The ABMOD Cometh

I'm not about to try and speculate on how many games the RedBulls would have to win to have a reasonable shot at the playoffs, since that's exactly the kind of post which gets me a couple dozen comments describing how truly bad my math is or, alternatively, explores the depth of my imbecility.

Suffice it say that, divine miracles aside, they're a pretty long shot.

Nonetheless, they looked a lot more like an actual living, breathing soccer team last weekend than they have in some time.

Of course the temptation is to say that Richie Williams' coaching skills were responsible for the dramatic difference in aggressiveness, spark and the appearance of some level of interest in winning the game, all things which had been sorely lacking of late.

But we have to take into account the "He's somebody else" syndrome, whereby a new coach benefits greatly from NOT being the last guy, who had usually lost the locker room months before and who at some point the players stopped looking in the eye. And a coach - as in Osorio's case - with "Dead man Walking" plastered across his shirt doesn't stand much of a chance at getting the player's attention anyway.

So a new coach - be he interim or permanent - takes over and the atmosphere changes dramatically. Teams sometimes go on insane winning streaks under interim coaches, forcing the ownership to hire someone they have serious reservations about because, if nothing else, how do they say to the fans "Yeah, sure, so the guy took over a badly tanking team and went 6-1-2 last year, but we've decided to bring in someone else"?

Of course in this kind of scenario it helps to take over with a limited number of games left. Chris Cummins got handed the reins
in Toronto after John Carver finally went over the rainbow to see Dorothy and Toto, but there was way too much season left.

Counting the match he coached while Carver sat in the stands drooling on himself, Cummins came out of the chute 5-1-2, obviously benefitting from the "Thank God He's Not Carver" syndrome, but results since then have been decidedly mixed and it's probably going to take a serious hot streak to keep him in that chair for 2010.

And if they don't make the playoffs, he'd better consider leaving town in the dead of night. They're getting restless up there.

Which brings us back to the ABMOD.*

Now this is a guy who's made a career out of being underestimated, something that happens when you're a 5'5" (and that
is probably while wearing a set of those "Mr. Tall Guy" shoe inserts) defensive midfielder who would likely be selling insurance and coaching some club's U14 girls except for Bruce Arena.

And since il Bruce is currrently back in the ring battling The Round Mound of Coaching for the title of Resident MLS Coaching Genius after a couple of off years, having the Dark Eminence pick you out of the chorus is not something to be taken lightly.

(And is this a great year for the Coach of the Year battle or what? Of course it looks like it's also going to be a great year for looking for a coaching job, as the league seems pretty much evenly split right now between teams who love their coach and teams who can't wait to run their coach out of town on a rail.)

Lost in all the discussion of whether les Taureaux Rouges will manage to wrest the title of Worst MLS Team of All Time from the frighteningly wretched 2001 Tampa Bay Mutiny is the fact that New York has already accomplished another record: the three worst coaches in MLS history - judged strictly by won-loss records - have all been on the NY bench.

(A mint condition Tony Meola World Cup 94 card for naming them, in order.)

No team has run through as many coaches and no one else has spent anything close to what they have shelled out for respected (at least until they started working in New Jersey) names like Firmani, Quieiros, Perreira, Mondelo, Milutinovic, Zambrano, Arena and Osorio.

Mo Johnston was of course the exception, but as an interim coach he benefitted from the "Thank God the Last Guy is Gone" effect when he took over in 2005 after Bob Bradley was fired and went 3-1-1 down the stretch. This of course got him the permanent job title, although in his case "permanent" meant getting sacked after 12 games.

Such is life with the MetroBulls.

Currently though the question is not "Who should get the NY job?" but rather "why doesn't Jeff Agoos do the decent thing and resign?".

He was another Bruce Arena hire, but with a difference, in that Arena was his own General Manager, Director of Soccer, Technical Director and general factotum. Goose was a paperweight, someone to make sure the copy machine was working, there was always a fresh pot of coffee around and - the really critical function - talking on the phone with MLS HQ.

Up on West Fifth Ave., they look forward to talking to Arena like the rest of us look forward to oral surgery. Which is fine because Bruce doesn't suffer fools very well anyway. At DC he had Kevin Payne, who is the league's kind of guy, running interference for him and keeping the suits happy. Payne had been with USSF - he basically ran the Federation for a while - and was a key guy working with Alan Rothenberg in the founding of the league. He knew where the bodies were buried.

Agoos is a lightweight, hired to be Arena's paper pusher. It took both an unusual set of circumstances and a dose of "right place, right time", blended with a helping of corporate incompetence, for him to suddenly be in charge of personnel at an MLS club. There are guys over on "MLS N&A" that you'd hire before him.

So basically, NYRB's GM timeline goes Lalas-de Grandpre-Agoos, with only Arena's brief reign in the middle someplace as a respite from the appalling incompetence.

After Osorio refused to walk around for three more months with everybody avoiding making eye contact, the Dead Man Walking mantle

fell to Agoos, who may actually believe, against all logic, that he's not going to be mailing out resumes come November. But the cold hard reality is that he was in way over his head, is as much responsible for the mess in NY as Osorio, and if he had a shred

of decency he'd do the honorable thing and fall on his sword.

Which brings us back to Williams.

The Bulls have a key game this weekend at home against the division-leading Crew. A week ago you could have gotten good odds that CBus would win in a walk, but we all know that in sports - and particularly in soccer - momentum and emotion often trump form and logic.

(Interestingly, William's opposite number this weekend, Robert Warzycha, was also a "playing out the string" interim coach when Columbus finally axed Greg "Zippy the Pinhead" Andrulis, and he did well enough to earn some consideration for the job but they

were able to hire Sigi Schmid instead and Bob went back to the bench for another three years. There's a lot to be said for patiently waiting your turn, a lesson that Dave Checketts and Jason Kreis may be waking up to in Salt Lake. Say what you want but it just doesn't appear that Kreis was anywhere near ready. On the other hand, you have Paul Mariner, who earned a shot years ago but sits around growing cobwebs while guys like Schellas Hyndman get hired.)

As a player, Richie Williams was the kind of guy you didn't really go out of your way to acquire (unless you were Bruce Arena)
but also you hated playing against. He looked like your slightly dopey kid brother, right up until he dropped you on the field like a bag of rocks.

Tough, intense, insanely motivated guys sometimes have real problems making the transition to head coach: they get frustrated when the guys on the team aren't as driven as they are which, of course, is almost always.

Here's betting though that Williams is the exception. Maybe he'll end up getting a full season with NYRB in 2010 - who really knows what the soft drink men in Austria have in mind - maybe not, but sooner or later he'll get a head coaching job and, as with the rest of his soccer career, from UVA right on through to today, it's always been a mistake to bet against him.

* If you don't get the reference, go find someone in "MLS General" to explain it to you. While you're at it, ask them about