By Curtis Reed
Aron Winter and Hans Backe are coaches under fire, that is to mean, they might by fired (bad joke I know). Winter has his Toronto FC team off to the worst start in MLS history and only has two wins all competitions while Backe has had to deal with a temperamental New York side that refuses to play consistently. For fans of others teams, these two coaches’ struggles have been entertaining, but for fans of those teams their tenure’s have seemed like a nightmare. Their relationships with the media are poor and they seem to constantly aggravate players. Added up, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both coaches relieved of their duties by the end of year.
But the question that needs to be asked is how did they get in this situation? Both were well respected in Europe. Winter has over 80 caps for the Netherlands and Backe has worked with clubs like Manchester United. By all accounts they should be very successful. So, let’s look at five different types of head coaches and their common traits in order to answer this question.
The Young Guns: Jason Kreis, Jesse Marsch, Jay Heaps, Ben Olsen, and Robin Fraser
Common Traits: Played college soccer, spent a majority career in MLS, took over a team with little or no coaching experience (except for Fraser), and wears ties to matches.
The Experienced Hands: Frank Klopas, Robert Warzycha, Oscar Pareja, Dominic Kinnear, Peter Vermes, Piotr Nowak, John Spencer, and Frank Yallop.
Common Traits: Never played college soccer, only the twilight of career spent in MLS, spent significant time as an assistant coach or administrator, wears polo shirt.
The Sages: Schellas Hyndman, Bruce Arena, and Sigi Schmid
Common Traits: Player soccer when no one else did, never had a chance to play pro (for the most part), long-time head coaches at the college and MLS level, wears...the less said the better.
The Imports: Hans Backe and Aron Winter
Common Traits: Significant overseas experience, no experience with American soccer before taking job, wears polo shirts.
The Outlier: Martin Rennie
Common Trait: Not like the others.
Several things immediately stand out as possible factors in the struggles of Winter and Backe. First, they have never had any previous experience with soccer in North America. Sure, Backe had a stint with Mexico but that doesn’t really count. All the other coaches have either played in MLS, been a head coach in MLS, or been a head coach in the lower leagues. This lack of familiarity with the league and with American players has often caused these players to come into contradiction with the way things are. For one, they don’t understand that many of the best American players go through the college system. This lack of understanding has caused them to have holes in their team.
Second, they don’t seem to understand the physical nature of the league. I’m not just talking about the big athletes that are out there on the pitch, I’m also talking about the lengthy travel and the summer heat teams have to endure. It must have been a big culture shock for Winter and Backe to come to the states and then have to take a five hour plane ride to play a match.
Third, not having any experience in the league has caused them to value American and Canadian players too lightly. For Winter, he has stacked Toronto FC with players from the Netherlands that he thinks can play his system. The same thing for Backe and Scandinavians in New York. The problem is, like their coaches, these players often struggle to adapt to the rigors of MLS play. That is not to say that some don’t adapt. Joel Lindpere and Danny Koevermans are certainly some of the best players in the league, but for every Lindpere there is a Markus Hogersson. Backe and Winter have also spent way too much in the transfer market for sub-par players. The other coaches around the league don’t do that because they understand what it is like in the league.
Lastly, Winter and Backe consistently get their tactics wrong. Tactics were supposed be the strong suit of both coaches and the weakness of their American counterparts, yet, time and time again this season, younger coaches like Jason Kreis and Ben Olsen have beaten Winter and Backe in the tactical department. Winter insists on his 4-3-3 even though he is getting picked apart by other teams and doesn’t have the pieces to run that system. I can understand wanting to teach younger players that system but Winter needs to understand that he can only work with the resources he’s been given (as an aside, who is the guy at MLSE who thought this system would work in MLS?). Similarly for Backe he has also display his naiveté toward MLS tactics. For instance, he insisted on playing Joel Lindpere out wide for most of the season. It was only after he moved him centrally that Lindpere really began to produce.
So you can see it’s no wonder why Aron Winter and Han Backe are struggling; they have absolutely nothing in common with the league and with the players. This is not to say that they aren’t great coaches, it is more to say that for teams looking to hire a new coach, hiring someone not familiar with the league is not a very good choice. Maybe next time teams like New York and Toronto will finally learn to stay within MLS.
What do you think? Why are Winter and Backe struggling so badly?
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