The Failure of Matias Almeyda
It all started so brightly, so beautifully for the partnership between Matias Almeyda and the San Jose Earthquakes, where did it go wrong? Well, it's the Earthquakes, duh! Okay, it's a bit more complicated than that, so let's dive in. Why hire Almeyda in the first place? Well because he has a history of resurrecting previous giant clubs and bringing them back to something akin to their former glory. Almeyda went to River Plate, which was then in the second division of Argentinian football, and in a mere year and a half won the championship to bring them back up to the top division. Almeyda then did it AGAIN, going to Banfield and restoring them to the top division of Argentinian football again in a year and a half. This got the attention of Mexican club Chivas Guadalajara, Chivas weren't relegated to the second division but much of the shine had come off of the club that was once the jewel of Liga MX. Almeyda came in with the intent to restore them to their former glory and got results almost immediately got results, just three months later Chivas won the Copa MX and then won the SuperCopa MX the same year. Two years later Almeyda won the Copa MX and the Clausura, making Chivas the first club to ever manage that feat twice. For his last trick with Chivas, Almeyda won the CCL in 2018, a stack of trophies that few managers could manage to get in roughly three years. In short, Almeyda did a lot of what he promised to do, once again making Chivas a club relevant in the top tiers of Liga MX, then due to "issues with an executive" Almeyda left the club. Now, with this sort of resume, surely a club like the Quakes are an ideal fit, a club once in the top tiers of MLS play now reduced to a joke mostly notable for having a giant bar in their stadium. Not so fast.
Matias Almeyda is a "system coach", meaning that he plays a particular system and will generally not modify that system too much within the club. Almeyda's system is also a bit of an odd duck in the world of modern football tactics, his teams play a man-marking style that fell out of favor in open play for most teams decades ago. In a man-marking system each player has a "man" to "mark" that they are supposed to stick by and defend, this system is still used by a lot of teams on set-pieces like corner kicks, but in open play generally speaking players use zonal marking, where you are responsible for a particular "zone" of play and defending within that zone. Man marking not being used in the modern game means a lot of teams aren't used to facing that sort of defense, it bamboozled the Sounders when they first faced it, at the time the Sounders relied a lot on overlapping runs along the wings and man marking works great for that because players will just stick with their man rather than having to figure out how to deal with multiple players in their "zone". The down side is that once teams have seen man marking enough, they know the way to break it, with fast breakout play or by focusing on the weaker players in the opposing team. Almeyda's system is a little bit more complicated than a basic man-marking system, he almost always has a spare person to either help clean up on defense or to find space to start the counter-attack, but in general this is a man-marking system with just a few tweaks. The problem with a systems coach is that they need players that fit their system, they need the freedom to bring in the talent they need and send the talent they don't need away, and you don't get that in MLS. In Argentina or Liga MX, Almeyda likely had a budget and some sort of approval process, but overall he could spend his budget in what he thought was the best way possible, either keeping his job or losing it on the basis of the team's performance. A man-marking system requires fast players who can keep up with their marks and San Jose did not have that when Almeyda started working there and they still really don't have that now.
Not all of the blame for the Almeyda situation falls upon Almeyda, a team doesn't fail on one person alone. Jesse Fiorenelli definitely deserves a good chunk of the blame here, the former GM did Almeyda no favors, preferring to bring in veteran talent from other MLS teams or Europe rather than look for the sort of young, swift talent that a man marking system really needs. Also, in general Jesse Fiorenelli is a garbage GM who makes bad choices and he should never be a GM in MLS again. Also, the ownership group, lead by Lew Wolff deserve a heaping helping of the blame here too, they have the money to afford better talent, but seem to not want to invest in the team, apparently hoping to sell it at some later point for a profit or just holding onto it to hold onto it. To their credit the Quakes are making investments in their academy after the Chris Leitch, who formerly ran the academy, was appointed GM but it's far too late to make a difference in San Jose's current situation.
So Matias Almeyda goes on the pile of "foreign coaches who failed in MLS", an idea that completely ignores the context in which those foreign coaches failed. As Atlanta United and Tata Martino showed, when the GM, owner and coach are all on the same page foreign coaches can absolutely be successful in MLS. In MLS when a coach fails, you have to question the general manager (or whatever title MLS teams want to use) that hired that coach, the ownership that hired the general manager and the decisions made within that structure. Almeyda could have been the coach to reignite the torch of the Quakes, to resurrect a team currently in the midden heap of MLS, but instead it seems like Almeyda is just baiting Leitch into firing him so he can move on. Not only have some of Almeyda's lineups been bizarre, like putting Cade Cowell at left back, he's openly saying San Jose don't want to win and waxing poetic about the end of his contract with San Jose. Almeyda failed, San Jose failed and now all that's left to do is throw around salt until everyone is blinded by rage. At least it's entertaining if you aren't a fan of San Jose.
