BEDAKIAN: Are we in 'last-chance' territory for Canadian MLS coaching trio?
Is this their last chance?
In the ever-accelerating, already-seemingly-too-fast-paced world of managerial changes in football, this week's Canadian Championship quarter-finals sets the stage for another wave of speculation as a trio of Canadian MLS outfits duke it out in the Battle of the North.
Yes, it is true that the hunt for the Voyageurs Cup isn't a top priority this season, but for Vancouver Whitecaps manager Vanni Sartini, Toronto FC tactician Bob Bradley and CF Montréal head coach Hernán Losada, not advancing in this round of the competition could prove rather costly.
Each of these touchline bosses are grappling with the week-over-week realization that their beginning-of-season ambitions will need to be more modest; Concacaf Champions League dreams have been dashed, and deep MLS Cup playoff runs seem ever more unlikely, at least as far as the Eastern Conference duo is concerned.
So, as we kick off the week with managerial sackings at NY Red Bulls and the Chicago Fire, the question is begged once more: Is this last-chance saloon for the Canadian MLS club coaching contingent?
Let's start out west.
Vanni Sartini's hot seat status
Everybody loves Vanni.
It's hard not to. He's a lovable character, affable and comedic in an aww shucks kinda way which affords him, perhaps, a touch more leniancy than his peers might have.
Luckily, the Whitecaps aren't exactly suffering heading into the quarter-finals. The defending Canadian champs are in the midst of an eight-game unbeaten run in MLS – good for joint-longest in league history – and sit 7th in the Western Conference, 16th overall in the league. Of those eight matches, the 'Caps have won three, drawn five, and are well on course to a playoff spot.
Still, despite our collective desires otherwise, pro soccer is not Ted Lasso, and the goofy dad act can get real old, real fast if results don't back up the laid back approach; this business is serious and cutthroat just as much as it is fun and entertaining, and if players aren't performing up to standard, a lax and lenient head coach is the first, second and third place many will look to when trying to understand why.
The problem here is that the Whitecaps are good... they're just not great. Their advanced metrics don't compare favourably to their actual results, a trend that tends to correct itself over the course of a campaign. They're not bad, per se... but not great.
Plus, a loss to a CPL team in the Canadian Championship has gotten "good, not great" Whitecaps coaches fired in the past.
See, the Whitecaps don't have the best history when it comes to playing CPL teams in this tournament. Both Cavalry FC and Pacific FC have eliminated them from the tournament in years past, with the latter costing Marc and Phil Dos Santos their jobs at the club in 2021 – even though they enjoyed an eight-game undefeated run in MLS leading up to that match. If the Whitecaps capitulate to York United of all teams, after bowing out of the Champions League in equally disappointing circumstance?
No amount of shirtless barrel rolls will erase that result from memory.
Bob Bradley's future, Toronto FC's past
Make no two ways about it: If there's a coach on the hottest seat of all in this tournament, it's Bob Bradley at Toronto FC.
Results have certainly not gone Toronto's way this season, with the Reds winning just two of their first 11 games to kick off the 2023 MLS campaign, good for about a point a game and 13th in the East (two spots below CF Montréal). Lorenzo Insigne hasn't replicated the Sebastian Giovinco-era heroics that his grand signing seemed to promise, the club continues to hemorrhage young, local talent for aged veterans in an effort to quickly right the ship before their Italian stars get too old (or bored), and now they've got a far-too-early date with Montréal in a tournament that could have proven to be the only salve toward saving this season.
So, a loss on Tuesday night, and it may very well be lights out at BMO Field as far as fan support is concerned. The Reds weren't exactly trading on ample good will heading into 2023 after a miserable 2022, after all.
Adding more fuel to this hot seat fire?
The LA Galaxy are reportedly toying with the idea of sacking Greg Vanney.
The Gregfather would be an instant option for Toronto in the case of a loss to Montréal, and since Toronto only signed Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi (and Victor Vazquez, again) in an attempt to replicate their 2017 glories, the temptation to bring him back into the mix could spell the end of Bob Bradley's time at the club... at least, as a head coach.
But even if Toronto FC advance past their bitter rivals from Quebec, Bradley must still contend with their woeful start in MLS... so this Canadian Championship might just be expediting the inevitable, anyway.
Desperation time at CF Montréal? Well...
Of the three Canadian MLS club head coaches, Hernán Losada definitely has the most leeway – but that's not saying much.
CF Montréal heads into this quarter-final match-up against Toronto FC needing something – anything – to bring some hope back to the season. Things have certainly not gone to plan here. The MLS Cup-contending skeleton that was put in place to build upon in 2022 has been shattered as the club reels from the losses of Alistair Johnston, Ismaël Koné, Djordje Mihailovic and, most recently, Kamal Miller.
Besides being a newly-appointed head coach, there's not much else keeping Hernán Losada tied to this job – especially when considering just how well-loved Wilfried Nancy was among supporters. Losada has yet to prove himself to that same degree. Can he do it? You'd have to imagine he's up against it, as the club's war chest isn't exactly brimming with available resources.
That, to be clear, is no fault of his own. Frankly, there's a world where Losada finds another opportunity more appealing elsewhere anyways.
Montréal as a club have failed to adapt to roster losses, failed to evolve tactically to accomodate, and head into this match-up with just three wins over their first nine matches, having already suffered two spells of three consecutive defeats to start the year. A pair of back-to-back wins against NY Red Bulls and Sporting KC will certainly lift spirits heading into Toronto, though.
Still, one has to wonder what the thinking will be behind the scenes if CF Montréal walk out of BMO Field on the wrong end of, say, an embarassingly lopsided result. While there's still a grace period to consider, drastic times could also call for drastic measures, especially if such a promising rocket of potential from 2022 fizzles out to a sputter midway through the 2023 campaign.