TORONTO – They say that modern soccer is a young man’s game. Try telling that FC Dallas manager Schellas Hyndman, who at 61 could become the oldest head coach ever to win an MLS Cup if his team can defeat the Colorado Rapids on Sunday night at BMO Field (8:30 p.m. ET; ESPN, Galavisión, TSN2).
But that wouldn’t be the only myth that Hyndman would dispel with a victory. The other – that college coaches cannot translate their success into MLS.
Before FC Dallas entrusted their team to the former Southern Methodist University head coach, the last coach to make the jump from college directly to MLS was Sigi Schmid when he took over the Los Angeles Galaxy in 1999. That was more than a decade ago.
The major reason why the best coaching talent in college does not make the move? The struggle for credibility.
“You had to get the players to buy into what you were saying because I hadn’t coached in the league before," Hyndman said. “For the players who weren’t finding success with me or [if] I asked them to do things they weren’t willing to do, it was all about, ‘What does he know? He comes from the college level.’”
It was not an easy process and there were casualties along the way, including former captain Pablo Ricchetti. It should come as little surprise that Hyndman had to practically change over the entire roster he inherited.
“I know that Schellas had a lot of work to do to prove to some guys that he deserved to be there,” FCD midfielder Dax McCarty said, "which probably isn’t fair because he had a great pedigree in college."
Added defender Heath Pearce: “There was a lot of stuff going on behind the coach’s back last year. Guys who don’t play of course don’t like the coaches. And we had that stuff in the locker room.”
[inline_node:316330]Hyndman says there was another factor playing against him in the eyes of some players. The owner of the club, Clark Hunt, was his captain during his SMU days.
But in the end this proved to be an asset. The Hunt family showed faith in Hyndman after a particularly poor stretch during the 2009 campaign.
“It was not hard [to stick with him],” Hunt said. “I absolutely had confidence in him the whole way.”
Hyndman said he's indebted to Hunt for this loyalty: “What I am the most appreciative of was that the owners gave me the time to get the right players that believed in me, the credibility,” he said.
The club’s change of fortunes coincided with Hyndman bringing in two players from his SMU days and they would command the locker room upon their arrival at Pizza Hut Park: captain Daniel Hernandez and central defender Ugo Ihemelu.
It had worked the same way for Schmid, who had the support of former UCLA Bruins Cobi Jones, Greg Vanney and Paul Caligiuri in 1999. Bruce Arena was backed by ex-University of Virginia players John Harkes, Richie Williams, Jeff Causey and Jeff Agoos in 1996.
Only three other head coaches in MLS history have made the jump directly from college. Arena won the inaugural MLS Cup with D.C. United, Schmid made the MLS Cup final in his first season with LA and Thomas Rongen owned the best record in the league in 1996 with Tampa Bay. The latter’s credibility lay in a pro career in which he played for famed Ajax Amsterdam.
There may have been risks with each hire, but the results now speak for themselves. FC Dallas will add to the success stories, win or lose on Sunday.
“I knew for years he had the capability of coaching any level,” Hernandez said. “The professional ranks are totally different level. There was an adjustment for him and I knew he would take some time. But I had no doubt in my mind that he would turn it around.”