Wednesday's dismissal by Chivas USA of Martin Vasquez isn't all that surprising except for vice president of soccer operations Stephen Hamilton's insistence Saturday that the club's head coach definitely would return in 2011, that "the things we saw in him previously, we still see in him, and I think he’s going to benefit from a year of experience as a head coach."
Perhaps so, just not with the Goats. Looking for potential candidates? There are, at least on the surface, hundreds of them. No, thousands. Which are viable and which are not depends on how much Chivas wants to spend -- both on a coach and on players -- and how wide a net Hamilton and the club's "soccer committee" choose to cast.
THE BIG NAMES: The biggest, at least in local circles, is German legend Juergen Klinsmann, one of the premier strikers of his (or any) generation -- and an innovative coach who took an unfancied Germany side to the 2006 World Cup semifinals, ran into problems at tradition-minded Bayern Munich (where Vasquez was among his assistants) and twice broke off talks with U.S. Soccer about taking the reigns of our national team, both times over control issues.
Klinsmann lives in Huntington Beach, is between coaching jobs, and is familiar with MLS through his years in the U.S. and history with the Galaxy, for which he served as consultant during Sigi Schmid's reign. He might find the opportunity to build with Chivas most attractive: the club's anti-corporate style stands in stark contrast to their neighbors down the hall, and it wouldn't surprise us if he and President/CEO Shawn Hunter got along famously.
Another: Bora Milutinovic, who has guided five countries at the World Cup (including the U.S., in 1994) and had one dismal stint in charge of the MetroStars (now the Red Bulls) in the late '90s. The Serbian with Mexican roots still has a home in Laguna Niguel.
Who else? Any guess is as good as any other, and none of them are very good at all. The "big" names aren't in the U.S., and they're not coming to L.A. for the kind of money Chivas will offer -- nor the headaches working with MLS's roster rules will bring.
MLS EXPERIENCE: There are plenty of coaches out there who have worked in MLS, including at least two former Chivas USA coaches (Thomas Rongen, now the U.S. under-20 national team boss; and Preki, who was dismissed in mid-September as Toronto FC's coach, the job he took after parting ways with the Goats after last season). There's former Galaxy and U.S./Costa Rica national teams coach Steve Sampson, who we understand lobbied hard for the job before Vasquez was hired.
The best option might be Kansas City Wizards assistant coach Octavio Zambrano, who was the Galaxy's head coach in 1997-99 and in charge of the MetroStars in 2000-02. He subsequently coached in Moldova and Hungary and joined the Wizards' staff last year.
And what about Dave Sarachan, the Galaxy's associate head coach? He won two U.S. Open Cups and reached two MLS Cup finals in 5½ seasons as Chicago Fire coach, but he's a good foil for Bruce Arena, whom he previously assisted at the University of Virginia, with D.C. United and with the U.S. national team.
FORMER PLAYERS: A very interesting pool of possibilities here, and we'll focus on three: Jesse Marsch, Mike Sorber and Eric Wynalda.
The Princeton-educated Marsch, Chivas' on-field leader until he retired after last season to join former Chivas USA coach Bob Bradley's U.S. national team staff, knows the club's culture and played a huge role in setting the standards the Goats failed to meet this year. But he's short on coaching experience and might be a better assistant-coach hire.
Sorber, a U.S. assistant under Bradley since May 2007, is a coaching star in the making. He came out of nowhere to start in central midfield for the 1994 World Cup team, then played in Mexico (with Pumas UNAM) and in MLS (for Kansas City, the MetroStars, New England and Chicago). Sorber's dad is a legendary junior college coach in St. Louis, and the assumption has been Sorber will take the job at Saint Louis University, his alma mater, when he's ready to do so.
Wynalda (Westlake Village/Westlake HS) might be the most interesting of the lot. A three-time World Cup selection, the U.S. national team's record goalscorer before Landon Donovan arrived, and a veteran of Germany's Bundesliga, Wynalda has a sharp soccer mind and experience working under Arena, Bradley and Rongen, as a scout throughout MLS, with clubs in Mexico and with elite forwards -- which would be valuable, given Chivas' paucity of attack. German clubs sought him out as an assistant coach, and he'd love the chance with Chivas. One question: Will his TV experience, with ESPN and now Fox Soccer Channel, work for or against him?
THE ASSISTANTS: None of Vasquez's staff has been dismissed, and two of them -- Carlos Juarez, the Goats' primary tactician, and Nick Theslof, a former UCLA standout who also was on Klinsmann's staff at Bayern Munich -- could draw consideration.
Juarez, who has coached at Cal State San Bernardino and Cal Poly Pomona, has since 2003 been the technical director of the Claremont Stars club program and was the first head coach of the San Diego Spirit in the late, great Women's United Soccer Association, with Vasquez on his staff. Thesloff coached amateur power Orange County Blue Star (for which Klinsmann, using the pseudonym Jay Goeppingen, played 10 times) and was a scout for Germany's 2006 World Cup side.
COLLEGE COACHES: Three successful MLS coaches joined the league straight for college programs. Arena led D.C. United to the first two MLS Cup titles after winning five NCAA crowns at Virginia. Schmid came to the Galaxy after 19 seasons (and three NCAA championships) at UCLA. Schellas Hyndman joined FC Dallas two years ago after 24 seasons in charge at SMU. The common thread: All were local coaches.
Two L.A.-area college coaches worth noting: UCLA's Jorge Salcedo (Cerritos/Cerritos HS and UCLA), who played for four MLS clubs (including the Galaxy), and UC Santa Barbara's Tim Vom Steeg, who built his alma mater into a powerhouse, with one NCAA title and another title-game appearance.
THE WORLD: Here's where things get tricky. There are coaches all over the world, and who knows where Chivas' bosses' connections will lead. Jorge Vergara, the Goats' mostly silent senior partner, owns Guadalajara (the original Chivas) and Costa Rican power Saprissa, and Chivas USA's Latin American roots are deep.
Let's look at other foreign coaches in the league. Former Liverpool star Steve Nicol played and coached for a second-tier team in Boston before New England came calling. Polish stars Robert Warzycha (played and was an assistant coach for Columbus before succeeding Schmid) and Peter Nowak (played for Chicago, guided D.C. United to an MLS title, then coached the U.S. under-23 team before taking charge at Philadelphia) had experience here. John Spencer played in Colorado and assisted Dominic Kinnear in Houston before getting the job for Portland's first season next year.
Then there's Hans Backe, who might be MLS's Coach of the Year after guiding New York from worst to Eastern Conference champion. Backe, a 58-year-old Swede, coached in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Greece, England and Mexico before the Red Bulls' Austrian management -- familiar with his work in 2000-01 at SV Salzburg, which Red Bull purchased in 2005 -- tabbed him less than a month after he resigned as coach of Notts County.