Welcome to Major League [Sweaters]

by on 16 March 2015

With all the talk about Minnesota United FC moving to Major League Soccer, there will be an onslaught of information on the new league. People like Jon Marthaler will give you primers on “useful” informationlike teams and stand-out players. But this is soccer, the sartorial sport, so we need to talk about what’s important: MLS is a sweater league.

Up until recently, there were two kinds of soccer managers: the suit manager and the tracksuit manager. The man in the suit is the metropolitan tactician. He is young, urbane, and employs a false nine. The man in the tracksuit plays a Four-Four-Bloody-Two, has spittle running down his chin, and lets the boys know that it doesn’t matter if he had his knee replaced with mahogany last year, if they fail to produce, he’ll sub himself in there and score a hat-trick.

Then came Pep Guardiola. The former player is a tactical genius, causing a tiki-taka revolution a few years ago with Barcelona. But, he also has the blood and thunder of a former player.The Bayern Munich coach doesn’t just have his teams play “total football,” he himself dresses total football bursting through your antiquated sartorial binary.

But how does Pep do it? How can a man be both suit and tracksuit, you ask? A sweater. It’s not just any sweater, though. It is a dark, tight sweater that accents the lean physique, clinging to a shirt and tie. It’s the tight pants to match, but mostly it’s the sweater.

Major League [Sweaters]

This brings us to MLS, a league that in recent years has become dominated by sweaters. It makes sense–many of the best managers in MLS have been recently retired players, players who have been known for their athleticism who now want to assert their tactical acumen.

But not all sweaters are created equal. How the manager employs the sweater says quite a lot about them. For example, MLS lost one of its premier sweater-donning gaffers in Mike Petke.

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Petke employs what we call Community College English Professor Chic. A rough and tumble player himself, Petke became a more sophisticated manager while retaining his salt-of-the-earth style. Hence, the sweater vest. It says, “I’m going to employ a 4-4-2, but only if I’ve got Super-Frenchman Thierry Henry on the wing. And by the way, make sure you use MLA format for your citations. None of this Chicago style crap.”

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Gregg Berhalter dresses in what I like to call the Kierkegaard. Berhalter spent most of his playing career in Europe, but he was one of the first Americans to manage in Scandinavia. I credit his stint as manager of Sweden’s Hammarby for solidifying his style. It’s a style that says, “Either we press high on the pitch and force the opposition to turn over the ball, Or we play quick on the counter-attack.”

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Pablo Mastroeni’s Colorado Rapids would never be accused of playing tiki-taka. No, like their fearless leader, they stick to the Daniel Plainview style of soccer, a style that merges sweater tactics with a burly mustache and soul patch.

Mastroeni wants to send the message, “Hello, my name is Pablo Mastroeni and this is my boy, Dillon Powers, I drink your milkshake. I drink it up.” The problem for Colorado fans is that often by the second half, they feel as if they are the ones who have been bludgeoned to death in a bowling alley.

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FC Dallas’s Oscar Pareja wears his sweater in the most Henry Rollins style of soccer. Black on black, oh and here’s a little red just to say, “I’m bad ass.” Hoops have responded on the pitch. They boast the speed devilry of Fabian Castillo and the hard-man villainy of Blas Perez and his bull [devil?] horns.

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In the above photo, we have a tale two coaches. On the left is Ben Olsen, DC United’s manager who took the reigns after retiring as a player. Olsen will sometimes don a suit, but often opts for the Ben Stiller in Royal Tenenbaums route. But next to him is Jay “Ivy League” Heaps. Jay also moved into coaching after retirement, but where Olsen holds on to his playing days, the New England Revolution manager keeps it in the trophy case of his summer home on Martha’s Vineyard, next to the ship in a bottle that is a replica of his actual yacht.

Both coaches have had great success as young managers (Olsen won the US Open Cup and Heaps took his team to the finals). But whereas Olsen’s team is heavily composed of veterans (some of whom actually played with him), Heaps embraces the youth pipeline like a CEO embraces the free labor of interns.

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Frank Klopas is the secret sweaterer. He went gray a long time ago, but as a bald man, let me tell you, looking old takes a big toll. Klopas looks at all these Young Turks around him and wants to be part of the cool crowd. “Hell,” he says, “I coach in Montreal! They have that band The Arcades Fire! I’m hip!”

