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York9 FC Carmine Isacco

Isacco: Canadian Coaches Are Overlooked In MLS

By on July 18, 2021 0 2477 Views

Former York United head coach Carmine Isacco believes that Canadian coaches are being overlooked in both Major League Soccer and abroad, stating that Canadian Premier League coaches like Bobby Smyrniotis and Tommy Wheeldon Jr. deserve opportunities at a higher level.

When speaking on on FiredUp Network’s The Soccer Show, the longtime York University Lions head coach – who has also assisted with the likes of Toronto FC and York9 FC (now York United), led League1 Ontario side Vaughan Azzurri to two doubles, and helped countless Canadian athletes develop, believes that the two are golden examples of coaches ready for further opportunity.

Look at coaches that have earned it in the CPL, whether it’s Bobby Smyrniotis or Tommy Wheeldon, who have outcoached, been involved in Concacaf championships, and beaten MLS teams.

Carmine Isacco

Isacco describes that the duo have helped an ‘endless, endless, endless’ amount of players that have represented Canada, with the likes of Tajon Buchanon, Richie Laryea, Cyle Larin, Manjrekar James, Joel Waterman, and Marco Carducci all having been helped along by the duo, while others like Ryan Telfer and Emery Welshman have gone on to represent other countries.

Tommy Wheeldon Jr Canadian Championship
Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. has been involved in Canadian football since 2002.

English-Canadian head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. has helped with the Canada U-17 team in the past, before taking a lead role with USL2 side Calgary Foothills and leading them to a 2018 PDL Championship before being named the inaugural Cavalry FC head coach. He led the team to a CPL Finals appearance the following year and beat the Vancouver Whitecaps in their first-ever Canadian Championship run.

You look at these two in particular that have gone through the trenches, gotten the opportunities, and proven themselves with the Canadian product. They spent a lot of the time and energy developing this Canadian product, and I appreciate these people. Yes, I believe they should get opportunities, and yes, they’ve proven themselves and they’re not just all talk.

Carmine Isacco

It’s also fair to argue that Smyrniotis – a former academy coach with Olympiakos FC before he helped found the Sigma FC organization in Ontario which played a big role in the development of several Canadian national team members – certainly has the credibility: after all, he’s led Forge FC to two consecutive Canadian Premier League titles, while simultaneously putting in over-achieving Concacaf League showings with a largely domestic squad.

Bobby Smyrniotis CONCACAF League
Forge’s Bobby Smyrniotis celebrates during a Concacaf League win in 2019.

It’s track records like that that leave Isacco pondering why Toronto FC looked to Chris Armas earlier this year as opposed to domestic coaching talent. Other than a ten-game span with interim coach Nick Dasovic, the Ontario-based side has never employed a head coach from within the country it calls home.

They’ve been given opportunities to fail, and they’ve been successful. That is what I’d like to see: our Canadian coaching culture grow. But, I also do question what are the standards that Chris Armas – I’ll just use that name, although he’s a good person and all that – what are the standards that he has that Tommy or Bobby don’t have?

Carmine Isacco

The former Nine Stripes assistant coach doesn’t shy away from naming a few other domestic coaches who have helped shape Canadians at high level, including Canada U-20 coach Andrew Olivieri, Canadian national team assistant coach Mauro Biello, and Vancouver Whitecaps gaffer Marc Dos Santos.

Biello did a fantastic job in Montreal, and Joey Saputo should be forever grateful for him and what he’s done for that organization. […] You look at Marc Dos Santos, what he’s doing in such a troubling situation, and what he’s done in the past, it’s not easy for him to work with little resources, but he’s an amazing coach who’s spent a lot of time and energy.

Carmine Isacco

Beyond Biello and Dos Santos, Major League Soccer has only witnessed two other Canadian head coaches since launching in 1996: Frank Yallop and Mark Watson. Not counting interim head coaches, the three Canadian MLS sides have filled twenty different head coach roles with just two from within its own borders, though CF Montreal’s French head coach Wilfried Nancy has been with the club’s academy since 2011.

Island Games Jim Brennan
Inaugural Toronto FC Captain Jim Brennan currently coaches in the Canadian Premier League.

While the Canadian Premier League is giving a lot of domestic coaching talent opportunities at the professional level, it just launched in 2019: it’s likely going to take time for these kind of jumps to occur, in the same way that thus far only Joel Waterman has made the CPL-to-MLS jump for players, though there are others who seem more than capable, too.

In the end, however, it’s proving a head-scratcher for Isacco, who is adamant that coaches like Wheeldon Jr. and Smyrniotis have really proven themselves over the past two seasons and beyond after doing their part ‘in the trenches’ at the grassroots level.

The conversation on the podcast eventually turned to whether Isacco himself deserves a call back up to the professional game, though he shied away from any kind of ‘self promotion’: he says if one is put into a culture to work with players are a certain level and develop them, that’s important too – though whether they get the next opportunity remains to be seen.

A lot of good coaches have already proven themselves and earned that pedigree and are moving forward. If I’m one of of those coaches that has to stay in the trenches, and I have to work hard to find that next Mark-Anthony Kaye and give them to whoever’s running TFC, or find those Junior Hoiletts or those Jaime Peters or those Andrea Lombardos of the world, so be it. We have to be at this level.

Carmine Isacco

The former Nine Stripes assistant coach had assumed head coach duties while Jim Brennan was completing a UEFA coaching course, but has never been tasked with a full head coach role at the professional level thus far. The six-time recipient of the OUA Men’s Coach Of The Year and YRSA Hall of Fame inductee, it seems, is set to continue developing athletes at the U SPORTS level.

The Canadian Premier League is nearing its final week in a Winnipeg-based bubble before teams return to their home markets for the first time since 2019 (and, in the case of Atletico Ottawa, for the first time ever). Smyrniotis’ Forge FC currently finds itself in second place, with Wheeldon Jr.’s in fourth.

Source: The Soccer Show

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