear is in that the situation with San Jose right now, and if the Quakes are languishing deep in the competitive Western Conference by, say, May or June and there isn’t significant progress being made, that could be the death signal for the legendary MLS manager.
Given their performance so far, it doesn’t appear that he is in immediate danger, though. San Jose have six points from three games and would have had an away draw in Kansas City last weekend if not for an unfortunate goalkeeping howler from David Bingham. Kinnear is showing confidence in the types of players he previously had exiled to the bench (Tommy Thompson is getting starting-caliber minutes, and dynamic winger Jahmir Hyka played 60 minutes in KC) and it has put them on a similar attacking level as their counterparts.
He remains high on this list despite the obvious progress due to the short leash he likely entered the season on. Multiple bad results in a row could lead Kinnear to the same fate as Cassar.
2. Carl Robinson (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Remember when the Whitecaps were a popular pick to win the Supporters’ Shield last year? Carl Robinson surely remembers that as well, and those lofty expectations and the ensuing disappointing results over the last couple of seasons have his seat heating up with every dispiriting 2-0 loss.
The Welsh manager is a promising tactician and player manager and deserves plenty of chances to get Vancouver on the right track. But the Whitecaps have more talent on their roster than they have been letting on recently, and that can be a sure death knell for coaches across all sports. Like Kinnear, Robinson probably entered the season on a relatively short leash, but unlike his conference rival, the early season results have not been up to par. They look likely crash out of the CONCACAF Champions League against Tigres, and they have just one point from three MLS contests, two of which were at home.
Vancouver’s next four MLS matches are against conference opponents, so that could act as a good litmus test for whether Robinson is able to lead the Caps to the postseason, which is an absolute must this year. As long as Fredy Montero is not scoring goals and Matias Laba is receiving zero support in the midfield, they won’t be getting very far.
1. Jay Heaps (New England Revolution)
Heaps’s last ditch effort to push goals out of New England’s uber-talented attack could also very well be his last opportunity to save his job. The Revolution have put out a 4-4-2 diamond formation each of their first two games, and while it is a (very) small sample size, the early returns have not been promising.
A 1-0 loss at Colorado and a 2-1 loss in Dallas are not, by any means, disastrous results in this league. But the goal of the new formation was to get more attacking output from the stockpile of talented attackers, and that has not happened. The playing styles of Lee Nguyen, Kei Kamara, and Juan Agudelo do not go together, and while it is a very hard puzzle to solve (and the only solution could be a Kamara trade), Heaps has had almost a year to figure it out, and he hasn’t yet.
This combined with the failure of the backline to solve the problems that it saw last year (a lack of cohesiveness, and costly avoidable mistakes) could result in the end of Heaps’s tenure in New England. It will likely come down to the results he earns in the next couple of months, and whether he is able to keep pace with the rest of the league.