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The U.S. soccer establishment really should get past its fascination with all things British

Nov 12, 2013, 4:00 PM EDT

David Weir

I do not know David Weir, but I’m sure he’s a fine fellow. Talented player, too. Scotland may be a European middleweight, but you cannot be capped 69 times without knowing which end of the soccer ball is “up.”

Do for the record, what I am about to say is not about David Weir.

But when a “story” like this one tumbles out, and when people circulate said story through social media, I shake my head. Because it’s not really a story.

The piece in question says Weir would consider coaching in MLS for the right opportunity. Again, the man is just answering some journalist’s question, so this is not his fault.

If a Scottish publication wants to trumpet an inexperienced manager who just failed in his only coaching assignment (in England’s third tier, no less) and make a big deal about how he is “keen on managing in the US,” fair enough, I suppose. But do we (in the United States, that is) really need to act like Scottish football is doing us a favor here?

More to the point, how is this a headline for a solid site like MLSSoccer.com?

Is it more evidence that American soccer simply cannot divest itself from its historic attachments to British soccer?

Is it because, as some of my Twitter followers suggested, “Too many people get overly giddy when anyone overseas bats their eyes at MLS?”  Credit ‏Drew Epperley (@wvhooligan) for that one.

Others suggested that this is somehow attached to self-image, that international figures paying any kind of attention to MLS still provides some degree of league validation – even if plenty of us don’t believe it needs any.

Personally, here’s what I say:

Again, I don’t know Weir. He did play in college here (University of Evansville) but he didn’t play in MLS. Nor has he managed in the States. And coaches without a solid, working knowledge of the quirky vagaries of this league – the less familiar travel burden and the player acquisition methods that can be so vexing to the uninitiated, etc. – have a fairly spotty record.

Meanwhile, there are solid choices out there that are more familiar with the domestic soccer structures, who have better contacts in places that count.

Brian Haynes, for instance, just collected Coach of the Year honors in NASL.   He will get a shot in MLS sooner or later. Robin Fraser will get his second bite off the MLS coaching apple at some point. Eric Wynalda will find an MLS owner who doesn’t mind a maverick for a coach.

The list goes on, but the point should be clear. Thanks and all … but just because some guy is Scottish (or German, or Spanish or Argentine or whatever) and knows the game, we shouldn’t flattered that he “might consider us” or whatever.

We’re not chopped liver here.

  1. hjworton46 - Nov 12, 2013 at 5:59 PM

    Your league is in its infancy and for all intents and purposes, at the moment, you are chopped liver.

    • braxtonrob - Nov 14, 2013 at 3:03 PM

      @hjworton, You don’t know what side of the PLANET is up. Go crawl back under your rock.

  2. talgrath - Nov 12, 2013 at 6:46 PM

    To be clear, I agree that we shouldn’t be excited at the prospect of Weir coaching in MLS, honestly I don’t think any team wants him coaching. At the same time though, the idea that you need to know all of the quirks of MLS is simply wrong, ultimately that is the job of the General Manager, to know the ins and outs of talent acquisition.

    Many foreign coaches have not worked out…but you have to look at the circumstances of each, let’s examine this year, as an example. “Chelis” failed…but was that really his fault when players are literally being traded without his knowledge? Ryan Nelson also didn’t get his team to do much better than last year, but then again he’s literally new to coaching and Toronto FC just fired their general manager midseason (indicating the talent acquisition was not what it should be). Martin Rennie, arguably is the glaring example of the year of foreign coaching failure, but it’s not like he was terrible, just below average (and again, that may boil down a bit to talent acquisition, which is not his job). Marco Schallibaum took over from an American coach and did very well (admittedly, with more talent than Montreal had last year) to the point that he took the team at the bottom of the table to being the top team in the league at one point, ending 4th in the east and at least getting a whiff of the playoffs. The glaring example you might cite is the New York Red Bulls, who dropped Hans Backe for Mike Petke and did get the Supporters Shield, their first piece of real hardware; but then again Petke couldn’t get them any farther in the MLS Cup chase, which is the real prize. What’s more, Petke’s Red Bulls only had two (2) more points in the standings than Backe’s Red Bulls, a result so negligible that it is likely more chance than actual improvement; it isn’t that the Red Bulls did much better this year, it’s that other teams did much worse.

