How do you judge a manager of the year? Is it simply giving it to the man who organizes the best group of talent into a successful unit, like Seattle’s Sigi Schmid or Los Angeles’ Bruce Arena? Is it someone who, to the common fan, rules the roost in bringing together a team that had been struggling, like Columbus’ Gregg Berhalter or DC United’s Olsen?
Does it have to be someone who has not had success in that locale before, meaning Vancouver’s Carl Robinson or FC Dallas’ Oscar Pareja, two gentlemen who will kick off the playoffs on Wednesday? And does on-field success trump all the jobs, anyway? For all we know, Wilmer Cabrera may’ve had his hands full getting anything done at Chivas USA, but managed to keep the team organized enough to rebound at season’s end and move away from the basement. In some circles, that’s a wonderful job in itself.
For our purposes, though, the battle comes down to four men: Robinson, Pareja, Berhalter and Olsen. Three of the four walked into brand new jobs and massaged their playoff-less locker rooms into postseason participants in one season’s time.
Vancouver’s Robinson gets points for doing it as a first-time manager, period, moving from the field to the assistant’s chair to the top job (and not even being first choice). This is not even close to a guaranteed success proposition, as we saw with Ryan Nelsen in Toronto. But Robinson navigated some tricky paths, like the retirement of Jay DeMerit and the icky departure of Camilo Sanvezzo. In fact, Robinson got the ‘Caps to the playoffs despite not having a true striker.
Pareja’s return to Dallas after some great work in Colorado has been successful in most senses of the world. Mauro Diaz and Blas Perez both missed a bunch of time due to injury, but Pareja found his way through that mess. And the wonders he worked in turning the home field into a real advantage is worth a high-five or three as well.
I’m one who owes Berhalter an apology. He didn’t rub some people the best way with his critical preseason comments about how the Crew didn’t need Matias Laba in the trade market, essentially saying the player was overrated, but there’s no doubting what the former Hammarby boss has done in melding Ethan Finlay, Tony Tchani and company into a finely-tuned machine.
Still, though, in the end it’s very difficult not to give the award to Ben Olsen. The DC United boss watched over a team that won just three games in MLS last season, accumulating 16 points. And he was forced to build-up his team’s confidence and put up with the CONCACAF Champions League schedule after the Red and Black’s unlikely run to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final last season.
Not only has Olsen done that, but his team was No. 1 in the East while integrating a rookie, Steve Birnbaum into a defense with Bobby Boswell and Sean Franklin. They also are one of only two MLS teams remaining in the race for the CONCACAF Champions League title, and looking very strong, organized and fierce on defense.
Our 2014 PST MLS coach of the year… is Ben Olsen.