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Who is the USSF D2 Coach of the Year?

As the season winds down to its last weekend, we know which eight teams will be in playoff contention beginning October 6-7, although this weekend’s games will determine much of the playoff seedings.  It is time to start discussing individual awards.  Who do you think deserves the 2010 USSF D2 Coach of the Year award, based on regular season play?

Certainly there are many worthy candidates.  Bob Lilley in Rochester has kept his team on an even keel all season, consistently gaining results and putting together a six-game winning streak towards the latter part of the season that has them one point out of the USL Conference lead, without the benefit of a top-ten goal scorer.  The Rhinos have depth at every position, and the best goal keeping tandem in Scott Vallow and Neil Kitson.  Certainly he has done a great job with the Rhinos in 2010.

Both Gavin Wilkinson in Portland and Vancouver’s Teitur Thordarson have had the difficult task of not only competing in USSF D2 this season, but building up their rosters for MLS competition in 2011.  Both coaches have responded well.  Despite massive roster turnover, Thordarson has kept the ‘Caps in first place in the NASL Conference with the league’s best defense as a foundation.  Although finishing has been inconsistent at best, the revolving door in Vancouver has certainly contributed to the lack.  Vancouver ownership has rewarded Thordarson by naming him as coach for next season’s MLS debut. 

Gavin Wilkinson will be technical director for the Portland Timbers in their MLS debut season.  He has missed games this season while scouting in Europe, but after going through a rough patch he has the Timbers ending the season primed for the playoffs.  Despite finishing the season with four road games, Portland hasn’t lost since August 4th, and had four consecutive shutouts in their current nine-game unbeaten streak before allowing a penalty kick goal in Baltimore.  Although Portland hasn’t had the degree of roster turnover that Vancouver has, Wilkinson has had the dual focus of competing in USSF D2 this season and preparing the Timbers for MLS in 2011.  Also, his development of rookie forward Bright Dike, who has responded with nine goals in 22 league games, has been a wonderful achievement that bodes well for the team’s future.

Other coaches deserve recognition for the jobs they’ve done in 2010.  In Carolina, Martin Rennie has lifted the RailHawks to a 12-9-8 record after a mediocre start and has them tied with Vancouver for the NASL Conference lead with one game left in the season, despite losing the leadership of captain Mark Schulte with a knee injury several weeks ago.  Similarly, Marc Dos Santos in Montreal has ignited his team.  The Impact had been in the doldrums, despite their enthusiastic fan support, but Dos Santos has gotten them into the playoffs by winning four of their last five games, outscoring opponents 14-3, and they are another team that look ready for playoff success. 

Colin Clarke’s Puerto Rico Islanders have been so-so during the regular season, but Clarke brought home a trophy for the Islander’s cabinet by capturing the Caribbean Football Union title this spring.  He has the Islanders in the playoffs, and has gotten USSF D2 recognition in the soccer world by eliminating the Los Angeles Galaxy in the preliminary rounds of CONCACAF Champions League play.  And Dale Schilly in St. Louis and Daryl Shore in Miami deserve some credit, too.  Both coaches were mid-season replacements.  Schilly brought respectability to the troubled AC St. Louis franchise.  His team was the last eliminated from playoff contention and scored victories over Austin, Portland and Montreal under his direction.  Shore has built enthusiasm for next season by coaching his Miami FC Blues to four consecutive wins as the season draws to a close.  And Jim Cherneski of the expansion Crystal Palace Baltimore team coached his squad to six wins over 2010 D2 playoff teams, despite playing on five different “home” fields during 2010, before the wheels fell off in the middle of August.

Despite the accomplishments of others, in my mind there are two coaches who deserve the most recognition for USSF D2 Coach of the Year…..Adrian Heath of the Austin Aztex and Manny Lagos of the NSC Minnesota Stars. 

Adrian Heath has brought the Axtex from a five win 2009 campaign to the best record in D2 with one game remaining.  He has accomplished that by playing an attractive, attacking style of soccer that leads the league in goal-scoring.  Led by English forward Eddie Johnson, along with Maxwell Griffin and Jamie Watson,  the Aztex have the second, third and fourth league leaders in total points, and have scored 52 goals as a team, eleven ahead of runner-up Carolina.  With fifteen wins going into their last game, the Aztex have tripled their 2009 win total.  They are in the middle of the pack in goals allowed, despite losing missing central defender Jay Needham for several games with injury and having defender Yohance Marshall recalled from loan to the LA Galaxy recently.  The Aztex have been strong at their House Park fortress, but have also played well on the road.  They have made savvy acquisitions, including forward Randi Patterson and midfielder Tsuyoshi Yoshitake from Crystal Palace Baltimore, down the stretch and have lost only five matches, tied with Vancouver for the lowest amount of losses in 2010 league play.

