Toronto FC deciders: as always, hopelessly fascinated with all things European

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I adore the city of Toronto, a place of wonderful international diversity. It helps supply the place a special feel.

But when it comes to professional soccer in the city, I’m wondering if the deciders should think a little more provincially?

Yesterday brought some interesting news, as reported by the site Soccer By Ives. The report said Orlando City SC coach Adrian Heath had rejected a $300,000 a year offer to become Paul Mariner’s top assistant and to eventually take over as the top man.

First, is any assistant worth $300,000, an amount that tops the salary of plenty of current MLS head coaches? Or is this just more financial mismanagement from one of the league’s worst organizations – a very bad team that happens to have one of the league’s highest salary bases. It doesn’t look like money destined to be well-spent (and that’s no offense to Heath, but rather a comment on spending practices). Either way, in this case Heath may have save the Reds from themselves.

But here’s the bigger point:

How about hiring a coach from North America? What’s wrong with a manager (or head coach-in-waiting, as in this case) from the United States or Canada? You know, the place where the majority of players are coming from.

Heath is English through and through. Nothing wrong with that per se, nor with Heath himself; It’s the offer in context that troubles me.

Toronto FC’s ongoing fascination with all things European looks like one of the problems for a team that will go into its seventh MLS campaign still wondering what playoff soccer feels like. Let’s look quickly at the TFC bosses who have overseen the league’s chief stumble-bumblers since the team was born in 2007.

  • Mo Johnston – Born and raised in Scotland, a former Scottish international
  • John Carver – English born, former player and manager in English leagues
  • Chris Cummins – English born, managed there previously
  • Preki – Born and raised in Yugoslavia, a naturalized American citizen
  • Nick Dasovic – Born and raised in Croatia who arrived into North America in early 1990s. A naturalized Canadian citizen who played 63 times for the national team, he is the closest Toronto FC has had to a head coach from North America. He was interim manager briefly in 2010, soon replaced by …
  • Aron Winter – Born and raised in the Netherlands, a former Dutch international
  • Paul Mariner – Born and raised in England, a former English international

(UPDATE: The information on Dasovic is incorrect. He was born and raised in Canada and then left at age 19 to pursue a career in Croatia.)

Here’s the thing: U.S. and Canadian coaches work well in MLS.

There are 10 coaches about to guide their teams in the MLS playoffs. Eight are more “American” than anyone who has ever coached at TFC.

I suppose you could quibble with a couple of their chops as a “real Americans,” whatever that means. Chicago’s Frank Klopas, for instance, arrived into the United States when he was 8 years old. Houston’s Dominic Kinnear when he was 3 years old. To me, they identify culturally more with the United States than with the lands of their births.

Six of the 10 playoff coaches were former U.S. or Canadian internationals as players. Two were former U.S. or Canadian national team coaches.

The point is, managers equipped with a better understanding of the systems and the athletes here tend to be more successful in MLS than imports. We’ve seen it over and over in the 17-year-old league – even if the deciders around Toronto apparently haven’t noticed.

Six of the last seven MLS Cups were won by American managers: Bruce Arena, Jason Kreis, Sigi Schmid, Dominic Kinnear (twice) and Steve Sampson. Colorado’s Gary Smith, from England, was the exception.

There are further exceptions, obviously; other foreign-born bosses have managed successful in MLS. For instance, Hans Backe is from Sweden, and yet he is the first coach to guide New York into the playoffs three years in a row.

Word to the men in charge around BMO Field: there are plenty of qualified coaching candidates who did not cut their soccer teeth on the game across the Atlantic. Go find them!  (And we’ll let you know where you can send some of that money you will save, because you will not have to offer these fellows $300,000 a year just to be rejected.)