August 10, 2014
READY FOR A RETURN
Ex-MetroStars coach Octavio Zambrano wants an MLS coaching job
By Michael Lewis
|Octavio Zambrano: "MLS is very unique. The record of having the experience of being a very good coach is not enough."
Photo courtesy of MLS
It is time, Octavio Zambrano says, it is time to return to Major League Soccer.
After coaching stints in Moldova, Hungary and Colombia, one of the most successful coaches in league history is looking to catch on again as a head coach.
Given the league's growth in recent years, Zambrano hopes there is a position open for some like himself who forged his MLS reputation as an attack-minded head coach for the LA Galaxy and the MetroStars. Most recently, he was an assistant coach with Sporting Kansas City from 2010-2012, helping to build the 2013 MLS Cup champions.
While the 56-year-old Zambrano has experience coaching teams in the United States, Europe and South America, he felt that his background in MLS makes him a viable candidate for a job. He noted that MLS is unlike any other league in the world because its numerous rules, salary cap, many restrictions and unique culture, is not necessarily for every coach.
"There are a lot of experienced coaches out there and good ones," he said in a recent interview, adding that having an MLS background enhances "the different situations you are able to deal with.
"MLS is very unique. The record of having the experience of being a very good coach is not enough."
Zambrano then rattled off other coaching responsibilities, including scouting college talent and the MLS SuperDraft, the latter which is foreign to the rest of the world.
"Knowing the inner workings of the league is crucial for success," he said. "It is my mentality, my ability to put winning teams on the field -- the LA Galaxy and New York -- one of the most exciting teams to watch. And in Kansas City as well.
"That idea on how to play the game, that philosophy of playing entertaining, attacking football; that is an important aspect I can bring to an MLS team or any team for that matter."
During his years in MLS, Zambrano forged one of the most successful won-lost records. He directed the Galaxy to a 24-8 mark in 1998 while the team tallied a league-record 85 goals in 32 games. He moved to the MetroStars and guided the side to one of its most successful seasons in 2000, as the team went from worst to second in the league with the most exciting side in club history.
Zambrano also forged the best winning percentage in MLS coaching history at 66.4 percent, registering a 39-17-11 mark over 67 games.
During his three-year tenure with the MetroStars (2000-2002), Zambrano created the first reserve team, MetroStars Black.
"We were ahead of our time," he said. "We were trying to push the envelope. Now all of the teams have this. The teams see the necessity of having an Academy and a second team. Right now, it's the standard. Everybody is doing it."
After the MetroStars failed to reach the post-season in 2002, Zambrano was fired after the season.
While waiting for another MLS head coaching opportunity Zambrano has hit the road with the emphasis on road. During three years at CS Tiligul-Tiras Tiraspol in Moldova, he took a team that was threatened with relegation to fourth-place finish in 2009. He moved to FC Tabánya (Hungary) before joining Kansas City later that year, helping head coach Peter Vermes build a model MLS club. Entering the weekend's action, KC leads the Eastern Conference by two points over D.C. United.
Then it was on to direct Deportivo Pereira in Colombia's Categoría Primera B in 2012.
"I harbored a possible return to the United States as a coach," he said. "But this is an unpredictable business. I never counted on the offer coming from Colombia."
And Zambrano never counted on what transpired there as well.
"That experience was an incredible one," he said. "You have to deal with issues you don't have to deal with in Europe and the United States. There is an abundance of talent in South America and Colombia; technically outstanding players who did what you wanted them to do."
Zambrano experienced both the glory of winning on the field and the challenges of keeping together a team when the money gets tight off of it.
In the fall season in 2012, Deportivo Pereira broke the record of points obtained in a single season by any Colombian pro soccer team, earning 43 out of a possible 54 points as the highest scoring side in the league and the one with the best defense. The club also went unbeaten at home for 11 months and 20 days.
"We had a good sponsor in the 2012 tournament," Zambrano said. "The finances were accounted for.
"Next year we had a little bit of problems with the finances. When you have a group of guys who are paid on time ... they are going to perform better."
When the club ran a month behind in players salaries, it became more difficult for Zambrano to prepare the team.
"You expect them to perform in practice every day," he said. "It makes you a little creative in motivating them ... You just have to be there to understand it."
"It was difficult to keep guys motivated."
And it was difficult to keep the team at such a high level and winning. Zambrano left the day-to-day management of the team and before eventually resigning last November. He said he "left on good terms."
Zambrano was ready to attend the World Cup in Brazil when he received an offer he couldn't refuse -- to be a TV World Cup commentator an analyst for the Ecuavisa Broadcasting Network in Ecuador during the World Cup. The learning curve was great for him. His studio presence and analysis was fine, but the homework before each day's broadcast was immense. Despite all of the information he had accrued from the day's games, Zambrano soon learned that he had only a certain amount of time to talk about it. So he learned quickly how to put the puzzle together.
"I was thinking of going to the World Cup just to enjoy it," he said. "I didn't want to have responsibilities, just to have fun."
"There was a lot of hours watching games on TV and analyzing strategy. You have to explain why this formation was used and why a coach uses this player. And you can't take it back. You're on live TV. You have to be very well informed."
"I have a higher level of respect for people who do that. It gave me a view into that world and it was very enriching as well."
While he is a native Ecuadorean, Zambrano has never coached professionally in his home country. The World Cup gig certainly gave him a much higher profile.
"I got recognized by a lot of people over there and have had some interesting approaches from Ecuador [clubs]," he said. "That is something I have to consider at some point."
While Zambrano would consider a post anywhere in the world, he is eyeing one in the states.
"If you were to rank any of the countries and markets that are really growing, the United States probably is NO. 1 in that sense," he said.
Zambrano said he came close to securing the FC Dallas head coaching position earlier this year as the club opted to name former Dallas player and assistant coach Oscar Pareja, who was with the Colorado Rapids at the time. The Ecuadoran native flew to Dallas twice for interviews.
"Things were going well," Zambrano said. "I thought I was going to get the job. It was Oscar returning to get the job."
Zambrano said that he holds no animosity towards FC Dallas. He understood about a former assistant coach and player returning to what is essentially his home club. It has happened many times in many sports.
So, the search goes on.
While Zambrano is seeking a No. 1, he certainly won't turn down being an associate or assistant coach if it was the right fit. He said he enjoyed his time in KC and with Vermes at so many levels. Not only has Vermes build a soccer team, but a program and style that follows a certain philosophy.
"I did that with Kansas City," Zambrano said. "It was a great experience. The time I spent with Peter was valuable time. We set out to build a top-notch team. We transformed a team that hadn't been in the playoffs for [two] years. We were only one goal from the final [in 2011]. I don't want to get credit for everything. I had something to do with it.
"I am not against it. I've had my time in the spotlight. It's about doing quality work."
Which is something that Octavio Zambrano knows something about already.