Will Jason Kreis be the First American Coach to Make the European Jump?

In his short but impressive coaching career, Jason Kreis may be approaching heights unseen by an MLS coach.  This weekend he essentially fielded a backup squad that handled an undefeated Revolution squad.  RSL is in the CONCACAF Champions League final and is the prohibitive favorite to win a second MLS Cup in three years.  Also an impressive player, Kreis is compiling the sort of record and experience that, if he were coaching in England, would make bigger clubs take note.  Now may be the time to ask – is Jason Kreis the right MLS manager to make the leap to the European coaching ranks?

MLS head coaches have in the past been rumored to be ready to take the next step to Europe.  Octavio Zambrano was a head coach in Moldova and Hungary but has now returned to the U.S.  Both Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley were rumored candidates for English jobs, with Bradley supposedly being considered by both Aston Villa and Fulham in 2010.  But neither were actually hired despite high-profile victories at the international level and winning MLS Cups.

So before we address whether Kreis should be that coaching pioneer, we need to address what impact MLS coaches going to Europe would have on the league. We spend much time and energy debating whether MLS players should make the jump and how that affects the league, and the general consensus is that the best players benefit from European playing time while those who are good MLS players might benefit more from staying in the U.S.  Where that line is drawn is where the debate is.  This season we are beginning to see the benefits of the exporting of MLS players: the league is getting players back in return.  Not only are the Beckhams of the world coming to America, but loanees like Simon Dawkins are coming over.  Dawkins, on loan from Tottenham, has given the ‘Quakes a scoring option besides Chris Wondolowski.

Would exporting coaches be the same?  Not quite, but there would be some similarities.  MLS currently imports Europeans who have played in Europe and in American leagues (Steve Nicol) and now is beginning to bring in new coaches from specific systems (Aron Winter).  If American head coaches began to be viewed as possible managerial candidates in Europe, then I think the best young coaches would begin to be poached by European clubs.  But this experience would be good for these MLS head coaches and allow them to expand their strategy and tactics beyond the North American viewpoint.  Having someone like Jason Kreis go to the Championship, for example, would allow him to immerse himself in different football philosophies and learn the latest trends overseas.  When he returns to MLS or is named USMNT head coach, he has a more diverse viewpoint to construct a winning team and improve the quality of MLS or the national team.

So if we agree this is a good thing, than who would be the best coach to make the jump?  The obvious answer is Bob Bradley, since he is the best known American coach/former MLS manager around.  Ideally, though, he is unavailable until after the 2014 World Cup.  Kreis right now is the hot name in MLS, possibly adding numerous trophies to the Real Salt Lake trophy case.  But he has few roots to any league outside of MLS, having played his entire career in the states and having not coached elsewhere.  I can imagine many teams would hesitate to hire someone with just MLS experience.  So is there a successful MLS coach with international experience that would catch the eye of a European club looking for something different?

There are a few actually.  The obvious answer is Bruce Arena, but at age 59 he may be too old for clubs to want to take a chance on.  A younger choice is Dominic Kinnear at age 43.  Kinnear played a bit in Scotland when he was younger as well as a year in Mexico, so he does have some international experience.  He has been a success in MLS, winning two MLS Cups with the Dynamo.  If I were a club in the Scottish or Irish Premier League, or lower levels of the English game, Kinnear is the type of head coach I would consider hiring if I wanted to garner a little attention and try something different.

If you expand the list to consider internationals who are currently coaching in MLS, then there are several viable candidates to leave MLS in the future.  I can’t believe Steve Nicol won’t get an offer back in England at some point, especially if he is successful in rebuilding the Revolution this year.  Aron Winter is being groomed for bigger things and he could return to the continent if he is able to successfully construct a Total Football Toronto.  Colorado’s Gary Smith could be in line for another job as well, especially considering his Arsenal connections and the fact that his owner now is a major player in the EPL with his majority ownership in Arsenal.