Manny Lagos of NSC Minnesota also deserves strong consideration for USSF D2 Coach of the Year.  A first-year head coach, he has the expansion Stars in the playoffs wtih a 11-12-7 record, the only expansion team to make the post-season..  Lagos put together a team from scratch, getting a late start and dealing with a lowest payroll in the league.  His highest profile player, goalkeeper Louis Crayton, was lost for the season with an opening game injury, and even Minnesota fans didn’t recognize many of the players on the team.  The team was competitive all season, and in the last month Lagos established a new attacking duo of Simone Bracalello and Devin Del Do, who recently returned from injury in the season’s second game.  The duo have combined for five goals in the Stars’ season-ending four game winning streak, including the game-winner in each victory, and securiedthe Stars’ playoff hopes.  Despite being the only club in D2 that added no new players for the playoff run, Lagos has his team believing in their ability to score and confident defensively, as they’ve allowed only one goal during the four-game winning streak. 

For me, there are several strong candidates for USSF D2 Coach of the Year.  Honestly, though, I could flip a coin between Adrian Heath and Manny Lagos for the award, and be satisfied with the result.  Who is your choice for USSF D2 Coach of the Year?


7 Responses

  1. For me, understanding I’m an Aztex fan, I believe Adrian Heath has to get this award. He took the Aztex from a next to last place finish last year (21 out of 90 points), to a potential Supporters Shield this season, and maybe league championship (NOTE: Yes, I’m getting ahead of the league results, but it happens when these discussions happen before the last match of the season). He did this even after releasing 14 players en masse following the 2009 season.

    Heath’s importance to the Aztex and our future can be evidenced in the fact that he recently signed a 3 year contract extension, when many other coaches have been released (AC St. Louis, Miami FC, FC Tampa Bay).

    • Thanks for your input, Matthew. I am happy for Aztex fans that owner Phil Rawlins has inked Adrian Heath to a long-term contract — he certainly deserves it after what he has accomplished this season.

      I think the quality of coaching has been a hallmark of the 2010 D2 season. Even the coaches who were dismissed during the season — Claude Anelka had guided a very young AC St. Louis team to three consecutive road shutout wins (one against the Islanders, two in USOC against PDL Des Moines Menace and NSC Minnesota Stars). Probably one of the few times a coach has been dismissed in the middle of a three game winning streak. And Paul Dalglish had the Rowdies at 5-1-3 at the end of May before injuries and whatever else caught up with the expansion club.

      I certainly think Adrian Heath deserves a world of credit for the job he’s done this season, but I couldn’t overlook what Manny Lagos has done in Minnesota, either. A first year coach getting 11 wins from an expansion team that was probably the last squad assembled before the season started. Without much fan support, the league’s lowest payroll and no player additions to help down the stretch. After losing his starting goalkeeper in the season’s opener. Both Lagos and Heath did an outstanding job this season, as did many other coaches in D2.

  2. I’ll admit I’m a Carolina fan, but I have to put my vote in for Rennie. The railhawks late season surge and impressive form at home in the second season have to be credited in large part to his fantastic decisions. From tactical subs (Richardson coming on an having a role in two goals on his first three touches) to locker room leadership and tactics (their inspired play coming into the second half against the islanders inthe second game of the season) he’s shown himself to have a fantastic head for the team and the game made all the more impressive by the number of injuries to which he’s had to adjust. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that he’s one of the younger coaches out there. I certainly don’t want to take anything from anyone, because this has been a fantastic year, but to me, Rennie’s performance stands out.

    • I agree that Martin Rennie is an outstanding young manager.. He has the RailHawks playing well headed into the playoffs and also accomplished a great deal with the Cleveland City Stars in USL-2. In an interview with ACSTL midfielder Luke Kreamalmeyer I did this summer, Luke indicated that one of the reasons he signed with Carolina in 2009 was because of Rennie’s coaching reputation.

      I cited Adrian Heath and Manny Lagos as leading candidates for Coach of the Year based on what they did with what they had. Heath changed a five win team to an elite D2 team in one season, while Lagos put together an expansion club on the fly with little money and got them into the playoffs. But certainly Martin Rennie deserves consideration too.

  3. It’s nice to see Manny getting some respect. I think even among we NSC die-hards there was some folks wondering about some of his lineup decisions mid-season. The lack of production was causing some whispers.

    Thankfully we’re all madly in love with him again now that he’s got the Bracadeldo strike partnership that he seemed to want at the beginning of the season. If he can keep this team working like this even through the first round I think we can say the late season hot streak wasn’t a fluke.

    Anybody wanna buy the team he manages?

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