Robin Fraser

Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

RSL fires head coach Cassar three games into 2017 MLS season

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Jeff Cassar is out as head coach of Real Salt just three games into the 2017 season, the MLS club announced on Monday.

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Cassar became the boss at Rio Tinto Stadium following Jason Kreis’s departure in the weeks after MLS Cup 2013. Cassar’s RSL teams posted an overall record of 38W-37L-30D during his tenure, qualifying for the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2014 and 2016, but failing to advance to the next round on either occasion.

[ MORE: Sat. (afternoon) roundup — NYCFC dominate, disappoint; ATL roll ]

With his last contract set to expire over the offseason, Cassar was handed only a one-year contract following RSL’s elimination from the 2016 playoffs, making Monday’s news hardly surprising.

[ MORE: Sat. (late-night) roundup — FCD, PDX emerge as early favorites ]

Assistant coach Daryl Shore will take over in the interim. Former New York Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke was named head coach of Real Monarchs, RSL’s USL affiliate, during the offseason. His name will be spoken regularly in speculating about Cassar’s replacement. Robin Fraser, who served as an RSL assistant from 2007-2010 and has two seasons of experience as head coach of Chivas USA, is another popular pick.

U.S. federation announces another strong National Soccer Hall of Fame nominee class

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Another tough round of voting is ahead as the final list of nominees was announced for the National Soccer Hall of Fame Class of 2014.

In its release today on the nominees, U.S. Soccer says voting will begin immediately in three categories: Player, Veteran Player and Builder. Voting continues through Feb. 7.

Hall of Fame voters – including coaches and officials from the pro game, U.S. Soccer coaches and officials, designated media members and Hall of Famers – can list up to 10 candidates on their ballot. For the Player category, athletes appearing on two-thirds (66.7 percent) of voter ballots are elected. Players not appearing on at least five percent of ballots will be subtracted from the ballot (pending availability for the Veterans ballot.)

It’s not easy to gain the needed percentage. Two years ago only four players were selected: Tony Meola, Claudio Reyna, Tony DiCicco and Desmond Armstrong. A year ago only two made the cut: Joe-Max Moore and Peter Vermes.

These really are tough choices. On this ballot there are guys who were first to important MLS scoring mileposts (Jason Kreis), guys that surely would have caught up with them but for career-ending injuries (Taylor Twellman) guys who accomplished so much despite unfortunate injuries (John O’Brien), plenty of women’s players who won multiple World Cups or Olympic golds (Kristine Lilly and Brianna Scurry just to name a couple), guys who scored huge World Cup goals (Clint Mathis, Brian McBride — pictured above), huge MLS international stars (Marco Etcheverry) … and the list goes on.

In fact, here’s the entire list:

2014 National Soccer Hall of Fame Player Ballot

  • Chris Armas
  • Raul Diaz Arce
  • Marco Etcheverry
  • Lorrie Fair
  • Robin Fraser
  • Chris Henderson
  • Zoran Karic
  • Chris Klein
  • Jason Kreis
  • Eddie Lewis
  • Kristine Lilly
  • Kristin Luckenbill
  • Shannon MacMillan
  • Kate Sobrero Markgraf
  • Clint Mathis
  • Brian McBride
  • Jaime Moreno
  • Victor Nogueira
  • John O’Brien
  • Ben Olsen
  • Cindy Parlow Cone
  • Steve Ralston
  • Ante Razov
  • Tiffany Roberts
  • Tony Sanneh
  • Briana Scurry
  • Taylor Twellman

Top five MLS coaching candidates (plus one apparently already off the “available list”)

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The urge to hire coaches with an accent (foreign dudes, that is) will simply be too irresistible for some Major League Soccer owner or GM. Managers from lands afar with no MLS experience may work in MLS, or they may not; there are examples on either side of that argument.

But there are plenty of good choices from the good ol’ USA, men with ample knowledge of the MLS quirkiness, the measurable tax of summer heat and travel, salary cap restrictions, the personnel acquisition peculiarities, etc.

