I’m Not A Believer, Yet!

Peter Wilt's not a believer that Carlos de los Cobos is the best fit for his former team.

Peter Wilt's not a believer that Carlos de los Cobos is the best fit for his former team.

Before I catch the LAST TRAIN TO CLARKSVILLE, I am going to use this column to write some WORDS on the Chicago Fire’s hiring of Carlos de los Cobos as its fourth head coach in less than five years and fifth ever.

In connection to recent MLS coach hirings lately, people have used the term “bold” as a euphemism for “ignoring history“. As I’d say to Pitch Invasion’s Editor and Fire supporter Tom Dunmore and several other soccer writers who wholeheartedly support this hiring, our differences on this subject are A LITTLE BIT ME AND A LITTLE BIT YOU.

The proponents of the hiring’s biggest argument for de los Cobos is his vast experience. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Nick Firchau wrote that de los Cobos has an “impressive international resume”. So let’s take a look at the resume of what could be considered a journeyman coach.

This will be the 51-year old’s eighth club coaching assignment after leading six teams in Mexico and one in El Salvador. I would argue that quantity does not equal quality.

I see two red flags in regards to his club coaching experience: 1) Lack of championships and 2) lack of tenure at any of his positions.

The new Fire coach has yet to coach any club beyond two seasons and he has not won a championship with any of his seven previous clubs. He had opportunities to win with the premier club in both Mexico (Club América in 1996) and El Salvador (C.D. FAS in 2006). Club America was in the midst of a down era, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that he failed to win either an Apertura or Clausura champion there, but finishing 15th of 18 teams with Club América is not impressive. In El Salvador, the C.D. FAS club he inherited in 2006 had won either an Apertura or Clausura championship in each of the preceding five seasons with other coaches, before coming up just short in de los Cobos one season. That effort was, however, still good enough to earn him the top job with El Salvador’s national team for its 2010 WCQ efforts.

De los Cobos club coaching efforts began in 1993 and 1994 with Club Querétaro where he had some extraneous challenges that resulted in relegation to the Mexican second division. He spent a short period with Club Pachuca in Mexico’s Primera División “A” (second division) before taking over UANL Tigres. After his Club América stint where he won four games, he went on to lead lesser known teams Club Celaya and Deportivo Irapuato. In each of his eight club coaching experiences, de los Cobos’ teams failed to win a championship and he moved on to new challenges after one or two seasons. This certainly doesn’t mean he’s not a good coach or is incapable of leading the Fire to glory, but I’d hardly call it an “impresive international resume”. Certainly, job security in the MFL and the Salvadoran pro league is not great and there are not too many coaches that last more than a couple years at any club there, but it would be nice to see a little more longevity when looking at a resume.

De los Cobos also has international coaching experience. Most recently he managed the El Salvador national team to what’s been described as an inspirational World Cup Qualifying run. Kudos for advancing to the hexagonal, but despite beating Mexico and drawing with the U.S., El Salvador finished with a 2-6-2 hexagonal record (5th place of six teams) just two points above last place Trinidad & Tobago. De los Cobos has considerable national team experience both as a player on the 1986 Mexico World Cup team and as an assistant coach to Manuel Lapuente for Mexico at the 1998 World Cup and the 1996 Olympics. Also, in 2002, Ricardo Lavolpe named him coach of the Under-23 Mexico national team, which fell in the finals of the 2002 Central American and Caribbean games to El Salvador.

Unless you’re a DAYDREAM BELIEVER , this isn’t exactly the type of record on paper that creates excitement. But those who are more familiar with de los Cobos insist his humility, dedication to the position, strong support from Frank Klopas and Andell Sports Group Managing Director Javier Leon, and his warm and engaging personality will be the keys that allow de los Cobos to buck the trend of failed foreign coaches in MLS. He will need every bit of those benefits to overcome the challenge of communicating players while learning English, American players and MLS’ unique ways. As Salvadoran journalist Elmer Polanco, a commentator with Fox Sports en Espanol said in the Chicago Tribune this week, “It’s interesting because he knows (soccer) but he doesn’t know the MLS.”

Carlos de los Cobos will be looking for his first coaching title in his career when he leads the Fire in 2010.

Carlos de los Cobos will be looking for the first coaching title in his career when he leads the Fire in 2010.

The fear I have for “my team” is that, while there are certainly SHADES OF GRAY one of two things is likely going to happen with the new coach:

1) He will fail to win more than he loses, as has been the case with EVERY single other foreign coach without MLS experience in the history of the League. As the saying goes, “Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it.”

or

2) He will succeed and use the Fire as A STEPPING STONE after two seasons to a higher paying position with a club team in Mexico or national team elsewhere in CONCACAF.

I had the opportunity to sit and talk over beers with Fire Technical Director and fellow Ring of Fire member Frank Klopas a couple times last week and discuss de los Cobos’ impending hiring. I asked Frank about my “Stepping Stone” concern and he responded by saying that he wants a coach that is going to be committed and wants to be part of the Fire for a long time. “I also want a coach, like any player, that is ambitious and always wants to be better or the best. If AC Milan or Manchester United asked for his services, I would be able to understand that someone might want to coach or have the ambition to coach a team like that one day,” Klopas said.

I told Frank that based on the history of the importance of familiarity with MLS players, rules and restrictions, I thought the risk with this hire was great. I also told him that the opportunity to create a PLEASANT VALLEY SUNDAY and bring back the Chicago connected Jesse Marsch or Tommy Soehn for a REUNION, was too good to pass up. Both Jesse and Tommy know both the League and the Chicago soccer community well and would both love to return to Chicago for good.

In the news release, Frank said, “The Fire’s priority in the head coach search was to identify someone with a love for the game and a track record of quality results.” There are a lot of coaches who love the game…and i would dare say, many of them seem to have better track records of quality results than de los Cobos.

Leon, the behind the scenes force involved in de los Cobos’ hiring, told me that he believes the Fire has hired “the Mexican Bob Bradley”. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear he’s hired the Mexican Don Zimmer, because history would dictate that after two straight seasons in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Fire’s results will be GOIN’ DOWN. If I’m wrong, I will happily sing I’M A BELIEVER about the Fire’s bold hire at a karaoke party to be named later!

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