90min
Major League Soccer

The most underrated coaches in MLS - ranked

Chris Smith
There are some top class coaches in MLS right now
There are some top class coaches in MLS right now / Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/GettyImages
facebooktwitterreddit

In a league of parity like MLS, a good head coach can make all the difference.

Major League Soccer is notoriously unpredictable, with very little to separate most sides week on week. Teams are so close in terms of talent, games can often be decided by a tactical tweak here or an inspired substitution there.

Of course, some coaches get more credit than others, so we've ranked the five most underappreciated in MLS right now.


5. Wilfried Nancy (CF Montreal)

CF Montreal are still looking good for the playoffs under Wilfried Nancy.
CF Montreal are still looking good for the playoffs under Wilfried Nancy. / Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

CF Montreal have failed to qualify for the playoffs in three of their last four seasons. In the one they did, the Canadian side only managed a play-in berth, crashing out 2-1 to the New England Revolution.

That's the size of the task Wilfried Nancy inherited when he took over from Thierry Henry in March but, thus far, he's handled it superbly.

At the time of writing, Montreal sit seventh in the East and although there's a long way to go, they still have the likes of Toronto FC and Houston Dynamo - sides without playoff aspirations - to play.

The most impressive thing Nancy has done so far is getting so much from the collective. No longer do Montreal have a big individual star like Didier Drogba or Ignacio Piatti. Instead, they're a sum of their parts.

Romell Quioto and Djordje Mihailovic are enjoying career-best seasons, Victor Wanyama and Samuel Piette are efficient in the middle, and James Pantemis has been consistent between the sticks.

It's almost as if removing the star quality - including Henry in the dugout - has raised the level of the entire Montreal organisation. Nancy deserves immense credit for making them genuinely competitive once again - a Canadian Championship semi-final against Forge FC is also on the calendar.

4. Hernan Losada (DC United)

Hernan Losada has taken 40 points from his 28 games in charge of DC United so far.
Hernan Losada has taken 40 points from his 28 games in charge of DC United so far. / Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

DC United were awful last season. Going on points per game, they'd have managed just 31 regular-season points had the 2020 campaign not been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. That they've already hit 40 with six games to go is reason enough to give credit to Hernan Losada.

More importantly, though, the Black and Red are fun again. Only the Revs (54) and Sporting KC (51) have outscored DCU (48) so far this season, while they're sixth in MLS for pressures per 90 minutes (163.1). That's the key. DC United hunt in packs with tempestuous intensity, then get it into the box quickly.

In Ola Kamara, they have the current Golden Boot leader, while Julian Gressel is the best crosser in the league by a distance. Paul Arriola isn't bad either, while there is an incredibly exciting crop of youngsters emerging in Kevin Paredes, Griffin Yow and Moses Nyeman.

Losada himself is only 39, but has taken to coaching in North America like a duck to water.

3. Peter Vermes (Sporting Kansas City)

SKC have topped the Western Conference four times since Peter Vermes took charge in 2009.
SKC have topped the Western Conference four times since Peter Vermes took charge in 2009. / Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

In the job since 2009, Sporting Kansas City boss Peter Vermes is the longest-serving manager in MLS right now. During that time, he's guided SKC to first in the West four times - including last season - MLS Cup in 2013, and three US Open Cups.

A record like that deserves nationwide recognition for both team and coach alike but, well, we'll let Vermes sum up his thoughts on that himself.

"The simple way to put it is, pundits criticize us as if we’re a super club," he said last recently.

"We’re not a super club. I’m here to admit that. We’re a small market. We don’t spend the kind of money that people do on players in this league so that’s fair. They criticize us like we’re a super club but they don’t give the credit to the players when they play well. I’m not here crying about it by any means. At the end of the day, I really don’t care."

While other sides fly up and down the standings, Vermes keeps SKC right up there, quietly being one of the ultimate competitive forces in MLS.

That's probably just how he likes it. Still, we want to give him and his club some credit here.

2. Gary Smith (Nashville SC)

Gary Smith looks set to guide Nashville to back-to-back playoff berths in their first two years in MLS.
Gary Smith looks set to guide Nashville to back-to-back playoff berths in their first two years in MLS. / Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The success of Atlanta United and LAFC over their first two seasons in MLS makes it seem like entering the league as an expansion side is easy. FC Cincinnati and, this season, Austin FC will remind you that's not the case.

Nashville SC arguably had an even harder task than most, with their expansion year coming in 2020. Not only were they overshadowed by Inter Miami's long-awaited arrival, but they also had the pandemic to grapple with.

But Gary Smith made sure his team was a defensive behemoth, conceding the third-lowest number of goals throughout the league (22) to not only reach the play-in round, but beat Miami 3-0 to get to the playoffs proper.

This season, Hany Mukhtar has hit new levels and CJ Sapong has proven himself an unexpectedly reliable source of goals, allowing Nashville to push even higher - they currently sit second in the East.

All the while, only Seattle (23) have conceded fewer goals (26). It's that perfect balance that will make them so tough in the playoffs - it should also make Smith one of the main contenders for MLS Coach of the Year.

1. Robin Fraser (Colorado Rapids)

Robin Fraser has lost just 14 of his 53 games in charge of the Rapids so far.
Robin Fraser has lost just 14 of his 53 games in charge of the Rapids so far. / Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Only the Houston Dynamo, Philadelphia Union, Austin FC and Vancouver Whitecaps spend less on player salaries than the Colorado Rapids. What's more, in a league dominated by Designated Players and star names, they have just one, Younes Namli, and he's only on loan.

And yet, the Rapids have remained in the top three of the Western Conference for almost the entire season.

For a very long time, Robin Fraser received net-zero credit for that incredible achievement, it's only recently that people have started taking Colorado seriously.

Like Nancy at Montreal, but to a bigger extent, Fraser has been able to cultivate an incredible team spirit among a group of players with no big egos and no standout superstars.

In a recent exclusive interview with 90min, Fraser said of his coaching ethos: "I think the key is that the players are incredibly hard-working and willing to do what's asked them.

"Without some of the big names, you don't get some of the big egos. And by and large, it's been a pretty unselfish effort where guys are asked to do things that maybe they don't necessarily want to do but they do it because they look around and everyone else does it."

Fraser has this incredible ability to get everyone around him pulling in the same direction, and his side finds unique ways to be dangerous despite having little possession, whether that be lightning-fast transitions or precision set-pieces.

It's probably going to take an MLS Cup win to get this small market team and its manager the props they deserve, though.

facebooktwitterreddit