(MORE: Updated list of MLS coaching dismissals)

(MORE: Why Martin Rennie failed at Vancouver)

Here are the top five North American coaching candidates (in alphabetical order), plus one bonus choice, who may already have been picked off the shelf:

Bob Bradley: It seems pretty unlikely the former U.S. national team boss will remain with Egypt once the Pharaohs are eliminated from World Cup contention (as they almost certainly will be upon the return leg against Ghana). Bradley (pictured) would love to remain at the international level. But he’s a soccer man through and through, and if he doesn’t get an offer quickly, the MLS suitors would be silly not to line up. Columbus is certainly eager to get in line.

Robin Fraser: Pay no attention to that dark spot on his resume, a.k.a. the Chivas USA period; that place is just this side of hopeless. (Although for Chivas USA fans, I certainly do hope things improve.) Everyone respects Fraser; he’ll get another shot at some point. (Probably at Real Salt Lake if Jason Kreis grabs the chance to become New York City FC’s first manager.)

Jesse Marsch: The longtime MLS midfield fixture did good things in 2012 with expansion Montreal. A Bradley protégé, he’s going to be a good manager somewhere – it just looks like Montreal wasn’t the right fit. Maybe he’ll be a better fit at Chicago if the Fire decides that Frank Klopas isn’t the right guy for the bench at Toyota Park.

Tab Ramos: As I wrote about before, he looks to me a lot like the next Caleb Porter. And who wouldn’t want the next MLS Coach of the Year – since Porter seems likely to be handed that honor in December? Ramos isn’t just a student of the game, he’s a student of teaching the game. In working with young players, you could do a whole lot worse than the thoughtful, former U.S. midfield standout.  

Eric Wynalda: I spoke to Wynalda recently in Kansas City, prior to a U.S. national team practice. He likes his TV gig. It works for him now – but I got the feeling he would listen to the right MLS offer. It has to be a good fit; the former American international is outspoken, and it’s going to take a bit of a maverick owner, someone who understands Wynalda isn’t a group-think guy and doesn’t always care about diplomacy. But he is a sharp guy, and he’ll get a lot out of his players.

(Bonus candidate: Frank Yallop. Thing is, he already seems to be off the shelf. Reports are coming out of Canada that he’s already in line to replace Martin Rennie at Vancouver. If not … then add him to this list. Everyone loves playing for him, and he remains well respected.)

(MORE: The MLS coaching carousel is about to get crazy)

(MORE: With coaching vacancies ahead, there should be a race for Tab Ramos)

With numerous MLS coaching vacancies, will there be a race for Tab Ramos?

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If we include two clubs currently riding an interim manager, a trio of MLS coaching jobs are open today. Dallas is definitely open, while the deciders in Columbus and San Jose have choices to make on their interim men.

There could be as many as six other MLS managerial openings – and that’s being conservative. There may be more; the list of clubs with a coach on unstable footing includes Chicago, Chivas USA, D.C. United, New England, Philadelphia, Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver.

And that’s not including Real Salt Lake, where Jason Kreis is obviously safe and sound, but might still be kicking the tires on the soon-to-be New York City FC position. That would fling the office door open at Rio Tinto Stadium.

(MORE: The MLS coaching carousel is about to get crazy)

Clearly, if you are a good MLS coaching candidate, this is going to be a buyer’s market, so to speak.

And that brings me to Tab Ramos.

Others will find their way into the early coaching conversations to come. Red Bull assistant Robin Fraser, for instance, continues to be well thought of, regardless of what happened at Chivas USA. Seriously, no one has ever really excelled at Chivas USA, although some (Bob Bradley, Preki) managed some small progress, at least.

But Ramos may be the prize.

The former U.S. international midfielder – truly, quite the player back in the day, thoughtful, skilled and quick – is now the U.S. under-20 coach. Ramos, 47, has coaching experience, MLS experience as a player and a well-rounded variety of experiences in the game here and abroad.

