After a 2-1 loss to Orlando City SC on Decision Day, the Columbus Crew was eliminated from the MLS Cup playoffs. The following day, head coach Caleb Porter was relieved of his duties after failing to make the postseason for the second straight year.
As Porter and the club part ways, there is a perverse sense of excitement around the Crew fan base as they begin an anxious wait for the team’s new manager. As Black & Gold president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko carries out his first coaching hire at the club, fans are scouring the internet for an inkling of who might be the eighth full-time Head coach of the Crew.
Massive Report is here to help. We have compiled a huge amount of scribbled notes, arrows pointing to and from potential relationships that might exist, and the pros and cons of several different managers in several different situations. This is all an attempt to give supporters a sense of who and what the club is looking for in its next head coach.
As one might imagine, there are a lot of managers looking for work, and more will be on the way. The three most important things in Columbus’ search are a connection to the Crew, MLS and/or CONCACAF, a playing style and a tactical system with similar principles to Caleb Porter and past head coach Gregg Berhalter and experience as a head coach.
A connection to the Black & Gold, MLS and/or CONCACAF is important for two main reasons. The way that the MLS is viewed, especially outside of CONCACAF, severely limits the number of coaches who would be willing to be a part of the league. Names such as Thomas Tuchel, Mauricio Potchetinno and Zinedine Zidane but won’t be interested in this one.
Not only is having a connection to the league important for a hypothetical manager’s interest in taking the job, it oftentimes is very important to his or her success. Names such as Matias Almeyda (San Jose Earthquakes), Gabriel Heinze (Atlanta United), Japp Stam (FC Cincinnati), Raphael Wicky (Chicago Fire), Miguel Angel Ramirez (Charlotte FC), Hernan Losada (D.C. United) and Diego Alonso (Inter Miami) have come to the league and struggled in recent years. That is certainly not to say that foreign managers can’t succeed in MLS. Ronny Delia (New York City FC), Gerhard Struber (New York Red Bulls), Wilfred Nancy (CF Montreal) and Phil Neville (Miami) have shown this year alone. But having some sort of familiarity with the league is a big advantage for a manager’s first year on the job due to its complexities.
Familiarity with the league, as well as its unique playing style, travel difficulties and sometimes poor field conditions, can all make for a harsh baptism for new managers. In fact, there have only been three non-Americans to win MLS Cup in their first involvement in the league: Gary Smith with the Colorado Rapids in 2010, Tata Martino with Atlanta in 2018 and Deila last year with NYCFC.
It is also likely important that the next Crew manager has a similar playing style and tactical setup as Porter. Porter’s style of play is designed to help create goal scoring chances and control games, even if it doesn’t always pan out that way. These principles are a huge part of why the Black & Gold spent money to bring in players such as Lucas Zelarayan and Cucho Hernandez. Players who are good passers, good on the ball, effective dribblers and dangerous attackers always have a home in teams with systems like this. In fact, the majority of the Columbus roster was built around the tactical ideas of Porter and finding a manager who plays in a similar way and can bring the best out of these players is important.
This is by no means saying the new manager shouldn’t bring new ideas on how to create chances, what areas to exploit, how to maneuver attackers to create space, etc. But a new manager will have the chance to be successful quicker if his preferred playing style fits the majority of the players on the Crew roster.
Lastly, experience as a head coach is a vital quality that Bezbatchenko and the front office will look for in a new hire. Managing the ups and downs of an MLS schedule, presenting ideas to the team, managing stars and building chemistry within the team are all vital qualities in managers that most often take time and experience to master. A manager who is learning these things on the fly will no doubt experience setbacks and thus, limit the team’s ability.
Given that the Black & Gold believes the roster is still capable of winning championships largely as its constructed, having someone with experience will be important to avoid the growing pains.
Let’s take a look at who might fit all of these criteria. It’s important to note that this is not a complete list, as others may also qualify, nor does this come with any inside knowledge of who Columbus is interested in as the process begins.
Laurent Courtois: There is a lot of buzz from supporters surrounding Courtois and Bezbatchenko confirmed he will meet with the Crew 2 coach regarding the position. Courtois led Crew 2 to an MLS Next Pro Cup after finishing first in the league in 2022. He was named MLS NEXT Pro Coach of the Year in the first year of the league’s existence. He is already in Columbus and in line with the club’s vision.
