The Short List: MLS’s Foreign Coaching Flops

With John Carver as the latest example,’s Allen Ramsey looks at some of the biggest foreign coaching flops in MLS history.

By Allen Ramsey


It’s an age old feeling in the USA that the best soccer coaches come from overseas. In fact, people pay high dollar at the youth level to have their children coached by someone with an accent. After all, if a coach sounds like he’s not from America, he must know something about soccer right?


That feeling jumped to America’s top league when Major League Soccer came into existence in the mid 1990’s. The first thought when looking for a coach seems to be heading outside of the U.S. and finding an outsider who can come in and turn things around in a season or two.


Does it work? Sometimes it does. But for every Steve Nicol, there’s a Ruud Gullit, for every Frank Yallop, a John Carver.


Much like any outsider who comes to coach the Mexican National team has to understand the style of El Tri, any foreign coach who takes over an MLS side will have some realities to face. The league is fast, physical, and lacking in certain technical areas. The travel is hard to deal with, and summer games in places like Houston can drain a team. Add to those factors a league structure that has more rules and regulations than the United States tax code and you have a recipe for failure.


What may have been brilliant coaching in Europe could just as easily be a detriment to a team in MLS.


John Carver stepping down in Toronto was just the latest proof that coaching in MLS is not for everybody and as my Short List for this week I thought it would be appropriate to point out some of the other big name managerial flops from MLS’s past.


Ruud Gullit: When you take a job coaching the leagues highest profile team, you are expected to win. Gullit couldn’t. So, rather than taking the blame and working through his problems in L.A. he quit, saying that the team could never play beautiful football.


Thanks for the assessment, coach, and all of your hard work in steering the Galaxy toward nothing.


Bora Milutinovic: The “Miracle Worker” miraculously finished his one season in charge of an MLS franchise with the worst record in the league. While his time in charge of the U.S. National Team will always keep Milutinovic in the hearts and minds of U.S. fans, his time in charge of the MetroStars was proof of why he needs to be managing national teams and avoiding league play at all costs.


Hans Westerhof: Taking over mid-season in Chivas USA’s rookie campaign, Westerhof could do nothing to turn the team’s fortunes around. He would be replaced the next season by Bob Bradley. In all fairness, Westerhof had much less to work with than either Milutinovic or Gullit, but Chivas USA ended the season with a 4-22-6 record, not exactly what anyone would expect from a coach of his quality.


Carlos Alberto Parreira: After a disappointing initial season the MetroStars decided to replace one foreign coach, Carlos Queiroz (who gets a pass on this list for making the playoffs and having a decent record), with Brazilian manager Carlos Alberto Parreira in hopes of bringing a new look to the squad. Unfortunately, the new look looked worse than the old look.


Parreira managed to guide the Metro Stars directly out of the playoffs in 1997 with a fifth place finish in the Eastern Conference.


While many MLS teams will continue to look to foreigners in times of need, a new breed of managers is beginning to make its mark on Major League Soccer, and the results could keep this list from expanding.


With American coaches like Preki and Jason Kries working their way up the ladder quite successfully, and more of America’s former stars likely to emerge as top coaches in the next few years, it seems like America’s reliance on foreign coaches is on the decline. While some people in the U.S. will certainly see this as a step in the wrong direction the move to have coaches that understand the players and MLS can’t be worse than having over hyped managers that don’t stick around long enough to make a difference.


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Allen Ramsey is an assistant editor for The Short List runs every Wednesday afternoon on USA.