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USL Top Five – Head Coaches

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 09/28/17, 5:33PM EDT


Who might be the leading candidates to take home USL Coach of the Year?

Photo courtesy Tom Smedes / Reno 1868 FC

As the end of the regular season continues to draw near, we continue our look at who might be in the frame for end of season honors. After previously examining the players who could be among the favorites for the USL Goalkeeper of the Year and Defender of the Year award, this week it’s the turn of the sideline maestros who have led their team to success in 2017.

Figuring out the criteria for what makes a Coach of the Year candidate can be tricky. As impressive as engineering a major turnaround in a club’s fortunes can be, building sustained success is certainly a laudable achievement as well.

Here are five Head Coaches we think have proven key to their team’s success this year. Let us know in the comments here or on social media who you think should take home the silverware.

Mark Briggs, Real Monarchs SLC

Photo courtesy Real Monarchs SLC

Mark Briggs didn’t start the USL regular season as the Monarchs’ Head Coach, but when Mike Petke was promoted to become Real Salt Lake’s top man in April, Briggs stepped into the role with aplomb. A former player, Briggs may have benefitted from a strongly-built squad that has seen a number of players shine this season, but his attention to detail was key to the side hitting the high notes it has in the 2017 season.

With a USL-record nine-game winning streak that ran from April into June under the team’s belt, Briggs and the Monarchs are looking to claim the first silverware in club history, as it leads the race for the USL Regular Season Championship. Then, the USL Cup Playoffs await, and the chance for Briggs to try and match his feat of reaching the USL Cup Final, which he did in 2012 as a player, from the sidelines.

Mike Jeffries, Charlotte Independence

Photo courtesy Charlotte Independence

The progression the Charlotte Independence have made under Head Coach Mike Jeffries has matched the general sideline demeanor of the man himself – deliberate and focused. From just missing a playoff berth in the club’s first year to a solid playoff position in year two, the Independence are now looking at hosting their first playoff game in club history when October comes around.

There have been standout performers, of course, with Enzo Martinez putting in an even better season numbers-wise than when he was an MVP Finalist a year ago. Jeffries has been excellent in guiding the way forward, though, with the right in-game management and squad rotation allowing the team to continue its upward trajectory in the USL Eastern Conference. 

James O’Connor, Louisville City FC

Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Louisville City FC finished second in the USL Eastern Conference in its first two seasons, and despite once again seeing the club’s leading scorer depart in the offseason, the club will do one better in 2017 after clinching the No. 1 seed in the conference on Wednesday night. That’s in large-part thanks to James O’Connor, who has managed his roster magnificently to bring the best out of players and keep Louisville among the league’s elite for a third consecutive season.

O’Connor’s attention to detail on the field and in practice has been key to keeping the club’s standard high, with the likes of forward Luke Spencer and Oscar Jimenez having breakout seasons in their first year at the club. With City leading the Eastern Conference in goals scored and in the race for the USL Regular Season Championship, City’s fans could have plenty to celebrate by the time the season is over.

Ian Russell, Reno 1868 FC

Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

Putting together the pieces on an expansion franchise can be a tricky process, but it’s one that first-time Head Coach Ian Russell has achieved in tremendous style to help 1868 FC notch a record-setting season. After a five-game winless streak to start the franchise, the side has gone 16-3-5 since to earn a place in the postseason, an outside chance at the USL Regular Season Championship, and the USL single-season scoring record.

Russell has certainly had good pieces to work with, but the manner in which he has brought the side together to play cohesive, attacking soccer has been wonderful to watch. Reno sports a 13-game undefeated streak at Greater Nevada Field going into Saturday night’s potential top of the Western Conference clash against Real Monarchs SLC and is going to be a serious threat when the USL Cup Playoffs arrive.

David Vaudreuil, Tulsa Roughnecks FC

Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

The Roughnecks haven’t quite gone from worst-to-first in David Vaudreuil’s first season in charge, but the difference between last year’s team and 2017’s model has been one of the most notable stories in the USL this season. Vaudreuil’s sharp sideline attire has been matched by his side’s sharp attacking play that has put the Roughnecks on the verge of the first playoff berth in their history.

Vaudreuil’s overhauled roster, led by newcomers, such as Juan Pablo Caffa and Fabian Cerda and Chicago Fire loanees Joey Calistri and Collin Fernandez, has come together in impressive fashion. That’s a testament to what Vaudreuil has brought on the sideline, pushing the right buttons to drive the team forward to its first victory in the Black Gold Derby series, more than doubling the club’s point total from a season ago and potentially tripling its win total, with four games to go.

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