Doug McIntyre’s weekly MLS column, 23 Thoughts, parses through the latest insights and inside info from around American soccer.
So 23 Thoughts returns following the international break — unlike MLS, we will always go dark during FIFA fixture windows — and there’s no shortage of topics to talk about. The biggest news this week (so far) was Sigi Schmid’s dismissal from the LA Galaxy, and let’s be clear here: While Schmid officially resigned, he absolutely was pushed out the door.
Team president Chris Klein extended Schmid’s contract through 2019 last year. But long before Monday’s news broke, rumors were circulating that Klein had already decided that Schmid would not return to the Galaxy sideline next year.
What happened? According to multiple sources, Schmid — the winningest coach in league history — basically “lost the locker room.” That’s a death sentence for any manager, to be sure. Still, you have to feel for Schmid. As Paul Tenorio wrote in The Athletic, the front office’s roster construction has been all over the place since longtime coach and general manager Bruce Arena left almost two years ago.
The constantly shifting targets meant Schmid’s second go-round in Los Angeles (he led the Galaxy to the first of its record five titles in 2002) was always going to end badly. And the writing was on the wall for Schmid the second the Galaxy inked global icon Zlatan Ibrahimovic back in March. Let’s break it down:
1. From a business point of view, signing Ibrahimovic was an no-brainer. Most teams around the world would be lucky to have him. He can still dazzle fans at age 36. He remains one of the most marketable soccer players alive. His personality and outsized ego are perfect for Los Angeles. And with ambitious and deep-pocketed expansion side LAFC encroaching on their territory from this season, the Galaxy needed to make a major splash. In many ways, Zlatan has overdelivered on the field and off.
2. But was it the right decision soccer-wise? This question might sound crazy. Even coming off ACL surgery, Zlatan is an elite scorer. He’s averaging a goal every 100 minutes or so in his maiden MLS season. Yet Schmid didn’t want Ibrahimovic, and wasn’t shy about saying so. Schmid’s concerns were that Zlatan’s game didn’t fit the personnel already in place, and that incorporating him would fundamentally change the way his team played. In fact, Swedish World Cup manager Janne Andersson cited similar reasons when he decided not to bother luring the country’s all-time top scorer from international retirement before Russia 2018. Unlike Andersson, Schmid, who in theory had control over the Galaxy’s roster decisions, was overruled.
3. Besides the tactical considerations, Schmid had to know that managing Ibrahimovic would be his biggest challenge. It was. Zlatan’s reputation as a difficult character is well known. “There’s a reason he never stays with any club long,” one source close to the Galaxy told me as far back as May. “He trains when he wants. He does what he wants.” Now, Zlatan wouldn’t be the first brand name MLS player to play by different rules. But professional teams are delicate ecosystems and they’re easily thrown out of whack. One story going around is that Schmid eventually stopped addressing his players post-match— Schmid denied this Thursday in an ESPN report — after Ibrahimovic embarrassed him in a team meeting. I was thinking about this during what turned out to be Schmid’s final game in charge, a 6-2 loss to Real Salt Lake on Sept. 1. With the scored tied at one late in the first half, veteran trainer Ivan Pierra was treating Ibrahimovic for a head wound. As Pierra tried to stop the bleeding, cameras showed Zlatan berating the older man, then eventually shoving him aside in disgust. But those are the sort of antics you have to expect, and be willing to accept, when you bring in Zlatan.
4. Who will the Galaxy hire next? there’s been lots of names thrown about already, including Columbus Crew boss Gregg Berhalter, who helped the Galaxy win the 2011 MLS Cup as a player/assistant coach, and Caleb Porter, most recently of the Portland Timbers. Klein— who signed a multiyear contract extension last year— knows both men well. But my understanding is that the Galaxy made contact with Boca Juniors manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto before Schmid was even shown the door.
5. Would Schelotto take the job? The Argentine, who I believe has also been approached by David Beckham’s new team in Miami, is out of contract at year’s end. But Schelotto remains close to Schmid. The pair won a title together in Columbus in 2008, and Schelotto will surely receive an unflattering briefing on the current state of the Galaxy organization. Any team interested in Schelotto would probably have hire his assistant and identical twin brother Gustavo, too.
6. With Berhalter being mentioned as a possibility for both the Galaxy and U.S. national team jobs, I thought it made sense to ask a Crew spokesman if any other club asked to speak to their manager, or if the club had granted Berhalter permission to interview for another job. “We’re going to politely decline the opportunity to contribute on this,” was the reply.
7. Tyler Adams’ winner for the United States in Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over rival Mexico was unexpected, but it wasn’t an accident. While Adams only has two goals in his two seasons with the New York Red Bulls, he’s been working hard on on his attacking game.
8. “Offensively I do feel that I need to improve,” Adams said when we sat down for a interview last week in New Jersey. New Red Bulls coach Chris Armas, like Adams a defensive midfielder during his playing days, has been a big help. “Chris continues to push me to play forward all the time,” said the 19-year-old Adams. “I feel that’s starting to click for me this year, finding that final pass and being a bit sharper in certain parts of the field.”
9. Attention to defensive detail is still his biggest strength, however, and the reason he’ll probably be playing in a top-shelf European league by January. Not surprisingly, Adams thinks he’s ready right now. “If you throw me in a big game tomorrow, you won’t say, ‘this guy was the weak link in the team.’ That’s for sure.” Multiple reports have him headed to Red Bulls sister club RB Leipzig this winter. Adams has kept in close contact with former Red Bulls boss Jesse Marsch since Marsch became an assistant in Leipzig this summer. “It was tough for me when Jesse left because he’s helped me so much he’s been almost like a father figure,” Adams said. “On the field he would push me to do what I needed to do. He was hard on me at times, but I feel like that’s forced me to step out of my comfort zone.”
