MLS coaches: Every new hire for the 2024 season

24MLS_New Coaches

Including Toronto FC’s John Herdman, who oversaw one game last season, nine MLS teams have new coaches heading into 2024. That’s nearly the same amount as the last two years combined.

Even in a league known for parity and turnover, that’s a lot of upheaval. And it’s worth noting these changes can have big, and immediate, impacts.

Just last season, Wilfried Nancy won MLS Cup during his first year leading the Columbus Crew. In 2022, Steve Cherundolo did the same with LAFC. And Pat Noonan deserves a 2022 shoutout for his turnaround effort, guiding FC Cincinnati to their first-ever Audi MLS Cup Playoffs berth after three straight Wooden Spoons before his arrival. To boot, he lifted the Supporters’ Shield with Cincy a year later.

So, which new coaches could lead a similar charge in 2024? And which are still a player, or many players, away from contending? Let's go from the first hire for 2024 to the last.

John Herdman

With Toronto announcing Herdman’s appointment in late August 2023 (effective Oct. 1), the former Canada men’s and women’s national team coach has had more time than anybody on this list to prepare for 2024. Despite that, his roster is arguably the least complete.

Toronto still have their high-priced Italian DP wingers – Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi – who combined for 9g/9a in a 2023 season filled with injuries, locker-room tumult and poor form. And they're yet to make a big-splash signing this offseason, leaving Herdman to rely on homegrowns both young (Deandre Kerr and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty) and veteran (Jonathan Osorio) to play big roles. Honduran international Deybi Flores should bolster the midfield a bit, while veteran Kevin Long looks to steady central defense.

The good news is Herdman has a great track record of getting the most from his players, guiding Canada to their first men's World Cup in 36 years in 2022 and leading the CanWNT to two Olympic bronze medals.

Phil Neville

Inter Miami parted ways with Neville about six weeks before Messi mania hit South Florida last summer, clearing the path for Tata Martino to reunite with the global superstar. At the time of Neville’s exit, the Herons were bottom of the Eastern Conference table and struggling to plug holes left by early-season injuries to Gregore and Jean Mota, among others.

One year prior, though, the Englishman led IMCF to their best-ever season, so it certainly wasn't all doom and gloom during the former Everton captain's time in Miami.

Now in Portland, Neville is tasked with getting the best out of club-record signing Evander, an attacking talent who rounded into form in the latter half of 2023. The Timbers have two open DP spots they can still use to get more attacking help for their Brazillian No. 10, while defensively they added proven MLS vets in goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau and center back Kamal Miller. Neville previously coached the duo while assisting Canada.

Chris Armas

Armas was the first piece in Colorado's massive offseason rebuild. The hire marked a clear direction for the Rapids’ upcoming roster moves – namely signing young, hungry and mobile players.

Enter Djordje Mihailovic and Sam Vines, two proven high-level MLS starters who bring USMNT and European club experience while sporting plenty of tread on their tires at ages 25 and 24, respectively. Even Zack Steffen, another marquee signing in a busy offseason that’s seen 14 players enter and 14 leave, has his prime goalkeeper years ahead of him at just 28 years old.

A younger roster should suit Armas well, having spent six years with the New York Red Bulls (first as an assistant, then as a head coach) and winning the 2018 Supporters’ Shield. RBNY are famous for fielding young, press-heavy teams, so Armas, who assisted English clubs Manchester United and Leeds United before signing on with Colorado, will be in familiar waters with this squad.

Dean Smith

Smith joins Charlotte with one of the flashier coaching résumés of the new-for-2024 hires. The Englishman has managed 122 matches in the English Premier League and may be best known for leading Aston Villa’s successful promotion charge out of the EFL Championship in 2018-19.

But like Herdman in Toronto (albeit to a lesser extent), Smith is taking over a roster that’s probably several moves away from the intended vision. DP forwards Karol Swiderski and Kamil Jozwiak both returned to Europe this offseason and have yet to be replaced. To boot, the team’s reported pursuit of Danish attacker Albert Grønbæk never materialized, leaving question marks in the attack. TBD if Uruguayan striker Luciano Rodríguez arrives as well.

Charlotte squeezed into the Eastern Conference Wild Card round last year, marking their first-ever postseason appearance, but the hope is Smith takes them to a higher level. If and when the Crown make that leap likely depends on the success of future signings.