    Of course, you’re ignoring that one of the most successful coaches in the brief history of MLS was Steve Nicol, a Scot with no knowledge of MLS who took the Revolution to multiple MLS Cup finals and eventually won one. The fact of the matter is that talent acquisition is not the coaches job, the have their input, but the general manager (or whatever the club likes to name them) is the one to make the decisions; certainly I agree any GM needs to be familiar with the MLS cap structure though. Aside from cap structure and the playoffs, there is no major difference between MLS and any league in the world, play well and get lucky and you’ll win; a coach’s nationality doesn’t matter if they’re good at what they do.

    • joeyt360 - Nov 12, 2013 at 8:05 PM

      I don’t know about “no knowledge of MLS.” He coached the nearby Boston Bulldogs of the A-League (as it was called then) first, and would have had a reasonably close opportunity to observe. And most of the constraints upon an MLS coach went double for the A-League.

      “The fact of the matter is that talent acquisition is not the coaches job”

      Depends on the team. Jason Kreis went down to South America and got some of the crucial players that helped turn Real Salt Lake around. This was before the GM, Garth Lagerway, was hired, and Kreis essentially hired Lagerway. Bruce Arena also has player personnel authority. Peter Vermes was the GM before he was the coach, so this is basically his team he’s playing with. Etc.

      • talgrath - Nov 13, 2013 at 2:53 PM

        Perhaps I should clarify that, with the modern MLS team, talent acquisition decisions are made by the GM. No doubt, the coach wants to add input and probably will get a say (except on Chivas USA, obviously), but the coach isn’t the final say in the matter. The details of cap management are no longer the job of an MLS coach.

  3. dfstell - Nov 12, 2013 at 6:58 PM

    Yeah….I’m not sure this is such an appropriate fascination anymore either. I could kinda “get it” 15 years ago when we didn’t have native Americans who were used to being in a professional environment as players and coaches, but now we’ve got all sorts of guys that have come up through various levels of MLS and the lower leagues who probably know what they’re doing. That isn’t to say that foreign coaches don’t have anything to offer, but this is a very different world than the old days when the only American coaching options were guys from college and you had to wonder if they would be able to deal with professional athletes.

    • Steve Davis - Nov 12, 2013 at 8:17 PM

      “That isn’t to say that foreign coaches don’t have anything to offer, …”
      Exactly! And it’s all relevant. If Guus Hiddink says “Interested!” in MLS, that’s one thing. THAT is a story. But if its just some cat who barely has his managerial feet wet … that’s something else entirely.

  4. schmutzdeck - Nov 12, 2013 at 9:20 PM

    I’m being old fashioned and I believe, very American when I say it should not matter what a person’s nationality is.

    If he is the best coach for the job, then he should be hired.

    I think it’s wrong to hire someone just because he is American or just because, like Wynalda, he has been telling us how smart he is for so long we hire him just to shut him up.

  5. pmacd82 - Nov 13, 2013 at 12:37 AM

    I’ll take Mike Petke, an unheralded coaching prospect with MLS experience, over a David Weir anyday.

    P.S. Also in fairness, ask an unemployed coach if he’d go coach in Uzbekistan and he may very well say yes

  6. lyleoross - Nov 13, 2013 at 1:22 PM

    I had expected a slightly different bent on this article. In the last twenty or so years, world football has changed. It went from the physical long ball style developed in England, to the technical tika taka style developed in Brazil. Now, there seems to be a slight modification, with some blending of the styles as seen in Germany, where tika taka is used to set up a positional, and physical advantage.

    The U.S. had stayed dogmatically with that physical style of play (to me it seems to dominate CONCAFCA) up until the point where Mexico changed out to tika taka style and decimated our best efforts. At that point, we brought in JK and began rethinking our approach.

    The notion that we would do anything to continue to emulate the English style at this time is counter to the successes we’ve now had on the MNT. Instead of thinking English, we should be thinking about pushing what the MNT has done down into MLS. We should be hiring managers that think technical soccer, and we should be developing those players starting at the youth level.

    Whether or not Weir is good (and it seems that he is not) the whole philosophy is wrong. I’d rather be recruiting Spanish or a German coaches any day.

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