There's very little room for failure in soccer management. Job security as a head coach is often non-existent in the modern game, but the faith shown by the Colorado Rapids in Pablo Mastroeni, and the resultant success, should be a lesson for a number of clubs around the world. Sometimes you just need to stay the course and be firm to your plan.
The reward was Colorado's best season since its 2010 MLS Cup win, and although it ended with Sunday's Western Conference final loss to Seattle, there has been a lot for Mastroeni and the Rapids to be proud of, with much to build on moving into next year.
This was Mastroeni's third season in charge in Colorado and it's fair to say the first two were challenging. After finishing second to last in the West in 2014, with the third-worst record in all of MLS, Mastroeni saw his side post a better points total last year but finish dead last in the conference, leaving the Rapids coach with a record of 17-33-18 after his first two seasons.
That's enough to see a lot of managers get fired in the search for a spark, but we saw a different Mastroeni this season, one who seemed to have more confidence and be more prepared, and he instilled that belief in his squad.
With every other team in the West looking to have made major improvements, very few people would have given Mastroeni much of a chance of making the playoffs, never mind have the season the Rapids have just had. But the 40-year-old made some key additions himself with the likes of Shkelzen Gashi, Jermaine Jones and Marco Pappa, and he built his squad around a very solid, and miserly, defensive footing.
The result was a second-place finish in both the Western Conference and all of MLS, missing out on the Supporters' Shield on the final day of the season by just two points. Under Mastroeni's management, the Rapids' points total of 58 was their best regular season finish in the club's 21-year history, and was 21 more points than their 2015 total and 26 more from his first season in charge. Quite the turnaround.
Mastroeni's desire to build his team around strong defensive play saw Colorado lead the league with only 32 goals conceded, and the Rapids went on a club record 15-game unbeaten streak, finishing the season undefeated at home. The challenge for him now is to continue that into next season, when his Rapids won't be a surprise package any more.
For an impressive turnaround season that saw him turn the Colorado Rapids from worst in the West to serious championship contenders, Pablo Mastroeni has won Goal's MLS Coach of the Year award.
Oscar Pareja: FC Dallas' consistency under Pareja has been incredible. Dallas wrapped up the Western Conference title with a points total of 60 for the second-straight season. After losing out last year on a tiebreaker, Pareja guided his team to its first Supporters' Shield, winning half its matches and adding the club's second U.S. Open Cup trophy along the way with a 4-2 triumph over New England Revolution in September's final.
He's done it by playing an attractive brand of soccer and building a squad around affordable talent and homegrown stars in the making. After falling to Seattle at the first hurdle in the postseason, the challenge for Pareja moving forward is to bring their regular season dominance to the playoffs and land his club's first MLS Cup.
Patrick Vieira: The Frenchman got his managerial career off to a successful start, guiding New York City FC to a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference, securing the club's first playoff berth in its second season in the league. For a team featuring three of MLS' highest profile, and highest paid, designated players, making the postseason was certainly the minimum requirement NYCFC's owners would have expected from Vieira.
Despite that pressure, and May's incredible 7-0 loss at the hands of the rival Red Bulls, Vieira regrouped and rebuilt his squad's confidence to show a 17-point improvement from the club's inaugural season, recording a record of 15-10-9. Although NYCFC suffered a semifinal exit at the hands of Toronto FC, the foundations have been laid for what could be an even more successful 2017.
Jesse Marsch: When you win the Supporters' Shield in your first season in charge, notching club-record points and victories along the way, there's not many places to go except down for last year's MLS Coach of the Year. But Marsch had another solid season at the helm of the New York Red Bulls, again finishing atop the Eastern Conference and missing out on a second straight Shield by just three points.
It was in the playoffs again where the Red Bulls faltered, crashing out with a whimper to the Montreal Impact in their Eastern semifinal, and Marsch's success in New York will be truly measured on whether he can finally win the club's first ever MLS Cup.
Greg Vanney: The only coach in our list still in with a chance of lifting the MLS Cup next month, Vanney has continued to improve Toronto year upon year under his management. After taking over toward the end of the 2014 season, Vanney has turned Toronto from perennial loser into real championship contender, despite there still being doubts about whether he was the right man to lead the team.
Like Vieira, with the money the club has spent this season, anything less than a deep run in the playoffs would have to be considered as a failure, but Vanney increased Toronto's points total by four from last season, securing the club's first home playoff game and winning its first Canadian Championship since 2012 along the way. After dominating New York City FC in its semifinal, TFC now sits one win away from its first MLS Cup appearance.