Home MLS Montreal Impact Impact coach Schallibaum comes to a league that has a history of eating Euro coaches alive

Impact coach Schallibaum comes to a league that has a history of eating Euro coaches alive

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The hiring of the Montreal Impact’s new head coach was done with little fanfare. No splashy press conference. Just a press release that Marco Schallibaum — who has nearly a decade of experiencing coaching in the Swiss league — has got the job.

“I am very pleased and proud to be the head coach of the Montreal Impact,” said Schallibaum in that release. “From our very first discussion, I felt confidence with the management. The club is passionate about the game, like me, and is made up of people who are passionate as well and who want to go in the same direction. I watched a few of the team’s games from last season on video. We have a good roster with quality players and I saw a lot on character on the field. I will do all I can to help this team win.”

Schallibaum has spent the last two years working as a FIFA coaching instructor, traveling the world and spreading the soccer gospel. Before that, he coached FC Basel, BSC Young Boys, Servette FC, FC Sion, FC Schaffhausen and AC Bellinzona.

But Schallibaum comes into a league that has traditionally eaten European managers and coaches alive.

For Schallibaum, it won’t be a matter of simply applying his Swiss experience to the new job. He needs to understand that the North American game will force him to be a chameleon, to adapt. Too many coaches in the past have ignored that need to change — and the likes of Aron Winter and Ruud Gullit endured nothing but failure at the MLS level.

Schallibaum doesn’t have a lot of time for his first big test. The MLS SuperDraft is less than two weeks away, and he’ll need to depend on a lot of wisdom passed on by the Impact’s front office in order to catch up.
But the draft will be one of the easier obstacles to navigate. Managing an MLS regular season has been where European coaches have faltered, badly.

Since 2005, only one European coach — Englishman Gary Smith, has taken his team to an MLS Cup title. Since 2000, that number is two Piotr Nowak’s win with D.C. United in 2004. But it needs to be said that Nowak had plenty of MLS experience before winning the title. He didn’t just come into the league and win.

Look at the names of winning coaches, and you find Dominic Kinnear, Frank Yallop, Bruce Arena, Bob Gansler and Sigi Schmid.

So why do American (and, in the case of Yallop, Canadian) coaches succeed while European coaches are, at best, crapshoots?

Many European MLS players have told me it takes a while to adjust to playing in the hot North American summer, which taxes your reserves. There are more games and/or training sessions on artificial turf, and more training sessions in 30 C heat. That means you can’t train here like you can if you are playing in a European autumn or spring. Sure, some heat training is good, but in MLS it’s pretty well an everyday occurrence. The climate is an issue — and coaches must adapt to it.

Marco Schallibaum

It takes time to adjust to the idea of flying to pretty well every road game, playing in different time zones and staying overnight while on the road. Most European leagues are bus leagues, and the players get to come every night. Again, those road schedules put a strain on how you train and prepare a team. Not to mention that a huge North American landmass offers a variety of climate challenges. You can play Saturday in Seattle rain, a Wednesday in Houston heat and humidity, then come back the next weekend and have to adjust to Rocky Mountain altitude.

As well, while there is less soccer media in North America than there is in Europe, they have better access to the teams. Media in North America can come into the dressing rooms, have access to more training sessions and are much more “inside” their teams than we’d see in Europe. Former Toronto FC coach John Carver really struggled with this — he often took members of the media to task in front of other media members and took the stories written about the team very personally. It ate at him, making for a very uncomfortable relationship between press and coach.

And, since the majority of MLS players are Americans making OK money — who played collegiate or elite youth soccer rather than going through an academy system — it’s difficult for them to relate to coaches who have had no experience with the soccer ladder as it exists over here. A big mistake European coaches make (ahem, Winter) is trying to transform a North American club into a Euro club.

This will be the interesting comparison through the season. Both the Portland Timbers and Montreal Impact are established clubs that are relatively new to MLS. Both brought in new coaches for 2013. The Impact chose to parachute in a European, with very little lead time before the new season, while the Timbers got the best NCAA coach available in Caleb Porter. And, Porter’s hire was official months ago, giving him time to prepare, and a series of trades already made by the Timbers — including the deal that brings Canadian Will Johnson to Portland — shows Porter is already putting a stamp on his side.

We will see which coach fares better in his debut MLS season.

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