10. Adams is the jewel of the MLS academy system along with Vancouver’s Bayern Munich-bound 17-year-old Alphonso Davies, Everybody seems to have an opinion about what path is best for talented young players in the U.S. and Canada. Recently retired U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones, now a youth coach in the Los Angeles area, recently told Yahoo Sports that Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic wouldn’t be as good today had he not moved to Germany at 16. I don’t disagree. But talking to Adams was a reminder that every case is different.
11. “If you don’t have a European passport, then you go to a team and you don’t play until you’re 18. That was just never in my plans,” he said. “I felt like I needed to play professionally as quickly as possible. For me, the USL was the right step because right away, at 15, I was playing against grown men that were experienced professionals. I’m so grateful to Red Bull for that. They gave me this development plan and they stuck to it. A lot of clubs don’t stick to it, but I felt this trust. And at 16 I was able to make that jump to the first team. From that point on I feel like everything is just kind of a blur.”
12. Moving abroad early worked out for Pulisic. But Adams has no regrets. “If it doesn’t pan out, you might not play until you’re 23,” he said. “Now I have almost 70 professional games under my belt, and I’m 19 still. I’m in a position where, when that time does come to move to Europe, we’ll be able to part ways in the right way.”
13. Speaking of the Red Bulls, it’s been beyond impressive how the club has dealt with the midseason coaching change. They haven’t missed a beat. Since Armas replaced Marsch on July 6, the team has posted a record of 7W-3L-2T. They currently sit first overall in the MLS with 55 points, although second-place Atlanta United has played one fewer game.
14. After the Red Bulls’ most recent game, a 3-0 loss in Montreal that Adams and USMNT teammate Tim Parker sat out because it was the club’s fifth match in 15 days, I asked Armas about becoming the head man after serving as Marsch’s deputy. “One of the [concerns] initially was, do the guys see me as a head coach?” Armas said. “So your voice has to change. But you can’t change it too much, or too little.”
15. Armas credited the Red Bulls’ trademark high-press system as a major factor in his success so far. “Imagine a new coach coming in and trying to do a whole new thing,” he said. “There would have to be some time to get everyone on the same page. The fact that the philosophy doesn’t change, just little tweaks here and there, I think it’s obvious that that’s been helpful.”
16. It’s no secret that MLS has to compete with televised soccer from around the globe, not to mention wildly popular North American sports leagues like the NFL and NBA. MLS has one obvious advantage over foreign futbol, though: Fun as it is to watch Barcelona or Manchester City in your pajamas, soccer is better in person. You miss a lot watching on the couch. Plus, the game day experience in MLS stadiums has improved a lot faster than the quality of play, to the point where it’s already better than in some of the best league around. (I saw a Premier League game between Everton and Bournemouth at Goodison Park couple years ago, so trust me on this one.)
17. I said a few weeks ago that MLS will surpass the National Hockey league in popularity over the next generation. Be careful what you wish for, though. Tickets for the Sept. 30 match between the Red Bulls and Atlanta — a match that will likely decide the Supporters’ Shield — are available for about $20. That’s not much more than a movie, and it’s a steal to see future European stars like Adams, Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez in the flesh. It won’t stay that way forever.
18. Heard from three different people over the last three days that Atlanta coach Tata Martino had interviewed for Mexico’s vacant managerial post, but haven’t been able to confirm it. Maybe there’s nothing there. Martino, who has also been linked to national team jobs in the U.S., Colombia and his native Argentina, was adamant Thursday that he has not spoken to anyone.
— Doug Roberson (@DougRobersonAJC) September 13, 2018
19. Who are Nico Romeijn and Ryan Mooney? I’ve lost count how many people around American soccer have asked that question over the last few months, usually rhetorically. Romeijn is U.S. Soccer’s chief sport development officer. Mooney is the USSF’s chief soccer officer. What a lot people really want to know is how the two become so powerful, so quickly at Soccer House in Chicago.
20. I wondered the same thing last week during a roundtable discussion with new U.S. men’s national team GM Earnie Stewart. Stewart — who do I believe will prove over time to be a great hire — was lured away from the Philadelphia Union after a months-long public search. Stewart will head a three man committee, along with the comparatively unknown Romeijn and Mooney — neither of whom have played or coached at the highest levels —to find the coach that Stewart will eventually recommend to U.S. Soccer’s board.
21. Both Stewart and a USSF spokesman said that chief commercial officer Jay Berhalter will not be involved in the coaching search in any way. That’s important. If there’s any chance that Gregg Berhalter, Jay’s younger brother, will be considered for the job (Stewart didn’t say either way) then avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest is necessary. Still, there’s no question Jay Berhalter has helped shaped the current technical staff. He was on the committee that settled on Stewart. And he also hired Romeijn, who previously worked for the Dutch federation, back in 2015.
22. LAFC deserves some love in this space, and will get it soon. So will other Western Conference teams that I’ve neglected, the Seattle Sounders first and foremost. Stay tuned for that.
23. Last time out, I explained my reasoning for picking Clint Dempsey as the best U.S. player of all time. Here are my top five, based on four metrics: longevity, USMNT career, club career, and World Cup performances: 1. Dempsey. 2. Landon Donovan. 3. DaMarcus Beasley 4. Brad Friedel/Tim Howard/Kasey Keller (yes, a three-way tie) 5. Claudio Reyna.
More soccer on Yahoo Sports:
• Schaerlaeckens: It’s far past time for Mexico to end its homophobic chant
• Young USMNTers reflect on September 11 attacks ahead of Mexico friendly
• McIntyre: Jones attacking learning curve as coach with trademark determination
• Takeaways from youth-laden USMNT’s win over rival Mexico