Analysis / Offseason Issues

Offseason Issues: The technical staff

Photo: Earl Gardner

Now that Jim Curtin has had the interim tag removed and the question of who will coach the Union next season has been answered, attention should turn to fleshing out the remainder of the coaching and technical staff.

After John Hackworth’s firing, the housecleaning was almost total. Curtin finished the season with a true skeleton crew consisting of himself, Mike Sorber as his assistant, and Chris Albright—less than a year removed from being a player—in the role of technical director and assistant coach. Additionally, YSC Academy goalkeeping coach BJ Callahan filled in after Rob Vartughian was fired, with Paulo Grillo coming in after Rais Mbolhi’s arrival to work with the goalkeepers late in the season. Two fitness and conditioning coaches round out the stable. The Union also have no general manager.

Most would argue that three coaches, one of whom is also the (rookie) technical director in charge of player management and acquisitions, is not enough to coach a major league professional sports franchise.

If the Union enter the season having failed to bolster the coaching ranks, that is a major problem.

Nick Sackiewicz has said multiple times that he is constantly evaluating the team’s technical structure and will be making some changes, but just what does the team need?

To get some perspective, let’s look at a couple different options used by other MLS clubs.

If money were no object: Seattle Sounders

The Seattle Sounders are one of the richest teams in MLS, up with LA and New York, and draw more fan support than any team in the league. Not to mention, they are owned by very wealthy people who like to spend money on improving their team. In short, they are rolling in it. So how does Seattle set up its coaching and technical staff shop?

Seattle lists seven coaches and assistants (five once you exclude fitness/performance/conditioning positions), including a dedicated goalkeeping coach and one assistant who is also a scout. Seattle also has both a general manager, Adrian Hanauer, and technical director, Chris Henderson.

This is the gold standard. The staff is large but not overwhelming and allows for a clear division of labor. More than simply dividing the work, having dedicated personnel for specific tasks allows greater attention to detail in each of those areas.

And it works. Seattle is consistently one of the best teams in the league, performance-wise. That said, it’s relatively expensive.

Back to reality: New England Revolution

New England is at the lower end of the league’s financial scale in terms of money available to the club. While the Krafts are very wealthy, they clearly view MLS as an investment opportunity, not a labor of love, and they spend only what they have to on the club.

The Revs actually list more coaches than Seattle—eight—but four of those are a strength and conditioning position, an equipment manager, and two administrative positions (“operations”). Additionally, one more is listed as an “analyst.”

That leaves the head coach, Jay Heaps, a primary assistant, and a goalkeeping coach. While at first glance similar to what Curtin had to work with, that New England also employs a general manager, Mike Burns, to oversee player acquisition makes this a more reasonable set up.

That model has done New England just fine of late, as they play soon for the Eastern Conference championship and a chance to contest the MLS Cup.

What do the Union need?

At the bare minimum, the Union need to name a goalkeeping coach, be it Callahan, Grillo, or someone else. Regardless of the goalkeeping situation next year (Mbolhi? MacMath? Blake? None of the above?), it’s simply a necessity.

A second assistant coach in addition to Sorber would be useful, preferably someone with considerable experience in MLS who boasts the tactical awareness to help Curtin navigate his growth as an in-game tactician.

Perhaps more important in the long-term than either of those, however, is the acquisition of a general manager to oversee player movement and Chris Albright. Rene Meulensteen’s name is reportedly still in the picture here, but he may prove too costly for the Union’s ownership. If that’s the case, it’s vital to find another name to fill that role. As Sakiewicz has repeatedly claimed (often protesting a hair too much), he does not take part in those facets of the team’s functioning, instead laying it all at the feet of his young and hugely inexperienced head coach.

Curtin may one day have the wherewithal to both coach a team and manage its personnel, but why make his job harder? If Sigi Schmid, a coach with basically nothing left to prove, has a general manager over his head, then Curtin should too. Even Bruce Arena, LA Galaxy’s head coach and general manager, has a Director of Soccer Operations helping him manage the non-coaching side of his duties. There’s simply no reason, besides poverty, for the Union not to hire a general manager.


The Union need to make some staff hires. They need not break the bank to do so, but hiring one or two new coaches and a general manager will pay for itself in wins. The division of labor is just good business, and will result in a better product on the field, as well as a healthier front office relationship with the team and fan base.

Curtin understands this. In an appearance on the latest KYW Philly Soccer show, Curtin said, “Our ownership is doing things right now to put a structure in to support me as best as [they] can. Part of that will be me being able to bring in an experienced assistant to join our staff.”

He added, “The structure is improving greatly around me. There will be more on that as this offseason progresses.”

Union fans will be looking forward to learning more.


  1. OneManWolfpack says:

    It’s been said by many… how did we end up with this mess?! How do we not have a GM or someone in a GM type position? How do we have an owner / president who blames others for failure? Such promise for our professional club, and we have this. I am REALLY hoping the last five years are basically NOTHING like the next five.
    Sak, among others, saw an investment opportunity in our market / team and jumped on it. Our ownership is just like the Kraft’s in NE, AND I HATE IT.

  2. Well, looks like Rene is signing up as a gm/director tommorow. That makes me feel better about this club’s off season and about how serious Union owners are about improving.

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