Seattle Sounders FC is in the midst of its coaching search and the rumor mill has already churned out a few names. Goal.com’s Kyle McCarthy identifies possible candidates as the Sounders’ search picks up steam.
There are few better ways for the Seattle Sounders to finish out their regular season USL1 life than a match against Vancouver this weekend. Apparently, massive rival Portland wasn’t available.
But as the USL1 season winds to a close, the Sounders will then turn their focus to their inaugural campaign in MLS next season. In a way, the Sounders are the promoted team people have sought for years as the side transitions from Seattle Sounders to Seattle Sounders FC.
Most of the players will change, but the management structure – with general manager Adrian Hanauer at the forefront – and a few of the players – French striker Sebastian Le Toux is confirmed and perhaps defender Taylor Graham, midfielder Josh Gardner and goalkeeper Chris Eylander will join him – will remain the same.
But the MLS game isn’t the same and requires a revamp. The new approach will impact the Sounders coaching search as it winds to a conclusion over the next month or two. The team has said that familiarity with the MLS system is amongst its criteria as the team searches far and wide for its next coach.
“Given the salary cap, coaching in MLS is slightly unique and requires a certain mentality,” Hanauer said in a statement provided to Goal.com by the team. “We will hire a coach who is willing to put in the hard work necessary to creatively put a winning side on the pitch.”
At this point, only two candidates have been confirmed: current Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer and New England assistant Paul Mariner. In what can only be described as an implausible scenario if true, a third candidate – Kansas City technical director Peter Vermes – was reported to have turned down the job last week by Soccer by Ives despite not having any MLS, college or U.S. national team coaching experience.
“It’s a pretty strong list (of candidates) and when I look at the list of names, I don’t think we can go wrong with any of them,” Henderson said in a statement.
Assuming that Schmetzer’s candidacy isn’t a strong one based upon his dearth of MLS experience, here are five names that should feature prominently on that list:
1. Sigi Schmid
Schmid ticks all the boxes for a potential Sounders head coach. Schmid has significant ties to Henderson after coaching him for two years at UCLA. Schmid has had sustained success in MLS and knows how the league structure works. Schmid is also likely to be out of contract at the end of the season and rumors persist that he’d prefer to return to the West Coast unless Columbus offers him a significant raise. A slam dunk choice if he were to be available to the Sounders.
2. Paul Mariner
Mariner pops up on this lists time and again because of New England’s consistent success over the past few seasons. Knowledge of MLS isn’t a concern after five seasons alongside Steve Nicol. Mariner has searched actively for a top job over the past couple of seasons both inside and outside of MLS and remains focused on attaining one. Mariner told the Arizona Republic that he had his fingers crossed over this job and the Sounders have already approached New England for a chance to speak with Mariner.
3. Colin Clarke
Clarke has rehabilitated his image this season in Puerto Rico. Clarke’s Islanders currently top the USL1 table and advanced to the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League after knocking out heavy favorites Alajuelense. Puerto Rico also won its first group game over Tauro FC, the club that knocked out Chivas USA. The former Northern Ireland international even managed to navigate the Puerto Rico national team through the first round of World Cup Qualifying before bowing out to Honduras. Clarke went from a so-so candidate after a mediocre stint in Dallas to a name that should make everyone’s hiring list – including the Sounders – this winter.
4. Mike Sorber
A sleeper pick to be sure, but U.S. national team assistant Sorber would make enough sense to be a serious contender. Sorber and Henderson never played together in MLS, but spent considerable time together with the national team. Sorber’s resume isn’t thick; he spent six seasons as an assistant at St. Louis University before joining Bob Bradley’s staff and hasn’t coached in MLS before. There would also be considerable questions about whether Sorber would want to leave the national team in the middle of a World Cup Qualifying cycle. But after the Vermes rumor, this is one that could make some sense.
5. Curt Onalfo
After what most would deem a disappointing season in Kansas City, Onalfo’s seat may be getting a little warmer than he would prefer. Onalfo did lead the Wizards to the Western Conference title game last season, so there’s a chance his seat is safer than it probably should be at this point. If Onalfo chooses to jump, Seattle could be one possible exit strategy. Henderson and Onalfo played together in the FIFA Youth Championship in 1989, but didn’t cross paths in MLS. Onalfo would have to at least entertain the idea if Seattle were to express interest.
Other names to consider:
Schmetzer, former Rapids (and Seattle SeaDogs) head coach Fernando Clavijo, U.S. U-23 coach Peter Nowak, Real Salt Lake assistant Robin Fraser, Chivas USA assistant Mike Matkovich, Los Angeles assistant Dave Sarachan.