Coaching Lionel Messi is all very well and good, but it certainly doesn't prepare a manager to take the reins of an MLS expansion team. Foreign coaches don't always do so well in MLS and Martino has been learning English to be ready for the job in Atlanta, leaving some doubts about how seamless his transition from the Argentina national team will be. Atlanta are being ambitious with their signings and Martino is undoubtedly helping them attract players, but getting the day-to-day management right once the season starts is a huge question mark.
Chicago Fire, Veljko Paunovic: C
It's possible that Paunovic is a better coach than he's been able to show, but the Fire's roster was so disjointed last season that it probably would've been difficult for any coach to do much with it. The problem is, Paunovic's ideas may be grander than he can realistically deliver. He seemed to realize that later in the season, focusing less on adaptability and more on mastering a single system. Paunovic came into MLS as a relative unknown on the coach level, having managed only Serbia's youth teams, but there's still a lot to learn about what he can do in 2017.
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Colorado Rapids, Pablo Mastroeni: C
The success of the Rapids in 2016 seemed to take everyone by surprise, including perhaps even the Rapids. After back-to-back seasons at the bottom of the Western Conference, Mastroeni figured out what worked with an improved roster – an ultra-defensive, if not a bit ugly, approach. It was a style that fit the way the former Rapids defensive midfielder played, and it seemed to rest largely in the team's mentality, rather than merely tactics. That's risky business though – if the Rapids don't experience another dream start like that did last year, it's going to be a lot tougher to motivate the players in the same way. After two disaster seasons, Mastroeni got more time to turn things around than many expected, and some will wonder if the sudden turnaround was a bit of a fluke.
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Columbus Crew, Gregg Berhalter: C+
Berhalter has a lot of work to do in 2017. The Crew have holes on both ends of the field that have been growing larger since their run to the final in 2015. He seems plenty capable of imposing his style on a new group and getting them to play the possession-oriented style he likes, but it'll only happen with some chemistry. If 2016 exposed anything that's of big concern, it's the poor way he handled inter-squad tension between Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain. The two got into a fight because the job of penalty kick-taker wasn't made clear, and then his solution was apparently to ship Kamara, the team's best player, off to New England.
Toward the end of the 2016 season, it looked like DCU were gaining steam and could be the team to beat. That didn't happen, but Olsen deserves much of the credit for getting D.C. United into that position. His midseason switch to a 4-1-4-1 unlocked an attack that had purpose and was free to be creative. The question is whether Olsen can instill an attacking identity like that for the entire season and find the consistency that only showed up toward the end of 2016.
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FC Dallas, Oscar Pareja: A
Pareja has consistently been one of the best coaches in MLS for several years running, and he led FC Dallas to the Supporters Shield last season. But when they lost their talismanic No. 10 Mauro Diaz heading into playoffs, Pareja overcompensated and moved FC Dallas away from what made them good all year. It seems like a good bet Pareja will learn from his mistake after a brutally short playoffs and he'll need to hold onto the team's identity going forward. The young coach should continue to bring the best out of his young players, which has been a big key for his success. His track record is proven in seasons past and FCD embarks on 2017 with little to worry about on the coaching front.
Russell IsabellaRuss Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Houston Dynamo, Wilmer Cabrera: C
Ever since the very successful Dominic Kinnear left the Dynamo in 2014, the club has looked a bit lost. After the mutual parting ways with Owen Coyle last season and the decision not to keep interim Wade Barrett on, now it's Wilmer Cabrera's turn to try get the Dynamo back into shape. It appears he'll keep the same coaching staff that has been in place since 2015, and the Dynamo are hoping Cabrera's experience working on developing young talent for Rio Grande Valley FC will transition to Houston. It's a big step up from USL though, and for now we have to give a "wait and see" kind of grade
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LA Galaxy, Curt Onalfo: C+
Look, losing Bruce Arena and all his assistants means your coaching situation is taking a bit of a hit. But Onalfo steps into a role he's long been primed for with the Galaxy's reserve team. With coaching experience in MLS and assistant experience on the international level, Onalfo looks like a forward-thinking move for the Galaxy, who seem keen to sign less aging stars and start dipping into their academy system more. Whether or not he can do it well is the question.
Minnesota United, Adrian Heath: C
By the time Heath was fired from Orlando City last season, there was a growing feeling that he and the higher-ups weren't always seeing eye-to-eye on the roster's needs. He didn't have a great roster to work with, and his replacement, Jason Kreis, found scant improvement. Now, Heath has the chance to build a roster from scratch in Minnesota, something he did once before with the Austin Aztex when the team first formed in USL. But the challenge ahead of Minnesota is on another level and it's unclear if Heath can build an MLS playoff team from scratch. There likely won't be a marquee Kaka-type player on the squad, but he'll need some support from the front office to make some big moves.
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Montreal Impact, Mauro Biello: B+
You have to hand it to Biello – in 2016, he became known as the manager who benched Didier Drogba. Here's the thing about that: It took Biello some time to figure out how to get the most out of the Impact, but he did, and it looked like he was going to take them straight to MLS Cup. What Biello must do in 2017 is not lose sight of the team's counterattacking identity – it worked well in the 2015 CONCACAF Champions League and in their 2016 run to the playoffs, but the Impact lost it at times in between.
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New England Revolution, Jay Heaps: D+
While any coach is at the mercy of his own players' form, it's hard to ignore that Heaps best season with the Revs came when Lee Nguyen was in the form of his life and Jermaine Jones, also in some great form after the World Cup, signed as a Designated Player. The Revs had plenty of young core talent last season to get the job done and they were downright disappointing. Nguyen and Kei Kamara, the Revs' two biggest players, weren't delivering either. In his defense, the front office didn't seem to give him much help, particularly in the summer transfer window when it was apparent exactly what was not working. But there are some valid questions about whether Heaps will be able to do better with the Revs' 2017 roster.
