Soccer America
Tuesday November 17th, 2009

If sources monitoring the Chicago situation are right, Denis Hamlett will soon join Preki in the unemployment line. Maybe if the Fire had reached the MLS Cup final, majority owner Andrew Hauptman would have been reluctant to cut him loose.

But since the Fire fell agonizingly short, losing on penalty kicks 5-4 after a 120-minute scoreless Eastern Conference final slugfest with Real Salt Lake last Saturday night at Toyota Park, Hamlett doesn't have enough traction, it seems, to keep his job. Hauptman wants to do things his way.

Hamlett won't be the only one departing. Chris Rolfe, who went out with more of a whimper than a bang, is bound for Denmark, Brandon Prideaux is retiring, and the chance Cuauhtémoc Blanco returns is slim. Defender Wilman Conde might also be looking elsewhere, a lot of teams are monitoring Marco Pappa and discussions regarding the future of Brian McBride aren't going so well.

In the last coaching search, Chicago and Houston assistant coach John Spencer seemed bound for a deal but couldn't agree on compensation, so the Fire instead hired longtime assistant Hamlett. He got the team to the Eastern Conference final last year and lost to Columbus. This year, with home-field advantage, the Fire shut out RSL despite fielding a back line that lost Bakary Soumare in midseason following a locker-room argument with Hamlett, and didn't have Gonzalo Segares nor Conde for most of the playoffs.

There will be plenty going on this week in Seattle during the run-up to MLS Cup that will have nothing to do with the game. The Board of Governors will meet, and supposedly talks will be held between MLS and the players' union regarding a new collective bargaining agreement. And coaches will be interviewed.

No formal discussions have yet been held between Toronto FC and its candidates. Those talks will take place in Seattle. TFC has missed the playoffs three straight years and has no more wiggle room; Preki failed to get past the first round with Chivas USA but can argue, rightly, team management in Guadalajara nixed player moves and dictated he use players from Mexico. One source said a deal with former U.S. international Martin Vasquez may be already done and no other candidates have been linked to the position, while Preki's future could be in Toronto.

Toronto FC manager and director of soccer Mo Johnston and Preki are both headstrong, yet both are driven to win. Their relationship might be somewhat stormy, but they not only played together at Kansas City, they go back a decade further to the days they played at Everton, and both have good contacts within MLS as well as in Europe.

Preki might also draw interest from other clubs as well as the U.S. national team. Bob Bradley hired Preki as his assistant when he coached at Chivas USA, but Bradley might instead choose a former player, say Jesse Marsch or Chris Armas, if he decides to add to his staff for the World Cup run-up.

In both Conference Finals, the games went down to the wire and were decided by a few kicks of the ball. Teams looking for coaches, beware: Playoff games, and thus entire seasons in MLS, often swing one way or the other by luck, not performances of players and those who prepare them. In scoreless regulation periods, the Fire and Dynamo both hit the crossbar, and eventually lost.

Since moving to Houston prior to the 2006 season, coach Dominic Kinnear has signed two new deals with the team. The Dynamo tied the Los Angeles Galaxy on points during the regular season and actually won more games, but lost the head-to-head tiebreaker and thus the home-field advantage when both teams advanced. In an even game, the Galaxy got the breaks and thus the win.

The transformation of the Galaxy from an eight-win team in '08 into an MLS Cup finalist earned Bruce Arena honors as Coach of the Year, and reminded teams looking for coaches -- D.C. United, Toronto FC, Chivas USA, New York and, presumably, Chicago -- the bar is being moved higher and higher each year, as more teams come into the league and the playoff field remains at eight.

In the D.C. coaching chase, latest word is that Richie Williams may have taken the lead against Curt Onalfo. New York is searching for a sporting director to replace Jeff Agoos, who will be offered a different post in the organization, and has been aggressively pursuing MLS executive Nelson Rodriguez, who formerly worked for the MetroStars but isn't being held responsible.

Back to Hamlett, Hauptman may hold him responsible -- not because of the Soumare incident or a shot off the crossbar or not signing Nick Rimando or any other reason -- but for another stumble short of MLS Cup, and act accordingly. In this respect, MLS -- even with playoffs -- is like any other league: Coaches take the fall.

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