Chivas USA and The Montreal Impact: North America’s Anti-North American Clubs

chelis_300Schallibaum

The Montreal Impact introduced their new coach, Marco Schallibaum (right), on Monday, and the club’s owner, Joey Saputo, had some interesting things to say following the announcement. Schallibaum replaces retired MLS player Jesse Marsch, who led Montreal to a not-bad 12-16-6 record in their first year of MLS existence (and his first as a head coach), keeping them in the playoff chase till the final third of the season.

Here’s the owner’s take on the change:

“Getting into MLS, we were told that the MLS [sic] was different. You need the American experience or people in your organization who understood the MLS [sic]. We moved away from what we really believed. Last year, when we looked for coaches, we didn’t look abroad. We looked at American coaches. We basically gave that coach carte blanche with the people on his coaching staff. We went away from our core values.”

Of course there’s a reason Saputo and his team received that advice. The track record of North American coaches, or coaches who’ve spent a lot of time on these shores, is pretty glittering, while the track record of foreign-reared coaches, with only a few exceptions, is the direct opposite of glittering.

There have been 17 MLS Cup trophies handed out in the league’s history. All but one have gone to coaches with substantial experience in US and/or Canadian soccer circles. The lone exception, Englishman Gary Smith, who won the 2010 championship with Colorado, is no longer in the league, having clashed with Rapids management and returned to England just one year after winning the MLS title.

That’s not to say that a foreign coach can’t or won’t soon find sustained success in MLS, it’s just to point out that the grain of history has so far run against that happening.

Yet Saputo and Montreal are undeterred. Here’s more from Saputo at the Schallibaum presser:

“We are a very European-type city. We like the European flavor. We’re different from Toronto. We’re different from the other North American cities. The culture is different. Our fans didn’t want to see the American players. They wanted to see the European players.”

And so, in 2013, Montreal fans will see more Europeans. Or at least one more: The Impact have signed Italian journeyman midfielder Andrea Pisanu, bringing him into the fold alongside the Serie A veterans they already have—center backs Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari, and striker Marco Di Vaio.

What Saputo’s comments mean for the nine Americans still on the Impact’s active roster of 22 remains to be seen.

Across the continent in Los Angeles, Chivas USA is undergoing a similar re-think (or, in their case, re- re-think; they started life in MLS saying they would only sign players of Mexican descent). The club has hired the fiery, enigmatic Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, formerly of Puebla, as its new head coach.

Here’s what Sola—more readily known by his nickname, Chelis—had to say about MLS before he was hired, in response to rumors that he might in fact be hired. He was speaking to the Mexican site MedioTiempo.com:

“I believe that in MLS almost all the teams play the same. The champion plays the same like all the teams. It’s not that you want to improvise, but I don’t have the sensibility to do what they do over there. It could be good as far as points and achievements, but I don’t think I have the profile to play that kind of soccer.”

That sounds for all the world like a man turning down a job prospect, yet, just days later, Chelis was announced as the Goats’ manager, their eighth in nine seasons as a franchise.

Like Saputo, he said the club’s problem lay in the nationality of its personnel:

“It doesn’t have a style and it has lost its Mexican base. In the last tournament they played without Mexicans and I imagine that giving the team a Mexican base, we can get to that style of soccer that I like to play. From there, people will come on board, we’ll achieve more, and from there you begin to please and give something different from the soccer in [MLS]. It’s possible to achieve it and reach many objectives.”

It probably is, Chelis, and we wish you the best of luck in reaching them. The league—and the game in this country—would only benefit from having two competitive teams in Los Angeles.

But both you and Saputo should keep in mind that not only have almost all of the MLS Cup–winning coaches been steeped in North American soccer culture, but most of the championship-winning players, too, have been American.

The rosters of every single one of the 17 MLS championship teams have been predominantly American.

As a famous American coach used to say, you could look it up.

But good luck with the new directions you’re pursuing. And you can take some solace in the fact that you’re not alone. The New York Red Bulls—a team without a trophy of any kind in 17 years of existence—are on the verge of hiring their second straight foreign-born-and-bred coach, as they’re reportedly close to a deal with Paulo Sousa of Portugal.

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