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New York City, Patrick Vieira: A-
Expectations were low for him coming into MLS last season, but he proved that tactical acumen means a whole lot more than experience with MLS rules and regulations. He quickly figured out what roles made sense for his squad and he had New York City using a few different formations throughout the season that allowed them to respond to different types of opponents. If there's a worrying flaw, it's that the young coach overthought his approach in the playoffs instead of simply sticking to what worked, which was NYCFC's undoing.
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New York Red Bulls, Jesse Marsch: A-
Rumors had been flying that Marsch could be off to Salzburg, and if that did happen, the Red Bulls' grade here would plummet. But it looks like Marsch is in NY to stay, which is good because he has a clear tactical vision and he understands him players. If there's any flaw, it's that Marsch can be too aggressive and overcommit in the attack, but the players are willing to fight and hustle for him. The coach came into a club that's fans didn't want him, but he won them over quickly with his smart approach.
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Orlando City, Jason Kreis: B
For now, it looks like Kreis has been a good coach in a tough situation. He took over for Orlando and inherited a squad with an impossibly bad defense. It's not exactly a secret why Orlando struggled so much and big changes are on the way. Kreis has proven himself to be capable of molding a cohesive squad, but that will only happen if he's on the same page with the front office, which didn't seem to be the case in 2015 when New York City fired him.
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Philadelphia Union, Jim Curtin: C-
In 2016, Curtin was reluctant to make adjustments in his squad and stuck to players despite their form dropping off. Similarly, he didn't rotate his squad for tight turnarounds or build reliable depth. During games when he did make substitutions, he was slow to do it. Tactically, again, he was rigid, failing to show flexibility as needed. There's no reason to believe 2017 will be different, even as Earnie Stewart is working to boost the roster – but if Curtin does find the right formula, he probably won't let it get away from him.
Portland Timbers, Caleb Porter: B-
Caleb Porter returns as the head coach for the Timbers hoping to bounce back from a pretty awful 2016. It's clear that Porter focuses a lot on tactics and knows how to manage a locker room, but the concern now is on how he shapes his line-up. For the first time, Porter and general manager Gavin Wilkinson will have some help with recruiting by bringing in Ned Grabavoy, who retired after last season, as their head of scouting. That new position may take some time to bear fruit, but Porter needs to get his squad right now or suffer the consequences. Porter may deserve the benefit of the doubt that injuries and cap space hamstrung the Timbers last season, but his up-and-down record, despite an MLS Cup win in 2015, leaves lingering doubts.
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Real Salt Lake, Jeff Cassar: D+
When RSL said they'd bring Cassar back in 2017, at least some people were a bit surprised. RSL, despite a solid (if not aging) core and strong strike force, didn't really find the footing of a real contender in 2016. They made playoffs, but it wasn't exactly convincing in a year when Cassar, two years removed from previous coach Jason Kreis, really hadn’t made a mark on the team's identity. The players don't seem particularly motivated – after the season, when asked by media if Cassar should stay in 2017, Kyle Beckerman did an odd, 'Well you tell me' sort of verbal dance. The further RSL gets away from what Kreis and ex-general manager Garth Lagerwey built, the less convincing Cassar becomes.
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San Jose Earthquakes, Dominic Kinnear: B-
He's had a lot of success in MLS over the years, particularly with the Houston Dynamo, even if his move back to the Quakes hasn't been a roaring success so far. Kinnear isn't about having his teams playing pretty or fun soccer – he's pragmatic and normally pretty effective. The Earthquakes need to be better about spotting talent, and they need Kinnear to play a better role there, particularly with some recent shuffling in the front office.
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Seattle Sounders, Brian Schmetzer: A
While Schmetzer has a long track record as a manager, he has only a handful of months coaching in MLS – but they offer plenty of reason to instill confidence. Some dismissed his success in taking the Sounders to the MLS Cup by giving credit to the arrival of playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro, but Schmetzer changed the team's tactics, adjusted roles up and down the field, and motivated the locker room in a desperate time. He's shown a good understanding of his players after years of being Sigi Schmid's assistant, and there's no reason to question where the Sounders' coaching stands now.
Sporting Kansas City, Peter Vermes: B
He's widely considered one of the top coaches in MLS and for good reason. Though Sporting KC weren't good enough in 2016, part of that was a sudden drop in form from some of their veteran players. Vermes has been criticized for his stubborn adherence to a high-pressing style with fast tempo, but Vermes clearly believes in implementing a system and staying with it so players can develop cohesion and comfort. To that end, he typically sets up his players to succeed. He is also focused on recruiting and developing talent, which sets Kansas City up well going forward.
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Toronto FC, Greg Vanney: A-
It's true Toronto has arguably the best – and inarguably the most expensive – roster in MLS, but Toronto's own history has shown that alone isn’t enough. Vanney made smart tactical adjustments in 2016 – his three-back formation that allowed Toronto to overrun their competition was a stroke of brilliance – and they were one save away from winning an MLS Cup. He's managed a roster of disparate haves and have-nots and he's set a motivating team culture. Nine coaches into the club's short history, they've finally found one that is a good fit.
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Vancouver Whitecaps, Carl Robinson: C-
Robinson was rewarded with a poor 2016 by getting a contract extension through 2020, and it was a bit surprising, to say the least. The 'Caps struggled last season, despite having a roster many expected would make them a playoff contender. The team did find relative success in 2015, but more recently, Robinson's first-choice line-ups were at times questionable and stubborn.