MLS lacking in old-fashioned feuds

Publish date:

The game of soccer triggers fiery clashes among historic rivals. At times, the disputes between management of the top teams seem partly for show and entertainment. Whether calculated or genuine, however, the latest salvos from the likes of José Mourinho, Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger are guaranteed to generate plenty of copy in the European media.

It's juicy stuff, after all. In 2005, British police specifically asked feuding coaches Wenger and Ferguson not to increase "intensity and hostility" with their comments in the lead-up to a big match.

Mourinho is a master of using bombastic statements in the press to stir things up. He'll claim his own player is the best in the world, question another team's tactics and even prep the referees on what he wants them to pay attention to in a game. Countless fans line up on various sides of his quotes, arguing either his genius or his self-absorbed braggadocio.

It's another area in which MLS falls far short of the European model. There's very little in the way of any coaching feuds in MLS. That's a shame, because it robs the game of a certain amount of intrigue.

There are a few incidents in MLS history which rightly should have engendered a bit of bad blood in the coaching ranks. In '03, MLS had an unusual rule that allowed for a fourth substitution, but only for the goalkeeper. Bob Bradley, who coached New York at the time, violated the spirit, if not the letter of the law, by putting his netminder, Tim Howard, further up the field so he could bring in teen phenom Eddie Gaven as his fourth sub. Gaven put on goalkeeper gloves, but then ripped them off a minute later, changing places with Howard. Gaven then scored the winning goal.

D.C. United's coach, Thomas Rongen, the victim of Bradley's machinations that day, clearly had a reason to hold a grudge against Bradley. Of course, neither is coaching in MLS any longer. Instead, Bradley and Rongen now work together as U.S. national-team coaches. Bradley runs the senior squad, while Rongen is in charge of the under-20 team.

This doesn't mean coaches don't get fired up in MLS. This past year, Chivas USA coach Preki was furious at Landon Donovan after the striker celebrated a goal in front of his bench. But then-Galaxy coach Ruud Gullit apologized for his player, even as Donovan denied any deliberate taunt.

Toronto FC coach John Carver went on an extended rant earlier this season against Columbus Crew midfielder Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Carver railed about what he considered constant diving by the Argentine, but he also went out of his way to state how much he respected Crew coach Sigi Schmid and how sure he was that Schmid didn't condone such actions. For his part, Schmid responded that he appreciated the comments, although he dismissed the criticism.

Carver actually has more of an ongoing feud with a referee, MauricioNavarro, than he does with any fellow MLS coach. Navarro cited him for leaving the coaching area during a game and yelling at officials. Carver took umbrage, insisting that he wasn't going to temper his passionate behavior. "If that is taken away from me, then it's not worth me being here and being a part of this," Carver said.

The truth is that only an outsider foreign coach like Carver probably has a chance of shaking up the polite, diplomatic and utterly dull relations between MLS coaches, who are mostly Americans. Many of them are intertwined by bonds of loyalty and friendship. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena once mentored Kansas City Wizards coach Curt Onalfo and San Jose Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop. Yallop in turn guided Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear's early career. The handshakes at the start of games are not merely a gesture of civility, but of genuine respect.

The collegial management environment of MLS may be nice for the coaches themselves, but it's boring for fans. If at least a few would make resolutions this year to stop tip-toeing around each other, it would be progress. MLS could use an increase in intensity. While no one expects the leaders of teams to talk trash, taking a page from the sharp remarks exchanged by the top European managers would, at the very least, add some spice.