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Backpass: The Candidates

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While the Rapids 2017 season drags to an ignoble conclusion, the candidates to manage the 2018 campaign begin to emerge.

Steve Cooke is just one of the many candidates the Rapids will choose from for head coach.
John Babiak, @Photog_Johnb

On the pitch, the Rapids lost 2017 season grinds on towards its end; an end almost certain to be outside of the playoff picture. But off the pitch, another game entirely is taking place in the executive offices of 6000 Victory Way. There, Interim General Manager Pádraig Smith, Interim Chief Business Officer Wayne Brant, Director of Soccer Claudio Lopez, and Director of Scouting Mitch Murray pour over stacks of resumes and review video of teams from Lisbon to China and Venezuela to Edmonton, looking for the head coach for the 2018 Colorado Rapids.

Reports have begun to trickle out about potential coaches, so it seems like it’s worth my time to sit down and speculate on this whole big pile of resumes; the real, the rumored, and the entirely imaginary.

I can’t profess to be an expert - or even mildly familiar - with many of these folks; their coaching styles, strengths and weaknesses, experience, etcetera. Also, I don’t think it worth your time or mine to run down every kniggling detail about twenty-five managers in twenty-five different languages, considering that twenty-four of those dossiers immediately become irrelevant in November when a new coach is announced. And furthermore, the only predictor of a coach’s success in MLS... is success in MLS. A coach that has been successful in a foreign league may not be successful here in America. Hans Backe and Juan Carlos Osorio and Ruud Gullit and Owen Coyle and Adrian Heath all had success before or after MLS as managers, but struggled to adapt to their time in the league. On the other hand, Tata Martino and Patrick Viera seem to be doing just fine, thank you very much.

So with that preface, I’ll still go into the most salient information and some wild speculation on the possibilities. If only because it’s certainly better than breaking down yet another Rapids loss from this Saturday.

The Known Candidates

Four candidates have been reported by Burgundy Wave and the Denver Post, based on sources close to the Rapids. They are: César Farías, Henning Berg, Jeremy Gunn, and Josh Wolff.

César Farías is 44 years old. He began coaching as a young man in 1998 in the Venezuelan second division, and successfully propelled his team to promotion. A number of additionally successful stints in Venezuelas top two divisions resulted in his being named the coach of the Venezuelan National team from 2007 to 2013, where he was quite successful, finishing fifth in the region for qualification to the 2010 World Cup, and taking his team to the semi-finals of the Copa America in 2011. He has also managed in Liga MX with Tijuana. He is currently head coach of Bolivian team The Strongest.

Former Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers defender Henning Berg is 48 years old. He’s a native of Norway, where he received 100 caps in his international career, third-most in Norwegian MNT history. His managerial career began only in 2005, and it’s been... uneven. He managed at two clubs in Norway until 2011. In 2012, he became manager at Blackburn Rovers, taking over the club after they had been relegated from the Premiership after ten years in the top flight. In 2012, Blackburn went through five different managers, Berg being the third. He compiled a 1-3-6 (WTL) record and was sacked the day after Christmas. Blackburn narrowly escaped relegation. Since then, he’s managed Polish powerhouse Legia Warsaw and Hungarian side Videoton. He’s been successful at both, winning two cups with Warsaw and finishing second with Videoton, but was sacked at both.

Jeremy Gunn, who was on my list of interesting possibilities before the Post announced him as an official candidate, is the current coach at Stanford University. A native of England, Gunn has steered the Cardinal to back-to-back NCAA championships; as well as three consecutive Pac-12 titles, no small feat in one of the best conferences in US collegiate soccer. He has a Rapids connection, in that Rapids Academy product Andrew Epstein is his starting GK.

Josh Wolff is a name familiar to MLS fans. The 40 year-old American joined MLS out of college in 1998 and played 267 career games in MLS, and also started 52 times for the USMNT. He is currently an assistant for Columbus Crew and has no head coaching experience, but has been a name floating around MLS circles for a head coaching gig for some time now.

Possible Candidates: High Profile and European Division

There are a number of high profile European coaches that are looking for work. It is entirely possible that the Rapids are not interested in any of these, nor would any of these managers be interested in working in Commerce City. And before NYCFC and Atlanta entered the league, I would have never entertained the idea of some of these guys. Tata Martino managed Argentina and Barcelona before coming to an MLS expansion team that had never kicked a ball until March of this year. So I believe all options are on the table in 2017, even for the Rapids.

Moreover, managing in Europe is hell. If you’re in England, you can’t go outside as an EPL manager without a Sun or Mirror reporter leaping out of your glovebox, or a fan berating you over your curry at a London restaurant. Ditto for Italy, Germany, and Spain. To be honest, I don’t know why any sane person would want any those jobs. Compare that to MLS, where I assume that, although the coaching is still a challenge, the lifestyle for US soccer coaches is much, much more comfortable. The Denver Post does not report on what Steve Cooke had for breakfast.

So recently fired coaches like Alan Pardew, Frank De Boer, Thomas Tuchel, David Moyes, and Pako Ayestaran are all certainly options. Pardew and De Boer were both at Crystal Palace until recently. Tuchel had the unenviable job of following Jürgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, and was successful, but not successful enough. David Moyes was supposed to be the successor to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, but got just one season there. He’s coached, unsuccessfully, at Real Sociedad and Sunderland since then. Pako Ayestaran followed up a very successful season at Maccabi Tel Aviv with two very poor seasons with Santos Laguna in Mexico and Valencia in Spain.

