Assessing the New MLS Head Coaches

Major League Soccer has already dished up plenty of coaching changes during the offseason, with five clubs set to enter the 2021 campaign with a new head coach at the helm. Greg Vanney has swapped Toronto FC for LA Galaxy, with Chris Armas replacing Vanney at TFC. Elsewhere, DC United, Inter Miami, and Atlanta United will all kick off the new MLS season under new stewardship. So, how will the new MLS head coaches fare in 2021?

In this post, I cover all the offseason managerial changes in Major League Soccer and share my views on what the five new MLS head coaches can bring to their respective clubs this year. Will Gabriel Heinze succeed at Atlanta? Can Phil Neville hit the ground running in Miami? And who exactly is Hernan Losada? Let’s take a closer look at all the new MLS head coaches in 2021.

Is Gabriel Heinze the Right Man for Atlanta United?

Atlanta United burst onto the Major League Soccer scene in 2017, with Tata Martino guiding the Georgia franchise to MLS Cup glory the following year. But ever since Martino left the club in 2018, things have not been settled behind the scenes.

The Five Stripes have only participated in four MLS seasons, yet they are already under the stewardship of their third permanent head coach – Gabriel Heinze.

We all know that Atlanta’s 2020 campaign was a huge failure. Frank de Boer was sacked midway through the season, with Stephen Glass being placed in temporary control. But following a dismal twelfth-place finish in the Eastern Conference, Heinze was appointed to lead the club into a new era.

What Has Heinze Achieved as a Coach?

You can’t argue with Heinze’s record as a player. I mean, the Argentine won multiple trophies with European giants like PSG, Manchester United, and Real Madrid, as well as earning over 70 international caps. But his coaching résumé isn’t likely to get Atlanta supporters too excited.

Heinze began his managerial career in his homeland, taking over at Godoy Cruz. But his time in Mendoza only lasted ten games. After suffering six defeats, Heinze was sacked. A year later, Heinze took over at Argentinos Juniors. But having guided the club to top-flight promotion at the first time of asking, he resigned from his position.

Five Stripes fans will be pleased to hear that the 42-year-old’s previous job lasted a little longer. Heinze spent just over two years at Velez Sarsfield, achieving back-to-back Copa Sudamericana qualifications. But he chose to leave the club at the end of the 2019/20 season.

Can Heinze Transform Atlanta?

Before a ball has been kicked in 2021, it is difficult to gauge exactly how Heinze will fare as Atlanta United head coach.

Let’s not forget that his predecessor – Frank de Boer – also enjoyed a glittering playing career, starring for Ajax, Barcelona, and the Netherlands. The Dutchman even went on to manage in Serie A and the EPL, yet he was unable to make the grade at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Heinze has generally utilized an attacking 4-3-3 formation throughout his managerial career, meaning that forwards like Josef Martinez are likely to thrive in the team’s new system. But it remains to be seen whether the Argentine head coach can bring MLS success back to Georgia.

Can Greg Vanney Lead LA Galaxy Back to the Glory Days?

Thirteen years after leaving the club as a player, Greg Vanney is back with the Galaxy. The former defender made over 200 appearances for the Los Angeles franchise between 1996 and 2008, winning the Supporters’ Shield, CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, and Open Cup along the way.

Vanney stepped down as Toronto FC head coach after six successful years in Ontario. But following Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s dismissal towards the end of last season, Vanney wasted no time in snapping up the vacant Galaxy role.

Does Vanney Have Anything to Prove?

Returning to the Galaxy felt like a no-brainer for Vanney. Over the past few seasons, the 46-year-old has established himself as one of the best coaches in Major League Soccer, making him the ideal candidate for the Galaxy’s top job. One glance at Vanney’s honors list, and it’s easy to see why the Galaxy views the ex-TFC head coach as the perfect man for the job.

  • MLS Cup (2017)
  • Supporters’ Shield (2017)
  • Canadian Championship (2016, 2017, 2018)
  • MLS Coach of the Year (2017)
  • CONCACAF Coach of the Year (2017)

Of course, this is a fresh start for both the Galaxy and Vanney. The club is heading into the new season on the back of a series of below-par campaigns, while the new head coach will be eager to hit the ground running in Los Angeles. But having spent the bulk of his playing career at the club, it doesn’t feel as though Vanney has anything to prove to the Galaxy faithful.

What Can Vanney Achieve with the Galaxy?

After only missing out on the playoffs three times in the first 21 MLS seasons, the Galaxy has failed to reach the postseason in three of their last four campaigns. However, I can see Vanney changing the team’s fortunes pretty quickly.

Under Vanney, Toronto qualified for the playoffs five times in six seasons. As well as winning the MLS Cup in 2017, TFC also reached two more MLS Cup finals under Vanney’s watch. Following a string of disappointing seasons, the Galaxy looks set for a resurgence with Vanney at the helm.

Are Chris Armas and Toronto FC the Perfect Match?

Out with the old, in with the new. A month after Vanney stepped down as Toronto head coach, Chris Armas was appointed as his successor. Despite being fired by the Red Bulls midway through the previous campaign, the TFC hierarchy clearly viewed Armas as the ideal replacement for Vanney.

Now, the 48-year-old has the chance to write his name into the Reds’ history books. But has he got what it takes to maintain the club’s status among Major League Soccer’s elite?

Does Armas Have the Credentials?

