Home Sports Which MLS coaches could be feeling the heat early in 2024?

Which MLS coaches could be feeling the heat early in 2024?

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Which MLS coaches could be feeling the heat early in 2024?

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The 29th season of MLS kicks off in little more than a week with a Feb. 21 meeting between Real Salt Lake and Inter Miami CF. As a new soccer season dawns, the 29 teams open the new year with a clean slate, but coaches across MLS are already facing various weights of expectation, and for some, preexisting frustration.

It’s still rather early — especially for any among the nine individuals newly installed as gaffer since the 2023 season ended in November — but before the new campaign gets underway, it’s worth taking a look at the managers sure to face some immediate pressure.

The only manager Nashville SC has ever had since joining the league in 2020, Smith has done a commendable job in some regards. After all, it was only the slim margin of a penalty shootout with Inter Miami that kept the boys in gold from the inaugural 2023 Concacaf Leagues Cup trophy.

Notably, Smith has also guided Nashville into the playoffs for four straight seasons. While the team’s playoff consistency has been laudable, it has yet to make a deeper run than the quarterfinals and ended 2023 with a first-round exit after losing two straight matches to Orlando City SC.

With that lackluster finish fresh in the memory, the feeling that Nashville isn’t delivering on its potential has the chance to overshadow this new season. Things took a dip midway through 2023, and Nashville will need to be quick to counter in the new year. Relying on nothing beyond the individual brilliance of former MLS MVP Hany Mukhtar as an attacking strategy won’t get them far, and Smith will need to better strategize those goal-scoring opportunities while also setting up his squad to create them.

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Thanks to Nashville’s second-place finish in the 2023 Leagues Cup, Smith will guide his team into the new year straddling competitions as one of 10 MLS teams participating in the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup. Fortunately for the manager, his first few regular-season tests could be surmountable, beginning the campaign against teams that either missed the playoffs in 2023 or eked into them and lost early.

The back-and-forth between Champions Cup and MLS could wear Nashville down, and it faces a rough run of games from the end of March into early April: LAFC, Columbus Crew, Philadelphia Union, then Inter Miami. Failing to get momentum by then could see Smith sitting below the playoff spots and under pressure in the early season.

It’s difficult to think of a more decorated team with a more disgruntled fan base than the Galaxy. The two go hand in hand, of course, as the Galaxy’s loyal supporters crave the success from their heyday, when the team collected five titles from nine MLS Cup appearances — the most in Major League Soccer for either statistic.

Their most recent MLS Cup appearance (and trophy) was in 2014, a full decade ago. After struggling with mediocre results for seasons now, they ended 2023 by failing to qualify for an expanded playoff that ushered a full 18 teams into the postseason.

In the immediate aftermath of confirming their playoff absence by losing 5-2 to Minnesota United in October, Vanney told the media: “This season felt like five seasons’ worth of challenges inside of one season, and we couldn’t manage all of it and get ourselves to the playoffs and the final stages.” It’s true that 2023 saw everything from injuries to sanctions to supporter boycotts roll his way, but time has run out for Vanney to coast on complacency should poor luck and bad results throw him off-kilter.

An MLS original, Vanney appeared for the Galaxy in their first six years of existence, guiding them to glory as among the league’s best defenders. He returned briefly as a player in 2008, and again as a manager in 2021, but nostalgia won’t salvage what has to be the turnaround year for LA’s injured giants.

With a few new signings (Gabriel Pec, Miguel Berry) to boost their efforts in the attacking third this offseason, Vanney’s early tests offer a spread in caliber that he’ll need to take advantage of. David Beckham’s star-studded Miami squad awaits them first. A mix of achievable results follow, with tough tests against intracity rivals LAFC and Western Conference giants Seattle Sounders FC by the end of March and early April.

Austin FC has enjoyed a state-of-the-art facility, incredible fan support and wide-ranging results in its first three seasons in MLS

After finishing their inaugural year near the bottom of the league and failing to qualify for the playoffs, the Verde famously thumbed their noses at preseason predictions in 2022 by finishing second in the West behind just LAFC and making a compelling playoff run to the Western Conference final. The underlying numbers brought Wolff’s side back to reality in their third season, though, as they finished 12th in the 14-team Western Conference and failed to make the playoffs.

With 2023’s results more accurately reflecting things like their expected goals, it seemed Wolff’s side would need changes to recalibrate, but the offseason has not seen the major roster movements of a team restocking for a rebound.< That said, Austin’s newly installed sporting director Rodolfo Borrell told ESPN that he has faith in Wolff, who he describes as a young manager with more potential, with an outlook that aligns with what he hopes to build in Austin.

“Very passionate, very dedicated, very much identified with what we’re trying to do at the club,” Borrell said of his coach.

That may be true, and could lend longevity to Wolff’s tenure as the Verde seek better results with a familiar roster in the new season, but it’s hard to imagine that outlook remains for too long if results prove dismal and pressure from supporters climbs higher.

Austin will open its season against Minnesota on Feb. 24, then face a tough run of opponents in its next four matches as it meets some of last season’s top contenders in Seattle, St. Louis City SC, Philadelphia and Orlando. Things calm down after that, though, and without international competition on deck, Wolff will have time (and Borrell’s early support) to focus on results and improvement.

Tata Martino | Inter Miami

It may be surprising to see Martino make this list given he’s only been in the role since Phil Neville’s firing last June, in addition to the slew of stars in his South Florida squad that you may have heard about. With the headline-grabbing Herons running controversial international tours with the game’s G.O.A.T., though, the world’s eyes will be on David Beckham’s MLS project when the season sets off. The corresponding pressure to get results will surely follow.

Now entering its fifth season in Major League Soccer, Miami failed to make last season’s playoffs after finishing second to last in the Eastern Conference. That said, the Herons did win the inaugural 2023 Leagues Cup trophy on the back of Lionel Messi‘s heroics.

That accomplishment adds some brass to the Martino era, but it also brings with it a complication. His esteemed-but-aging side of stars (Messi has since been joined by Luis Suárez, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, among others) will participate in the Concacaf Champions Cup, too.

An already injury-worn and travel-weary squad will face a hectic early-season schedule, as they traverse surmountable opponents in MLS but must contend with continental competition in between. Should they falter in the early days, potentially injuring a star player or sitting them to prevent that, Miami could see a good bit of pressure from fans and media and 2024 gets going.

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