In less than a month during the heart of the Major League Soccer season, both New York teams were forced into finding new head coaches as their previous top men packed their bags and headed off to Europe.
In mid-June, Patrick Vieira said goodbye to New York City FC as he took the head coaching position at Nice in France’s Ligue 1. Just weeks later, Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch announced he was leaving with the presumed destination being New York’s sister club, RB Leipzig of the Bundesliga. (On July 9, Marsch was officially named an assistant coach for Leipzig.)
The decisions by both men give them each the opportunity to coach in two of the biggest football leagues in Europe, something few would refuse. But their decisions also send a clear message to MLS. Vieira and Marsch left clubs mid-season that each has a legitimate chance of winning MLS Cup. That fact wasn’t enough to keep either in the States. They both wanted the next challenge, and Europe was that opportunity.
MLS will likely spin the moves by Vieira and Marsch in a positive light on the league, saying these young, up-and-coming coaches refined their talents in the U.S. and moved on to Europe. It doesn’t wash. Leagues want to keep their most talented players and coaches, not watch them leave for other ports of call.
Ironically, as the two coaches were heading to Europe, aging European stars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney were heading west across the Atlantic. It’s hard to shake the “retirement league” label when it keeps happening.
Admittedly, it’s not completely fair to compare MLS to the long-standing top-flight leagues in Europe, but the moves by Vieira and Marsch do shine a bright light on the challenges still facing Major League Soccer and the changes it needs to implement if it will be viewed as an upper-echelon league in the future.
On a positive note, new teams in Atlanta and Los Angeles have shown there is a strong appetite for soccer in the U.S. And forthcoming clubs in Cincinnati and Nashville will also be interesting test cases in smaller markets that have shown they will support the sport.
Those teams, however, joined MLS through expansion and not promotion/relegation. Someday, U.S. Soccer needs to institute the Pro/Rel system to allow for even greater growth of the game in the world’s third most populous country.
In addition, MLS also needs to alter its schedule to match the August to May timeframe of other leagues around the world. The fact that MLS had matches during the World Cup was just silly. It’s time for Don Garber to realize that unlike his counterparts in the four other big U.S. professional sports leagues, his league is attached to a sport that is truly global.
These moves would provide additional opportunity for growth and avoid the issue of coaches on top teams leaving mid-season for better opportunities elsewhere.
(This story was updated to include information regarding Marsch joining RB Leipzig.)
Greg Sleter is the Editor/Publisher of SleterFC.com.