Coaching is on the mind. RSL just parted ways with former head coach Jeff Cassar, a man who was with the club since controversially joining in 2007. RSL had a decent showing against RBNY and a dismal outing against MNUFC, both under interim coach Daryl Shore. We now have Mike Petke at the reins in what we all hope is a new era for RSL.
As MLS continues to grow, as academy players emerge as stars, as teams not only bring in top Designated Player talent like Robby Keene and Thierry Henry but use TAM and GAM to round out the middle roster spots with DP-caliber players, it’s going to become imperative that coaching talents mirror player capabilities.
Once again, the CONCACAF Champion’s League Final is between two Liga MX teams: Pachuca and Tigres. MLS teams have made it to the final twice in the tournament’s modern iteration, including RSL’s 2010 run. Poor outings from Dallas and Vancouver saw MLS teams fall to the Liga MX teams. There’s still a talent disparity; although, Liga MX teams are now playing much stronger rosters in CONCACAF Champion’s League play—they used to field B squads. So that’s something.
I would argue that MLS talent is there, or close to being there—closer now than we’ve ever been. I would also say that MLS teams are being outcoached. Liga MX managers are employing stronger tactics and making quality calls that leave MLS teams wanting. I also firmly believe that Oscar Pareja is the best coach in the league. Dallas has a stellar roster, though they’re missing Mauro Diaz. Yet here we are. No MLS in the CCL Final.
So where do coaching improvements begin? Coaching is something that is learned both on and off the field. It is learned by modeled practices, by young players observing their coaches, emulating the positives, eschewing the negatives, and bringing their own styles to coaching when they mature. Coaching is also learned through study. Study of players, teams, tactics. Study of trends and statistics. Study of strengths and weaknesses.
US Soccer has developed new youth coaching standards. This is a huge start. It is through our youth programs that our coaches will develop the skills necessary to succeed at the highest levels. I would like teams to focus on coaching instruction in their academy systems. It should be a major focus of the RSL academy. Even if the coaches are churned out to the high school coaching system, young players will be receiving stronger coaching. Better instruction.
It’s going to be about education and support for coaches. Identification of players who have strong coaching potential at early levels. As a teacher, I can assure you that you learn a massive amount about topics when you teach to others. These are opportunities that should be plentiful for players at all levels.
It’s not only good players who make good coaches. Look at Bruce Arena. He barely played, but has demonstrated a distinct aptitude for coaching. Arsene Wenger played in sixty-seven senior-team professional matches, Jose Mourinho, ninety-four. These are certainly exceptions, but they’re top managerial talent that developed along non-traditional pathways. This should be something we’re searching for, developing, creating.
US Soccer is attempting to define a US style of play. This is going to be built on a foundation of coaching. On tactics and development. On education and a deep understanding of the changing methods of the game. I’m interested in how the coaching culture of soccer in the US adapts to the surging popularity of the sport, to the massive changes in talent. Where do our future coaches come from? How are they developed? What innovations are we going to see? It’s exciting.
So here’s to hoping that Mike Petke has the acumen to lead this team in the right direction, to make the best decisions with the tools he has at hand. Here’s to a new culture being built. Here’s to a new RSL. We’re all watching. Excited. A bit apprehensive. Impatient? Probably a little.