After nine years, two MLS Cups and seven playoff appearances, whoever replaces Dominic Kinnear at the helm of the Houston Dynamo will have some big shoes to fill.
As thoughts turn to the identity of Kinnear’s successor ahead of his last match as head coach, Friday’s season-ending match away to the Chicago Fire (7 p.m. CT, NBC Sports), Dynamo president Chris Canetti laid out the club’s vision for the future at a media conference on Tuesday alongside director of soccer operations Nick Kowba.
The Dynamo will use Kinnear’s departure as the cue for a major restructuring that will involve appointing a vice president/general manager to work with the new head coach. “Everybody sees that evolution is coming, it’s the key word around the office. Change is here. Change does not mean something bad, change could mean something positive. What we see here is an opportunity to go forward and grow as a soccer club,” said Canetti.
The new GM will effectively act as a technical director, a common role in many MLS clubs and in teams in leagues around the world. Canetti said he has already received expressions of interest from well-qualified candidates for the roles, including from abroad, and that while there is no firm deadline to have the hires in place, the plan is “as soon as possible." Houston Dash managing director and Dynamo legend Brian Ching will play a role in the appointment process.
Why two roles? “MLS has just come too far, grown too big for that responsibility to sit on one person,” said Canetti. The general manager “will oversee pretty much everything that revolves around soccer operations, from the first team to the formation and oversight of the USL Pro team in 2016,” he added, as well as oversight of the Academy, the worldwide scouting network and use of data and technology to analyze players’ performance and health.
Canetti said the aim is to find the general manager before the head coach, if possible. “The plan right now as it sits is we will hire the general manager first, we will collectively go through the process of hiring a new coach and make that decision together. We reserve the right to not go down that path if another opportunity presents itself in a different way,” he said.
One key criteria will be that the new hires understand, respect and continue the Dynamo way: putting out teams that are energetic, attacking, aggressive and determined. An extreme squad makeover is not in the pipeline.
Though results this season have been a disappointment given the failure to make the playoffs, Canetti pointed out the unusual circumstances which contributed to the Dynamo not reaching the postseason for only the second time in franchise history.
Kinnear was forced to field 26 different lineups in 33 MLS fixtures. Combined, players missed 117 games because of injuries of international call-ups, equating to 25% of the season. And 13 players on the roster were absent from at least one match because they were hurt.
With that in mind and the hope of better fortune in 2015, the Dynamo front office believe that major surgery is not required to get the team above the red line in the standings next year. “Our mentality is that this is not a rebuild, this is a retool if anything. We believe that this team can compete for an MLS Cup title next year if it stays healthy and if we make the right moves,” Canetti said. “[The coach and GM] need to understand this is not a rebuilding process. If someone wants to come here and think ‘I need 3-5 years to do this’, they’re not going to be the right candidate for us.”
The club plans to wait for at least one of the new hires to be on board before detailed discussions take place with existing players about their futures. “We control the rights on every player’s contract this year. There’s not one player on the club that is out of contract at the end of this year, in the event that a player’s contract is not guaranteed that means we have an option,” said Canetti.
He added that the Dynamo will seek an experienced and cosmopolitan head coach who has a solid feel for the unique nature of MLS. “We want someone who’s got head coaching experience, we want someone who’s got a proven track record as a head coach, someone that’s going to understand the Dynamo way… someone who’s going to fit into our culture, someone who’s going to bring a real positive energy, and someone who’s got a very diverse background and has established their technical philosophies from lots of different places around the globe.
“Someone who can appreciate and understand MLS as well — while it’s not a necessity, we accept that there may be a learning curve there for somebody, certainly understanding the uniqueness of our league would be an advantage for someone coming in.”
As for the technical director, the club wants someone with a pre-established global scouting network and MLS experience is vital. “Specifically we are looking for that technical director to have MLS experience in the role,” Canetti said. “It’s a difficult league for someone outside of the country, outside the league, to come in internationally and understand salary caps, player contracts, relationships in and around the league to be successful right off the bat.”
Canetti also paid tribute to Kinnear’s achievements. Now it’s time to find the two key individuals who will work to build on his legacy. “We’re excited about this transition, we’re excited about this evolution, we believe it gives us an opportunity to set our course for the future, creating a Dynamo standard, a Dynamo way that will long outlast any of us who are part of the organization today in the front office,” the president said.
“It should be an exciting time for Dynamo fans and a reason for them to remain optimistic about this club. We’re in it to win it again next year and hope that the new hires that we bring in are going to bring a new energy, some new thoughts, new ideas.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.