The Doom Seat
A month in and I already think one man is on the brink of being fired. Spicy times ahead!
- Matias Almeyda: See above.
- Phil Neville: Inter Miami just got their first win, but I don't think that's enough. Neville would probably already be gone if he wasn't best buds with one of the owners.
- Peter Vermes: It brings me no pleasure to list Vermes here. Oh wait, yes it does. This might be the season that finally sees the biggest dick in MLS be shown the door.
- Wilfried Nancy: Early struggles and an ownership with a history of firing coaches does not bode well for Nancy.
- Adrian Heath: Minnesota are struggling mightily to open their season and a good chunk of the blame might fall on Heath.
The Doom Rankings
The first month of games mean some big movements in the Doom rankings!
The Doom Rankings are a sort of reverse power rankings, here #1 in the list is the most likely to miss the playoffs. When a team fails to qualify for the post season or is confirmed to be qualified for the post season, they come off of the list. In the Doom Rankings, being highly ranked is a bad thing
- San Jose Up 1 See above.
- FC Cincinatti Down 1 Cinci started strong, but they're already faltering in a race that has barely begun to be run.
- Vancouver Whitecaps Up 1 Vancouver are pretty much where I thought they would be.
- Inter Miami Up 3 My expectations were low and Inter Miami have fallen short of even those expectations. Well done?
- Charlotte FC Down 2 Charlotte are in the playoff spots! But they also played one more game than almost every other team and have so far have gotten rolled by pretty much every good team they've faced.
- DC United Up 4 This isn't the coaches fault, there just isn't enough talent on this team to compete.
- Montreal CF Down 1 Montreal are pretty much where I expect them to be, just short of the playoff line.
- Minnesota United As expected, the Loons are struggling and there aren't any signs that they're going to get better.
- Colorado Rapids Up 2 Colorado are pretty much where I expected them to be after over-performing last year.
- New England Revolution Up 17 Last time I talked about this team like it was a sure thing they would make the playoffs, but now it looks like Bruce Arena is losing his touch. They don't even have CCL to use an excuse anymore.
- Portland Timbers Up 1The Timbers are in the playoff spots right now and they look old and slow against higher quality teams. They need some younger, fresher legs if they want to make the playoffs.
- Houston Dynamo Down 7 Houston are off to a fast start, but can they maintain it? I'm skeptical.
- Columbus Crew Up 2 I thought that the Caleb Porter cycle of failure and success would keep rolling as it always does, but right now the Crew are on shaky ground.
Sporting KC Up 6 It's a good sign when your star players hops the barricade to argue with fans, right?
- Toronto FC Down 2 The organization and the structure are so much better, but the talent is gone and Toronto need some reinforcemens.
- Chicago Fire Down 7 The Fire are playing well under Ezra Henrickson, but they need to be more disciplined and stop accumulating cards.
- Nashville SC So far Nashville are about where I expecte dthem to be.
- New York Red Bulls Up 1 Given their overall performance, I'm skeptical that the Red Bulls will remain where they are in the standings, but they have gotten some excellent performances from their young guns.
- Real Salt Lake Down 3 They're in the playoff spots right now, but they look underwhelming away from home and even at home can sometimes need a little luck (like a Toronto red card).
Atlanta United Up 4 They're in a great spot in the standings, but the season-ending injury to Ozzie Alonso and another injury set back for Josef Martinez spells some real trouble for this team. They have enough talent to make the playoffs even without those two, but I wonder if they lack the spirit after their loss to Charlotte.
- FC Dallas Down 7 The young guns are doing great things for FC Dallas, shame their best players are going to get sold off in the summer.
- Austin FC Up 1 Austin have a solid start to the season and overall look good, if they can keep this up they should make the playoffs.
New York City FC Up 2 CCL distractions have contributed to a slow start for NYCFC, but once CCL is over I think they'll be just fine.
Seattle Sounders Up 4 A rough start to the season means the Sounders aren't in a great position right now, but their last two games have shown exactly how well they can play. Once the Sounders aren't distracted by CCL or the Open Cup, MLS teams should be scared.
Orlando City SC Down 7 OCSC are cruising right now, can they keep up the pace though?
- LA Galaxy Down 4 When Chicharito is healthy everything works great, the attack is clicking right along and the defense is good but not great. When Chicharito is out however, this attack looks toothless and the defense isn't quite good enough, as the last 15 or so minutes versus LAFC showed.
LAFC Down 1 They may have just been handed their first loss of the season, but LAFC have looked good even when they aren't playing at their best. That defense does look awfully shaky though.
- Philadelphia Union Down 7 Credit where credit is due, the Union are kicking butt right now and are rightfully top the Eastern Conference.