Sandro Schwarz

Like Smith in Charlotte, Schwarz brings ample top-flight European experience to the RBNY job, having coached 100-plus German Bundesliga matches across stints with Hertha Berlin and Mainz 05. Unlike Smith, however, Schwarz inherits a roster with more talent incoming than outgoing.

Headlined by attacker Emil Forsberg joining from RB Leipzig, the Red Bulls front office made key offseason moves to bolster a squad whose expected points for 2023 (57) far outpaced their actual points (43).

Translation: With better finishing, the Red Bulls could have been contenders last year. Forsberg, plus U22 Initiative winger Dennis Gjengaar should, in theory, help there – as would a healthier season from winger Lewis Morgan and a year-two bounce for DP forward Dante Vanzeir. Their defense should stay elite, too.

The pieces for immediate success are there for Schwarz.

Caleb Porter

With two MLS Cups to his name at two different clubs (2015 with Portland; 2020 with Columbus), Porter makes a lot of sense for a team with enough high-level pieces to make a legitimate run at every trophy on offer in 2024.

The Revs roster is stacked with top-level talent, particularly in the attacking midfield where 2021 MLS MVP Carles Gil is flanked by one of the best wingers at the close of last season in Tomás Chancalay, one of the best wingers at the start of last season (pre-ACL tear) in Dylan Borrero, and one of the best young prospects in the USMNT pool in Esmir Bajraktarevic.

Couple that firepower with a rock-solid defensive midfield and backline, and New England are clearly in win-now mode.

There is some risk to a hire like Porter’s – in addition to his two MLS Cup wins, he’s also missed the playoffs five times in nine seasons – but the logic of getting a manager who’s won it all before (twice) is sound.

Laurent Courtois

Managing Columbus Crew 2 in their first two MLS NEXT Pro seasons (2022-23), Courtois brings a few key characteristics to Montréal’s head coaching job:

• He’s experienced developing young players: Several graduates from Crew 2’s 2022 team went on to earn starting roles for the senior team that won MLS Cup 2023.

• He’s experienced winning with young players: In his two seasons leading Crew 2, the club reached back-to-back MLS NEXT Pro Cups, lifting the trophy in 2022.

• In 2023, he worked in the same system as Wilfried Nancy (Courtois managing Crew 2, Nancy leading first team). Nancy led Montréal to their best-ever regular season points haul in 2022, and ownership likely wants to return to the blueprint he’d installed before departing for Columbus.

• Like Nancy, Courtois is a native French speaker who spent time coaching in MLS youth academies before jumping to the pro ranks.

All to say, what Courtois lacks in name recognition, he makes up for in cultural fit (at least on paper). Couple that with the later offseason additions of Uruguayan striker Matías Cóccaro, Bulgarian midfielder Dominic Iankov and Venezuelan striker/MLS legend Josef Martínez, and there’s reason to believe Montréal could be a sleeper this season.

Troy Lesesne

One could argue Lesesne was unfortunate to be relieved of duties by RBNY after his first season as a head coach in MLS. Despite injuries and underperformance from DPs, he guided the Red Bulls to a record 14th straight playoff appearance in 2023.

D.C. United didn’t let Lesesne stay on the open market for long, though, tabbing the former Red Bulls and New Mexico United manager to lead a new era for the Black-and-Red under CSO Ally Mackay (hired in November 2024).

Lesesne inherits a roster with a unique mix of older vets (Christian Benteke, Mateusz Klich) and high-upside youngsters (Matti Peltola, Gabriel Pirani, Ted Ku-DiPietro).

Time will tell if there’s enough talent there to make noise in the East, or if 2024 is just step one of a multi-year rebuild.

Cameron Knowles (interim)

There’s no sugar-coating it: Minnesota’s coaching situation isn't the best. The club is currently on their second interim manager since parting ways with Adrian Heath – the only coach they’d known in MLS – with two games to go in 2023.

Their first interim replacement, Sean McAuley, left partway through the offseason to take the top job with Indy Eleven in the USL Championship. And their second, Cameron Knowles, is still keeping the seat warm for a yet-to-be-named permanent hire.

In the background, new CSO Khaled El-Ahmad didn’t arrive in Minnesota until January despite being announced to the position in November, possibly contributing to a delay in the coaching hire. Now, reports suggest Manchester United assistant Eric Ramsay is in line to take the reins. At age 32, he’d be the youngest full-time head coaching hire in MLS history.

If and when the dust does settle on the drawn-out hiring process, whoever's in charge will at least have several exciting pieces to work with, including attackers Teemu Pukki, Emanuel Reynoso and Bongokuhle Hlongwane.