Armas spent three years as an assistant coach at Red Bull Arena, replacing Jesse Marsch as the club’s head coach in 2018. Alongside Marsch, Armas laid the foundations for the Supporters’ Shield triumph that year before claiming the glory at the end of the season. But after finishing atop the Eastern Conference, the Red Bulls slipped to sixth in 2019. Following a woeful run of results last term, Armas was relieved of his duties in September 2020.

Many believe that Armas is one of the brightest managerial talents in MLS. After all, he learned his trade in the Red Bull set-up, which is renowned for producing gifted coaches. Still, it feels like the former Chicago Fire midfielder has a lot to prove.

In my eyes, this is somewhat of a “make or break” move for Armas. If he gets it right in Toronto, he could guide TFC to silverware in the coming years. But if things don’t go his way, this could turn out to be his final shot at managing a top MLS club.

Will Armas Succeed?

A big part of me wants Armas to succeed in Toronto. The ex-Red Bulls man likes his teams to play an intense brand of soccer, and if the TFC players get on board with his approach, we could see rising stars such as Ayo Akinola and Jayden Nelson blossom this year.

On the flip side, it is bound to take the team some time to adapt to Armas’ tactics. Vanney spent six years developing a style of play at BMO Field, meaning it will be difficult for the new head coach to get his points across right off the bat.

To tell you the truth, I really can’t decide which way this will go. I would love to see Armas and Toronto hit it off, but it could easily end in disaster.

Can Hernan Losada Fill Ben Olsen’s Shoes at DC United?

For the first time in a decade, Ben Olsen won’t be leading DC United into a new MLS season. The long-standing head coach was sacked last year following a string of damaging defeats, with Chad Ashton completing the campaign on an interim basis.

Having finished the 2020 campaign second from the bottom in the Eastern Conference, the club knew that it was time for a change. Following an extensive search, Hernan Losada has been tasked with picking up the pieces in Washington.

What Do We Know About Losada?

In managerial terms, Losada is a relative novice. At just 38, the Argentine is now the youngest head coach in Major League Soccer – two years younger than FC Dallas’ Luchi Gonzalez. After spending much of his playing career at Beerschot, the ex-midfielder went on to manage the Belgian side between October 2019 and January 2021, before DC United came calling.

In total, Losada oversaw 42 games as Beerschot manager, registering 20 wins, eight draws, and 14 losses – finishing with a win percentage of 48%. His record as a head coach isn’t bad, although it is difficult to judge him on such a small sample of results.

DC United general manager Dave Kasper has stated that he wholeheartedly believes in Losada’s approach to the game and his desire to play high-energy soccer with and without the ball. Time will tell whether the Argentine can galvanize his players.

Can Losada Revive DC United?

In all honesty, your guess is as good as mine here. DC United reportedly searched far and wide for their new head coach, with dozens of candidates rumoured to have been considered. So, supporters of the club can only hope that the hierarchy has made the right decision.

Let’s face it, no matter who the club selected, replacing Olsen is pretty much an impossible task. The club legend arrived as a player in 1998 and left over 20 years later, so it’s going to take a long time for an Olsen-less DC United to feel normal. I’m more than happy to be proved wrong, but I’m expecting Losada to struggle the most out of all the new MLS head coaches in 2021.

Will Inter Miami Excel Under Phil Neville?

All things considered, Inter Miami’s maiden MLS campaign was by no means a failure. The newcomers snuck into the postseason after finishing tenth in the Eastern Conference, although they eventually fell during the play-in round.

Still, Diego Alonso obviously didn’t do enough to prove that he was the right man to lead the Herons into 2021. The Uruguayan was fired at the end of last season, leaving the door open for Phil Neville.

What Will Neville Bring to Inter Miami?

With over 500 EPL appearances under his belt, nobody can say that Phil Neville isn’t experienced. The former Manchester United and Everton star even racked up a half-century of England caps, so he clearly knows a thing or two about soccer.

But despite enjoying success with England Women between 2018 and 2020, the 44-year-old has never managed at club level before.

Neville’s lack of managerial experience isn’t necessarily a problem. I mean, the Englishman has been around the game long enough to deserve a shot at being an MLS head coach, that’s for sure. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes him a while to adapt to his new role. Many believe that Neville’s relationship with Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham helped him to get the job, yet Beckham has insisted that he isn’t simply doing his friend a favour.

Can Neville Outshine Alonso?

Ultimately, I think Neville will be given more time than Alonso to get things right in Miami. The previous head coach was only given a season to show what he could do, but I’m sure Beckham won’t be as eager to fire Neville.

Leading an expansion club in an inaugural season is always difficult, and Alonso found that out the hard way. But the Uruguayan also set the foundations for the Herons to establish themselves as a genuine force in Major League Soccer. In my opinion, Neville has arrived at the club at just the right time. Alongside high-profile stars like Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi, the Englishman will be confident of taking the team to the next level.


Closing Thoughts

One thing’s for sure – the five new MLS head coaches in 2021 all have a big job on their hands. With many Major League Soccer club owners becoming more and more ruthless when it comes to firing managers, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if a couple of the new head coaches don’t last very long.

I’m confident that Vanney will get it right at LA Galaxy, while Armas has the potential to succeed at TFC. But I can see Heinze and Losada struggling to make a name for themselves in America. Personally, I’m excited to see what Inter Miami can achieve under Neville.

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