Mostly, he has great ideas about player development. (Read about those in Paul Gardner’s recent, extensive conversation with Ramos). And player development, especially as MLS clubs’ academies continue to mature, will increasingly be a springboard to success. (That’s particularly true at clubs that cannot perennially flash the DP dollars and spend extravagantly on quality, tested internationals.)

Major League Soccer’s deciders see the great things going on with Caleb Porter in Portland and Oscar Pareja in Colorado. Both came from “youth” coaching backgrounds, Porter in the college system and Pareja with FC Dallas’ academy.

Kreis is also doing good things with player development, successfully and rather seamlessly replacing veteran stalwarts with “kids” this year in Utah.

Ramos has the same look and feel. And if I am an MLS owner, I am beating on Ramos’ door this morning.

Assuming the man is interested in MLS coaching, someone is going to get him. The smart MLS owner will be in the front of that line.

Danny Califf announces his retirement from professional soccer

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Throughout his career, you could always count on defender Danny Califf for an honest assessment, not an easy task given some of the teams the former U.S. international played for after his return to Major League Soccer. Even at the end of his 14-year career, Califf was transparent, saying changing priorities combined with a lack of playing team led him to announce his retirement.

The former Toronto FC defender, now TFC scout, is walking away with immediate effect, the announcement made Friday on the club’s website:

The reason for my retirement is because when yo are 33 years old and have played 14 years at a professional level, you start to have priorities that reach beyond yourself. Do I really want to train every day knowing that I am not in the coach’s plan to play, as well as knowing you are taking your kids and family way from their friends and family? The answer is no.

Califf’s diminished role in head coach Ryan Nelsen’s team was also cited by president/general manager Kevin Payne while commenting on Califf’s decision:

“I’m sorry Danny is unable to carry on playing at the level he would like, and totally respect his decision to retire.  He’s been a very good player and should be proud of what he’s accomplished,” said Toronto FC President and General Manager Kevin Payne. “I’m very pleased that he will continue to be a part of our organization and assist us in building our team for the future.”

Califf had only played 27 games in the last year-and-a-half, and as he said in his retirement letter, he was not part a significant part of TFC’s plans for the rest of the season. After a career that started with the Galaxy and featured stops in San Jose, Denmark, Philadelphia, Chivas USA, and Toronto, Califf had reached the end of a road that featured 211 MLS appearances, an MLS Cup, a U.S. Open Cup, two Supporters’ Shield and a Danish Superliga championship.

For the U.S., Califf made 23 appearances between 2002 and 2009, scoring once while taking part in two CONCACAF Gold Cup winners.

Despite those accomplishments, my most-vivid memory of Danny Califf came last year, the veteran having recently been traded to Chivas USA. In what may have been the lowest point of the Robin Fraser era, the Goats were routed by the Galaxy, 4-0, in mid-August. Amid a squad of players bolting the locker room early or otherwise avoiding questions about their performance, Dan Kennedy and Califf stepped up and, constraining a level of frustration that was about to erupt, answered every question the media had, even though you couldn’t help but think everybody would rather get out of there as soon as possible.

Kennedy was a long-serving member of Chivas USA and an established leader. Standing in the middle of the room, answering all those questions had become part of his role. Califf, however, was new to the team. He could have skipped out without anybody thinking worse of him. But he stayed. He didn’t deflect any questions or downplay the obvious.

It can be a little bit annoying when members of the press use interviews or media appearances as an example of a player’s personal qualities, but hearing from others who covered Califf regularly, that’s exactly the kind of player he was. Even as his teams got worse and his career faded, he was always forthcoming about it.

On Friday, he made a last, honest assessment about his career. And now, he can move on. His words:

For the first time in my life I will get to eat what I want, have a beer on a Friday night, and take a vacation in the summer. Those are the things I am looking forward to.