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By god, look at this man. Just look at him. I couldn’t even get more than a slip of his sweater in the picture because of that face and that hair. This, my friends is Jesse Marsch. He wears a style I call The Jesse Marsch. He is the one man to stand forehead to forehead with David Beckham. You look at this picture and you understand why Assistant Professor Petke got canned at New York Red Bulls so they could bring in Marsch. I don’t know what this look says about Marsch’s tactics. He was pretty decent as manager of Montreal, but really I’m just in love with this man.

What were we talking about again? Oh right, sweaters.

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Sigi Schmid wears sweaters. I’m going to be straight honest with you and say that I didn’t expect him to be a sweater-wearer. His choice is the unexpected sweater chic. A scarf tightly pulled into an urbane twist, sure. But a sweater?

The truth is that Schmid has been wearing sweaters since before Jay Heaps could say, “investment bank.” And he’s been winning as long too.

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Toronto FC’s Greg Vanney represents his city well. Toronto is a large, hip metropolis that is always having to remind people that it is a large, hip metropolis. I mean, the dude isn’t even wearing a tie.

Greg Vanney and his open neck are here caught looking into a future when the two of them have led Toronto FC into the play-offs for the first time in the team’s history. Sure, it happened because MLS created an extra playoff spot and moved two playoff teams to the other division, but Vanney’s sweater doesn’t bother with details. It knows that it will be cast in bronze for a museum in just a few more years.

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Carl Robinson of Vancouver Whitecaps is subject to general Canadian laws that prohibit the wearing of a tie beneath a sweater. Canadians, you know, are uncomfortable with formality. But Robinson brings his Welsh style to bear on his outfit and tactics. There is a hasty aggression in his choice of blue shirt that you just don’t see in the pressed, stiffness of Greg Vanney. Speed, agility, these are what Robinson lives for.

The Non-Sweatered

Major League Sweaters is bound to have some of the old guard who refuse to adapt to new styles.

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Caleb Porter, author of “Porterball” and manager of Portland Timbers, does not wear sweaters. However, once I was sitting in a bar where he came in and placed his puffy vest in the chair across from me so he could mingle, vest-less. So, I guess he’s in the puffy vest league.

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Philadelphia Union’s Jim Curtin does not wear sweaters because they were none on the sale rack at Old Navy.

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Adrian Heath of Orlando City is English. Have you ever seen an Englishman in a sweater? It doesn’t happen. It just doesn’t. He instead opts for the mid-level drug boss in Transporter 17, coming Fall 2016.

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Sporting Kansas City’s Peter Vermes does not wear sweaters because sweaters are for sissies. Peter Vermes isn’t a sissy. In fact, sweater-wearers have to do an extra thirty push-ups in Vermes’s gym class. Vermes opts for his own look, called the PE Teacher.

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Jason Kreis, head coach of the new New York City FC should wear a sweater. He’s young, he’s a bright future managerial star, he plays a midfield diamond, he is in New York City. But if you want to ask the man in this photo why he is not wearing a sweater, then go ahead, but I’m frankly afraid of him.

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Finally, there is the main sweater hold-out, Lord Bruce Arena of the Los Angeles Galaxy. Do you want to know why Lord Arena does not wear a sweater? Because Lord Arena wins trophies and dudes who win trophies with the regularity that he does know that you need to wear a wind-breaker because the champagne you drink at celebratory press conferences—again, with regularity—can wash out of a warm-up jacket far better than a cotton-blend sweater.

Not Mentioned: Dom Kinnear and Jeff Cassar are not sweater people. I hope they don’t take it personally that I don’t bother explaining to you why.

Preparing for MLS

This brings me to a final point that will bring it home for Minnesotans. Head Coach Manny Lagos could very well find himself managing an MLS team in a few years. What kind of manager is he? He is decidedly not a sweater coach. Mostly, he’s a tracksuit coach, but when games start getting important he has been known to don a sports coat. There was even a classic moment when he became so enraged with a referee’s call that he threw said coat on the ground.

The point is this: Minnesota is headed for the major leagues. The Major League of Sweaters, specifically. Lagos, if he is going to survive the jump, needs to adapt. I suggest a black cotton sweater with a charcoal gray shirt underneath. No tie. You don’t want to go full Henry Rollins like Pareja, but you want to indicate that you are not a manager to be trifled with.