What all of these coaches need is a shot at redemption. Each is probably persona non-grata in the big four leagues, with the possible exception of Tuchel. Coaching in MLS might be ‘beneath their dignity’, but it’s also entirely possible that not too many other teams have come a-calling.

Harry Redknapp is also available. But... oh please God no.

Possible Candidates: Swedish Rumor Mill Division

Several news outlets in Sweden have reported the Rapids are sniffing around in Scandinavia for a manager. Brøndby (Sweden) coach Alex Zorniger, FC Nordsjælland (Denmark) coach Kasper Hjulmand, IK Sirius (Sweden) co-coaches Kim Bergstrand and Thomas Lagerlöf, and AIK’s (Swededn) Rikard Norling are all being looked at according to this website. All of that seems possible. I’m not going to speculate. I will say that any one of these guys getting hired is going to be a spelling nightmare for MLS beat writers.

Possible Candidates: Mexican Division

Liga MX is a league close to the US; the quality of play and coaching is very high; and the value a Spanish-speaking coach in a league with so many Latin players is obvious. And yet only a handful of coaches have ever come from Liga MX to MLS.

Several recently-fired Liga MX coaches; Jose Manuel ‘Chepo’ De La Torre of Santos Laguna, Francisco Palencia of UNAM, Javier Torrente of Léon, and Carlos Reinoso of Veracruz all seem like potential candidates. Additionally, some of the more successful coaches at clubs other than the big four of Tigres, Monterrey, Club America and Chivas might be persuaded to jump to MLS. Necaxa coach Alfonso Sosa, Tijuana coach Eduardo Coudet, and Toluca coach Hernán Cristante all seem like possibilities.

There are two big advantages to hiring a Liga MX coach. First, there are the PR opportunities it grants to the Rapids here with Latinos in Colorado that follow Liga MX, a league that draws a far larger TV audience in the US than MLS does. Second, a coach would have additional leverage and connections to draw talented players from Mexico to come to Colorado.

To be honest, I don’t think the Rapids are really looking in this direction. But they should.

Possible Candidates: American Division

Then you’ve got a bunch of possible American coaches: the recently fired, the young up-and-comers, and all manner of things in between.

Jeff Cassar and Curt Onolfo are both on the job market, but I don’t think too highly of their work to date, and I suspect the Rapids front office doesn’t either. Jay Heaps is an excellent coach who was in a bad situation in New England, but he’s got a similar profile to Pablo Mastroeni - successful American player, mid-40’s, managed only in MLS. Seems like a bad fit for us. There are a number of former MLS players like Pat Noonan, Brian Ching, and Conor Casey who were successful players and might make good MLS managers. That’s exactly what the Rapids did with Pablo Mastroeni, though, so I don’t imagine they’ll take that route again.

Former MLS interim coach Wade Barrett is another possibility, as is Dom Kinnear, if he’d like to leave the staff at the LA Galaxy to be a head coach again. The New York Cosmos head coach, Giovanni Savarese, seems like a possibility, although it is really hard to extrapolate how NASL success would translate to MLS, if at all. Down in USL Louisville City, the Charlotte Independence, and the Real Monarchs have all been good this year. If James O'Connor , Mike Jeffries , and Mark Briggs’ resumes make it out of the pile, they might have a chance.

A few NCAA coaches other than Jeremy Gunn might make the jump to the professional coaching ranks. Todd Yeagley at Indiana University and Bobby Muuss at Wake Forest have been extremely successful. Both are young, and might be great options for the Rapids. Muuss was the head coach at the University of Denver, too. So maybe he, like a lot of Coloradans, misses the mountains after a little time away.

Possible Candidates: Local Division

Lastly (finally! there’s so many names!) you’ve got three local candidates.

Jamie Franks at DU took that smallish school all the way to NCAA Men’s Soccer Final Four last year. He’s young at 31 years old; bright and well-respected. This season hasn’t been quite as successful, as the Pioneers have stumbled to a 4-4 record so far. But he’s certainly in consideration.

Steve Trittschuh was an original Colorado Rapid, playing for the team from 1996 to 1999. He’s been head coach for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. He’s certainly a longshot for the job, but stranger things have happened.

And then, at long last, there’s our current Interim Head Coach, Steve Cooke. I think if Cooke had somehow miraculously turned this club around over the past seven games that he’s been in command, he’d have a better-than-even chance to be named head coach. Instead, they’re 1-1-5 with him at the helm. I really hope that doesn’t wreck his chances of fulfilling his career dreams down the road. I have to think that, when he was asked to step in as interim, he and the club made some arrangements in the event that he wasn’t kept after October, even if those arrangements were simply a big severance package.

...

Normally, I’d try and put odds or speculate on who I’d think was the most likely candidate. But this list is too damn big, and honestly, there’s probably another 20 candidates I haven’t even thought of. So, dear reader, you tell me: which of these folks* do you think the Rapids might pick?

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* I wrote ‘folks’, even though I first wrote ‘men’. Even though I think Pia Sundhage and Jill Ellis would be intriguing candidates, something tells me the Rapids are not really considering the possibility of a woman as coach. Which sucks. But maybe someday that’ll be a possibility.