So what does the future hold for MLS coaches?  I think it will be a while before American/Canadian born head coaches are viewed as viable coaching candidates in Europe.  Over the next few years we will see foreign-born MLS coaches return to Europe (or Central and South America), showing bigger leagues that MLS is a good league for coaches.  And as bigger-named American stars retire from playing and enter coaching, it will be easier for European clubs to justify their hiring to fans as more than a publicity stunt.  Within the next 10-15 years we will begin to see the export of American head coaches which will lead to an improvement in MLS and the national team.  And it will give the best MLS coaches a chance to show that they are good managers anywhere, not just in North America.

10 Responses to Will Jason Kreis be the First American Coach to Make the European Jump?

  1. Charles says:

    Oh my word. Please stop.

    Redknapp jumped already. It did nothing for US soccer.

    • Robert Hay says:

      (1) ‘Arry player-managed the previous iteration of the Sounders, pre-MLS. The difference between soccer in the US between 1979 and 2011 is vast, I’d argue.

      (2) He manages Spurs, so I tend to disregard him (kidding Spurs fans!)

      Also, if I missed anyone who made the jump during MLS’s existence, let me know. My memory can get foggy Monday through Wednesday.

      • Dave C says:

        Also, Harry Redknapp was already an established name in English football before making the move from the managing in the US to managing in England, so his situation is not really analagous to Kreis, Bradley or Arena etc.

        However, after looking at Redknapp’s career on Wikipedia, there is one thing we can learn from his example that I think will apply to any American coach hoping to get into a European job: Redknapp moved back to England as the assistant coach of a semi-pro team (Oxford City), then spent a year or two as assistant coach of Bournemouth (3rd Div), before finally getting the top job at Bournemouth. He spent another 9 years at Bournemouth before getting a shot in the Premier League.

        I’m not saying that any MLS coach hoping to move to Europe would have to take quite such a lengthy trajectory, but it certainly would not be far off. I think an assistant coaching position in the Championship (or Scotland) would be a necessary stepping stone, even for someone like Bradley or Arena. Then, maybe they could get a head coach role, and then their best chance of getting into the EPL would be via promotion.

        Also, I’m not sure why this article suggests that Kinnear could go somewhere like the league of Ireland??? I’m no Irish soccer fan, so I may be wrong, but I cannot imagine the standard of play is any higher than MLS, the money certainly isn’t, and it is useless as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

      • Dave C says:

        I tried to say this already, but it didn’t appear (so apologies if it now appears twice)

        ‘Arry isn’t a good analogue for this situation – he was already an established name (as a player) in England, so his situation was somewhat different.

        It’s also worth noting that he really worked his way up the ladder, as an assistant in semi-pro football, then assistant in the 3rd div, before finally getting a head manager job (still in the third div). He managed in the 3rd and 2nd divs for ten years before getting a crack at the EPL. I think this is the route MLS managers would have to take if they were particularly desperate to work in Europe (and I doubt many of them are).

        Also, not sure why the League of Ireland is suggested as a destination. I’m no expert on Irish domestic soccer, but I can’t imagine the playing level is any better in Ireland than it is in the MLS (I would guess the opposite), and the money is certainly no better in Ireland.

      • dan says:

        ‘arry might very well go down as one of the best british managers of all time

        • Dave C says:

          I wouldn’t go that far…he has a proven history of getting mediocre teams playing nice football, but just as often succeeds in getting them relegated. He’s had a golden spell in charge of Spurs, but what has he ever won??

  2. Deejay says:

    Frank Yallop might be the first to make a jump. He’d probably jump to his former team Ipswich.

  3. Charles says:

    Did anyone see Will Bruin play this weekend ?

    There is so much to talk about that is real and actually interesting. Bruin isn’t the best to come out of college in his class even.

    Speculating on whether a coach might move to England 5 years from now to manage a team that is 25 points to 50 points behind winning the league ( or second division ) = BORING.

  4. Vince Clortho says:

    Agreed…Besides the fact that JK knows the MLS system style and has NO European experience. He could be successful but it would take a fair bit of time to acclimate. And in Europe managers are not often given much of that…So, JK stay in the states keep succeeding and coach the Nats…

  5. offthepost says:

    Paul Mariner went off to england to manage a team last year or the year before. After being assistant to Steve Nicol for a number of years. He may not have done great but he did get an opportunity.

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