Diversity in US Soccer Coaching

When New York City FC announced that Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira would be its new head coach, more than a few folks had an opinion on it. In fact, it’s sparked a bit of a debate amongst US pundits about the merit of ‘foreign coaches.’ However, I think Wes Burdine over at Northern Pitch dispelled the myths of foreign coaching (Burdine is a contributor to the longform soccer magazine Howler and a more than adept podcaster with the now defunct DuNord Show).

My first reaction was that even though I thought Jason Kreis got short shrift, Vieira would be a good coach in Major League Soccer. Someone who expects technical mastery but will train for it if it’s missing, someone who knows what proper positioning is, someone who can teach anticipation, and a manager who can cultivate player intuition. Hopefully, he’ll be able to navigate the byzantine MLS roster rules.

But then my next thought was, ‘This is the only black manager in MLS.’ As I pondered this, I realized that I could only name one other black manager in the professional ranks–Eric Dade of the Jacksonville Armada. So then, I had to ask, ‘Does US soccer have a coaching diversity problem?’ My initial conclusion was ‘yes,’ and I said as much on Twitter.

Fortunately, when one exists on a social network and engages it one is guaranteed comment, solicited or no. In my case, it was being accused of ‘trolling diversity.’

It makes sense that I should be challenged. I’m someone who greatly influences the USSF and professional ranks, so stating that a lack of diversity is problem without doing in-depth research, compiling a list of token candidate names, and, of course, measuring every single ethnicity is irresponsible. The onus to have Major League Soccer, North American Soccer League, and United Soccer League reflect the racial and/or ethnic demographics of the nations in which they play is on me.

When compared to the other major sports, soccer is exceptional.

But I’m still not sold. As pointed out to me, where are the Asian-Americans? I’d go a step further, why is soccer not gender integrated? When the US Women’s National Team is the only US soccer national team that consistently wins, when women’s soccer at the collegiate and professional level is where you see the most technical skill and genuine team play, why do we insist on segregation? Is it so girls don’t get the wrong idea–you’ll never be Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, or Megan Rapinoe, but you can be a professional cheerleader.

Keeping it classy 

But that’s a post for different time. My point is this, MLS, NASL, and USL are superb professional soccer leagues. The supporters of the teams in each of these leagues are devoted, energetic, and committed to making theirs the most exciting and inclusive sport out there. Soccer fans deserve not just a pitch of players reflecting their own diversity but a technical staff that does as well. To get this, we have to first get a sense of just where are professional leagues are.

The Third Division

There are thirty United Soccer League teams, but only twenty-four are active (the rest are expansion teams yet to play a match). The USL is considered the US and Canadian third division and has become a minor league farm system for Major League Soccer, the nations’ first division. Of those twenty-four teams, there are eleven black coaches, two of which are head coaches, Toronto FC’s Jason Bent and Seattle Sounders 2’s Ezra Hendrickson. Also, Rob Underwood holds the position of Sacramento Republic’s Academy Director, a post I would put on par with head coach. Given that most of the teams have a head coach and at least two assistants we can ballpark the total number of coaches for the USL at somewhere around seventy-two. 

Arizona United: Assistant Coach Austin Daniels

Tulsa Roughnecks: Assistant Coach Mac Orr

Toronto FC II: Head Coach Jason Bent

Toronto FC II’s head coach Jason Bent

Richmond Kickers: Assistant Coach David Bulow

Real Monarchs: Assistant Coach Andy Williams

New York Red Bulls II: Assistant Coach Ibrahim Sekagya

Louisville City: Goalkeeping Coach Thabane Sutu

Switchbacks FC: Assistant Coach Wolde Harris

Austin Aztec: Assistant Coach Zack Pope

Seattle Sounders 2: Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson

Seattle Sounders 2 head coach Ezra Hendrickson

The Second Division

There are fourteen North American Soccer League teams, three of these are expansion teams and one of them will most likely dissolve, reform, and play in USL. The NASL is the second division of US/Canadian soccer.

Indy Eleven: Assistant Coach Kleberson

Jacksonville Armada: Interim Head Coach Eric Dade

Jacksonville Aramada Interim Head Coach Eric Dade

I’m not at all impressed with the USL’s technical staff diversity, but compared to the NASL, it’s excessively progressive. Even though Eric Dade has the inside track to be named Jacksonville Armada’s head coach for the the 2016 season, it’s entirely possible he will be dismissed given the team’s last place finish and but first place ambitions. Brazilian great Kleberson was a league marquee signing when he joined Indy Eleven as a player. Staying with the team as an assistant has endeared him to the Indy faithful. Yet, there certainly has to be more room for black coaches in the the second highest professional league in the United States and Canada.

The First Division

There are twenty-two Major League Soccer teams, two of which are expansion sides that have yet to play. MLS sits at the top of the closed professional system that exists for the US and Canada, it is the first division. With the largest payrolls, deepest resources, highest attendances, and widest exposure, MLS is the premier pro soccer league in the US and Canada. One would expect it’s technical staff would, at the very least, reflect its players.

DC United: Assistant Coach/Director of Goalkeeping Zach Thornton

New York City FC: Head Coach Patrick Vieira

Patrick Vieira
New York City FC’s new head coach Patrick Vieira

New York Red Bulls: Assistant Coach Denis Hamlett

Real Salt Lake: Assistant Coach Tyrone Marshall

Toronto FC: Assistant Coach Robin Fraser

My point is, there are qualified black coaches in the professional ranks and there should be more black head coaches in the future given the rate at which all three professional leagues are expanding. We, as supporters, need to demand that our team and other teams are proactive in bringing in technical staff candidates that reflect the diversity of the players, the fans, and the nation as a whole. I for one would like to see former Chicago Fire centerback and Real Salt Lake and New York City FC assistant coach C.J. Brown be more than casually mentioned in the conversation to be head coach of the Chicago Fire. We’ll see. 

My purpose in writing isn’t to tear down anyone, not a team or a league. I’m only thinking about one aspect that could improve the sport I love and increase its vast superiority over the other sporting options today in the US.

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