HONOLULU – In some soccer leagues, it is not unknown for the head coach to be fired after a poor result in a preseason friendly.
Steve Coppell, now manager of English Premier League side Reading, was sacked from his position at Crystal Palace in 2000 following a 5-1 summer loss to non-league opposition Crawley Town. Despite the Houston Dynamo's 6-1 defeat to Japanese J-League team Gamba Osaka in the final of the first-ever Pan-Pacific Championship last Saturday, Dominic Kinnear can rest easy.
His job is probably the safest in Major League Soccer.
Kinnear has led his franchise to back-to-back MLS Cups and knitted together the most organized team in the league, so it will take far more than one freak result to cast even a shred of doubt upon his credentials.
In a league designed to encourage parity, Kinnear has managed to buck the trend with solid, old-fashioned principles of teamwork and structure. And he has done so without getting star-crossed in the designated player free-for-all of importing big-name players.
"We feel comfortable doing things our way," Kinnear said. "We are not dismissing going down the route of a big international star, but it will only be if it is right for the team."
Kinnear is a modest and likeable character and, at times, it seems that he wants you to believe his success has almost come about by accident. But beneath his cheery smile and witty sense of humor, there lies one of America's sharpest soccer brains – and the kind of ruthless streak necessary in any top coach.
What is happening in Houston is certainly no accident.
For any coach, there can be a fine line between having a good rapport with your players and becoming too friendly and losing your authority. But Kinnear has managed it.
The Dynamo squad would run through brick walls for him. Still, each and every player knows that particular standards of conduct and fitness must be met at all times. Kinnear doesn't need to issue threats to remind his charges of what is expected of them.
Fans in Houston have been fed a steady diet of success since the franchise relocated from San Jose two years ago. With the tantalizing possibility of boxer Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions buying out current owners AEG and pumping in money, the future looks brighter than the team's garish orange shirts.
Perhaps Kinnear's biggest accomplishment is the way he managed to turn the upheaval of the venue shift to Texas into a positive.
"The way it turned out, it wasn't a bad thing," Kinnear said. "The guys were all together in a new place and didn't really know anyone else. It brought us all closer together."
His views are echoed by playmaker Dwayne De Rosario, the MVP of the 2007 MLS Cup. "We are a collective unit and we feel comfortable around each other," De Rosario said. "We know each other's games and our personalities and that helps on and off the field."
The Hawaii defeat is likely to serve as a wake-up call rather than a cause for panic. It was still a major disappointment, especially for Hawaii native Brian Ching.
"Sure it is preseason, but it hurt," Ching said. "I would have loved for us to win the tournament in my home state. That would have been special."
The beginning of a season doesn't dictate success in MLS. The end of it does. Given Kinnear's track record and the spirit in his camp, expect the Dynamo to still be around – and dangerous – in November.
- Dominic Kinnear
- Houston Dynamo
- English Premier League