One of the biggest debates around hiring a manager in Major League Soccer these days, and one that is currently surrounding Atlanta United's manager hunt, is to go with a foreign coach or to stick with a domestic name that knows the league. The general consensus has been that foreign managers struggle to adapt to the unique style and conditions of MLS. But, perhaps those feelings are beginning to change in recent years.
Some of the buzz around MLS after Week 2 is the bold and daring formation change by first year New York City FC manager Patrick Vieira. The French legend was known for his amazing hard-nosed midfield play, but now it's his innovative and fresh tactics that have everyone talking.
In their first home match of the season against Toronto FC, Vieira lined up his team in throwback formation. A 3-4-3 (some refer to it as a W-M due to it's visual resemblance of the two letters) was deployed by the rookie manager. This was likely an attempt to combat the abnormally small playing dimensions in Yankee Stadium.
The playing surface of the baseball field turned soccer field comes dangerously close to not fulfilling FIFA's minimum field width of 70 yards. Some say it's right at 70 yards wide, while others claim it's even tighter than advertised. Either way, the dimensions make for interesting gameplay and it's caused Vieira to reach into his bag of tricks just two matches into the season.
The result from this daring experiment was very interesting. NYCFC outplayed Toronto for the majority of the match and held possession well until their inability to break TFC's high press led to their late downfall. Eventually the teams shared the points, but Vieira's experiment can be considered a success so far.
Not only is Patrick Vieira a European manager, but he's one with very little top level experience. So, his bold approach is not only refreshing to see in MLS, but in general it's quite impressive.
The question must be asked is this: Would an American manager have the gall or the wherewithal to try such an outlandish tactic when faced with extraordinary circumstances?
For all the experience and familiarity that American managers bring to MLS, their ideas and philosophies are becoming stale. New and fresh approaches need to be implemented into the league for it grow. Different playing styles will make for more interesting match-ups. Traditionally, Americans are very conservative in their tactics. A four-at-the-back, a flat midfield, and two strikers up top was the formation of choice for many years. Today it seems to have been overtaken by the more versatile, yet maybe more conservative 4-2-3-1, with two holding midfielders and one target striker. It's safe to say that the majority, if not all MLS teams, run one of these two setups. Most are implemented by American managers.
Vieira's new ideas are a breath of fresh air into MLS and something that possibly Atlanta United can learn from. European managers can adapt to this league and its unique circumstances. NYCFC hired an American in Jason Kreis and fired him after the first year. Being American and/or familiar with the league should not be a prerequisite for Atlanta United when they hire their first ever manager. The league is steadily changing and instead of recycling old ideas, they should be searching for someone unique that can adapt to MLS when the situation calls for it.
This is not a choice of American vs. European/South American. It's a choice of new and fresh vs. safe and old. The right managerial candidate can bring their new ideas and implement them under any conditions no matter their experience or nationality. It's time to throw out your preconceived notions of what an expansion team's first manager should be and trust that Atlanta United's front office will find the right man for the job.