Most assistants desire to be a head coach, a chance to be the man, to cook up their own ideas, to stir in their own training concepts and implement their own personnel strategies.
So they are often willing to take a flier when offered a chance to manage an expansion team, to step aggressively into the breach – even when the odds of long-term survival are historically quite slim.
Increasingly slim in Major League Soccer, it seems.
Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson has called a news conference for this evening. Practice was closed this morning, with reports in Oregon media that coach John Spencer wasn’t there.
So the chances look quite high that Portland will soon be on to their second manager, which shouldn’t be surprising at all. Not because Spencer deserved it, but because the life span of original managers is typically, perilously short.
So while we all wonder “What do expansion club owners expect?” let’s look at the last eight MLS expansion clubs (all since Chicago in 1998, a different time in MLS) and what became of their original manager:
- Chivas USA, 2005: After a 1–8–1 start (with the only win against another expansion club, Real Salt Lake), Thomas Rongen was reassigned within the organization in May, nine months after being named manager and just three months into the season.
- Real Salt Lake, 2005: John Ellinger survived into his third season, although it was a struggle along the way. His first season finished with a 5-22-5 mark. Things improved in Year 2 (10-13-9) although RSL still didn’t make the playoffs (eight of 12 clubs reached the post-season then). Ellinger was replaced a month into his third season with an overall 15-37-16 record with the club.
- Toronto FC, 2007: Mo Johnston lasted a full year but moved into a front office position before the next season. He was 6-17-7 at BMO Field.
- San Jose, 2008: One of two success stories, as Frank Yallop remained in charge despite some down years. Looks like the club’s decision to remain loyal is paying off. In his case, Yallop had significant skins on the wall, so he had greater benefit of the doubt.
- Seattle, 2009: The other real success story for the original manager in this group; Sigi Schmid remains the Sounders one and only coach.
- Philadelphia, 2010: Peter Nowak came close to “making it,” building around young talent and making the playoffs in his second year at PPL Park. But he lost public faith this spring after a series of increasingly erratic personnel choices. Nowak was dismissed in June, four months into his third season.
- Portland, 2011: John Spencer, with a two-year mark of 16-22-13, appears to be on his way out at Jeld-Wen Field.
- Vancouver, 2011: The club retained Teitur Thordarson, who had been in charge during the club’s time in lower tiers. It always looked like a stretch, but the choice seemed somewhere between half-baked and just plain unfair when Thordarson was dismissed three months into his first season. The club won just once in his first twelve matches.
- Montreal, 2012: Jesse Marsch, a first-time head coach, remains in charge as Montreal builds a highly respectable opening campaign, currently 8th among 10 Eastern Conference clubs.