If Matias Almeyda Leaves San Jose, Should MLS Be Worried About Its South American Managers?

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If the San Jose Earthquakes lose to the Portland Timbers on the road Sunday, it could spell the abrupt end of coach Matias Almeyda’s tenure. And not because of any dissatisfaction from the Quakes’ front office.

Yes, San Jose needs a win to guarantee reaching the postseason, and a sixth straight defeat to end the season would guarantee the Quakes to crash out of playoff contention in historic fashion. But even so, Almeyda would remain in MLS coach of the year chatter just for rebuilding San Jose from their miserable 2018 campaign.

However, if reporting from TUDN is correct, he could be swooped up in a big money move from defending Concacaf Champions League champs CF Monterrey, who are off to a poor start in their Liga MX Apertura campaign and have dismissed former full-time coach Diego Alonso.

Monterrey would presumably have to buy out Almeyda’s current contract, though Rayados likely have the resources to make it happen if they want El Pelado badly enough. (San Jose has issued a statement saying Almeyda currently has no buyout clause in his contract, and that there has been no contact between the clubs.) It would be more crushing news for a club revitalized for most of 2019. And through a wider lense, it would also mark the third departure of an accomplished, South American-born coach in the last year to a Mexican destination.

Almeyda’s fellow Argentine, Tata Martino, took charge of the Mexico national team after wining the 2018 MLS Cup with Atlanta. Longtime MLS fixture and Colombian-born Oscar Pareja parted with FC Dallas for Club Tijuana. Both men were at the end of their contracts. Pareja openly admitted to wanting the then-vacant U.S. national team job, while Martino said only that the federation never contacted him before eventually hiring former Columbus Crew SC goach and GM Gregg Berhalter.

Almeyda has not left San Jose yet, and the circumstances would certainly be different if he does depart. Yet it’s worth asking if the MLS is doing enough to retain some of the hemisphere’s most talented coaches, now that they are beginning to consider the league as a destination in the first place. Especialy when they are then imparting their knowledge to the Concacaf rivals south of the border.

This is one of those “good problems,” of course. Coaches from Argentina, Colombia or other Latin countries with resumes like Martino’s or Almeydas were beyond the reach of MLS clubs until a few years ago (coaches in the profile of Pareja, who played at Dallas and made his coaching debut with the Colorado Rapids, is a bit of a different story.) As more test the MLS waters, there is definitely the potential for culture clash, and not just linguistically.

In American sports, the ultimate symbol of coaching success is a prolonged tenure in one place. Think Bill Belichick with the NFL’s New England Patriots, Joe Torre with MLB’s New York Yankees, Mike Krzyzewski at college basketball’s Duke Blue Devils and so on.

That very rarely happens in international soccer, even for the game’s most respected coaching stars. Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola has managed in three countries since 2008. Closer to home, San Jose is Almeyda’s fourth gig in a third country since 2011. And Martino’s CV since 2007? Three national teams on two continents and three clubs in three leagues, including Barcelona. Yes, that Barcelona. In that context, maybe it’s unreasonable to expect any big name South American coach to remain in MLS long, or at least with the same team.

If the league does want an environment where those managers stay on North American shores and impart their influence on a greater portion of the MLS coach and player pool, there needs to be a more realistic prospect of advancement within the league or the continent. Martino, for example, coached at Paraguayan side Libertad before taking the national team job there. Almeyda coached at Banfield in Argentina before moving to giants River Plate.

In MLS, there are just not enough “big jobs” open to aspiring coaches from outside pre-defined coaching avenues. Both New York clubs have preferred to hire coaches from within their respective club families, Red Bull and City Football Group. Bob Bradley likely has the LAFC job as long as he wants it. The Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC have opted for stability since becomming perennial MLS Cup contenders.

Of course, Tata Martino made his MLS entrance in Atlanta, and a move elsewhere in MLS would have been lateral at best. Another Argentine, Guillermo Barros-Schelotto, started his MLS tenure at what the LA Galaxy, arguably the biggest MLS gig of all. In those cases, the only domestic steps upward would be to coach the U.S. national team, or maybe Canada as the potential of their youth movement continues to build toward the 2026 FIFA World Cup, of which they will be a co-host.

It’s worth noting again how both Pareja and Martino both were on media shortlists for the U.S. job. And Martino’s high press and counter tactical approach may actually be a better fit for American personnel than Berhalter’s focus on building possession.

The U.S. has never had a manager from the Latin America in the program’s history. And until that changes, South American coaches who arrive in MLS may have no choice but to view their stay as one that will end sooner than later.