Playoff contenders falter badly; MLS coaching power rankings (cont.)
4. The best two players you won't see in the playoffs: Barring a big charge, neither Chivas USA nor expansion Philadelphia will advance to the postseason. That's a darn shame, too, in one way.
Justin Braun (Chivas USA) and Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia) are having amazing seasons. And if their sides did manage to sneak into the playoffs, either one could be a serious heartbreaker and upset-maker.
Braun hit for a ninth time Friday night and has scored or assisted on almost half his team's goals (12 of 25). Bob Bradley is watching, rest assured.
Meanwhile, what else can you say about Le Toux's fantastic campaign? He hit for No. 11 in the Union's 1-0 win over Chicago. (You may not see it on the highlights, but he started the goal-scoring sequence with a great, early ball out of the back and across the field -- and then hustled into position for the quality, clever finish.)
Le Toux's scoring and playmaking are no accident. His work rate is nothing short of inspirational. He was a one-man force Saturday in Chester.
Le Toux has already secured a 10-10 season (at least 10 goals and 10 assists). Those aren't exactly rare in MLS, but they don't grow on cherry trees, either. There have been seven in MLS over the last five seasons.
Thing is, the 10-10 club is full of former and present MLS A-listers, names like Jaime Moreno, Landon Donovan and Amado Guevara. They were all guys who were in the yearly MVP conversations, and never surprisingly so.
But Le Toux is a guy who is toiling for an expansion side and is not even a striker. He has spent much of the season in midfield. And don't forget he was left unprotected 10 months ago by Seattle. It's a fantastic story -- it's just too bad that it's unlikely to be heard in the playoffs.
5. Team of the week: Goalkeeper: Brad Knighton (Philadelphia). Defenders: Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Chris Leitch (San Jose), Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake), Julius James (DC United). Midfielders: Dane Richards (New York), Dema Kovalenko (L.A. Galaxy), Paulo Nagamura (Chivas USA), Juninho (L.A. Galaxy). Forwards: Alan Gordon (Chivas USA), Thierry Henry (New York).
It's a players' game. We hear that all the time. But it's up to the coaches to pick 'em. And to make 'em better. So here are the top 10 MLS coaches of 2010, based solely on how they've performed this year.
1. Hans Backe, New York Red Bulls: No one has come in and made something out of this wandering lot of a franchise. Not until Backe, that is. Yes, the pricey stars help a ton. But importantly, he had the side very well organized straight away, so the product could gain full speed once the big cats did arrive.
2. Schellas Hyndman, FC Dallas: It took a couple of years for the longtime college coach to figure out what kind of personnel could and couldn't cut it at this level. Now Dallas is unbeaten in 14 straight matches, having finally found its defensive footing in Hyndman's third year. The personnel moves have been far more "hit" than "miss" this year.
3. Jason Kreis, Real Salt Lake: It's true that the youngest manager to win an MLS crown didn't have much personnel rearranging to do this year. On the other hand, Kreis has made the side better and better (and quite enjoyable to watch). This team is clearly one of the league's best in 2010 after barely sneaking into the postseason a year ago.
4. Bruce Arena, Los Angeles Galaxy: You could argue that Arena's best work came a year ago, as he grinded away at the club's salary-cap issues through wise acquisitions. Still, 2010 has seen coaching achievement, too, as Arena has worked three young Brazilians into the rotation.
5. Gary Smith, Colorado: Getting Jeff Larentowicz to partner with Pablo Mastroeni was the offseason master stroke. The Rapids are solid and well-organized all over the field now, having been fortified over the last 12 months or so with economical, prudent personnel choices.
6. Peter Nowak, Philadelphia: The Union probably can't make the playoffs, but Nowak's team is stacked with young talent. And he's being careful to nurture the really good ones, not rushing them along before they are physically up for the long haul.
7. Robert Warzycha, Columbus: His achievement is in not losing the plot around Crew Stadium, where his job has been mostly about maintenance over the last two years. Then again, maintenance isn't always so simple; just ask a few others around MLS.
8. Frank Yallop, San Jose: No, they haven't exactly lit up the league. But the Earthquakes are in the thick of things despite a litany of injuries through the year. And grabbing Jon Busch off the scrap heap was pure genius, a move that's now paying major dividends.
9. Sigi Schmid, Seattle: The Sounders' 9-9-6 record is what it is, pretty mediocre. But credit the veteran MLS coach for making the difficult choice to jettison DP Freddie Ljungberg, finally conceding that the fleet Swede and Fredy Montero are best suited for the same spot and can't simultaneously flourish. Plus, the Sounders are a win away from defending their U.S. Open Cup crown.
10. Steve Nicol, New England: The Revs are likely to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2001. But make no mistake, the longest-standing MLS coach is doing a respectable job, keeping the side competitive despite not having a whole bunch to work with relative to the current league leaders.
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