Santiago Solari: Solari was let go by Club America of LIGA MX earlier this year and is looking for his next challenge. While not entirely familiar with MLS, Solari has already begun exploring the CONCACAF region and could benefit from a more lax environment around the club. Solari has previously managed at Real Madrid as well and could also quickly form a connection with Zelarayan and Hernandez thanks to their shared Latin American heritage and the respect he would command from both his playing and coaching career.
Jason Kreis: Kreis is a well-known figure in MLS circles thanks to his time as both a player and a coach in the league. One of the most prolific goal scorers in league history, Kreis has been involved in MLS as either a player or a coach, since the league’s inception in 1996. His managerial career has seen him in charge of Real Salt Lake, New York City FC and Orlando City, as well as the United States Men’s National Under-23 team and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Kreis is currently serving as an assistant to Neville in Miami.
Jürgen Klinsmann: Admittedly, this is a bit of a reach. Klinsmann has obvious connections to the U.S. through his time managing the United States Men’s National Team. His son, Jonathan, also plays for LA Galaxy. Klinsmann already lives in the United States and while it’s been several years since he’s been at the helm of a club team, the Crew could be a perfect “prove it” spot for Klinsmann.
Diego Torres: Torres is a popular up-and-comer in MLS circles. He joined the Orlando City staff prior to the 2020 season after working with Oscar Pareja at Club Tijuana. Torres served as both assistant manager and academy director in Tijuana, giving him a unique insight into the alignment necessary from the first team down to the academy, something Bezbatchenko emphasized in his Tuesday press conference. Torres has had three years to learn the league and may be ready to test the waters himself. Massive Report is also aware that he has an existing relationship with Zelarayan from their time in LIGA MX.
Doménec Torrent: Torrent is one of the most interesting names on the coaching market this offseason. MLS fans will recognize this name after serving as the head coach for NYCFC in 2018 and 2019. After his post in the Big Apple, Torrent has had spells in both Brazil and Turkey. Torrent, who was a long-time assistant to Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will be looking to prove that he can do it on his own in his next stint as manager. MLS is quickly gaining a reputation as a league for players and coaches to both prove themselves and bounce back from setbacks abroad and Torrent could be the next coach to do so. This could be a splash appointment for Crew ownership.
Pellegrino Matarazzo: Matarazzo is an American citizen who was recently let go from VFB Stuggart in the Bundesliga. Matarazzo has come through the ranks in Germany coaching several youth teams before landing his first job with a senior team in Stuggart. Matarazzo was only let go a few days ago and has previously claimed he would only be interested in MLS jobs in or around New York City, but he is simply too good for Columbus not to at least make a phone call.
David Wagner: Wagner is another American citizen who cut his teeth abroad. Wagner most recently served as the boss of Swiss side BSC Young Boys. Before that, Wagner led English side Huddersfield Town to promotion to the Premier League in 2016-17. Wagner also led Schalke for one campaign in the Bundesliga. Despite having most of his roots in Europe, Wagner could make a return to the United States to reinvigorate his career.
Robin Fraser: Fraser is currently under contract with the Colorado Rapids but may be persuaded to the Crew due to a step up in ownership, facilities and roster. Fraser, who retired as a Black & Gold player in 2005, is another coach who knows the league like the back of his hand. Fraser has also demonstrated an ability to win in MLS, as he led Colorado to the top seed in the Western Conference in the 2021 MLS Cup playoffs. Fraser seemingly could benefit from an increase in spending and resources than he has access to with the Rapids. If the Columbus Front Office are serious about being contenders, and elevating the team’s status in the league, taking a good coach from another club could be a good place to start.
Landon Donovan: The former USMNT star is currently the manager of USL Championship outfit San Diego Loyal. In his third year in charge, Donovan has led San Diego to the No. 2 overall seed in the USL Western Conference this year. Donovan, who has seemingly been linked to every MLS coaching job over the past few years, eventually will make the jump up a league. Donovan would be a flashy selection, but would also command immediate respect from players and fans alike. In addition, Donovan’s playing style in San Diego would be a good progression from Porter for the Crew.