On Tuesday I charted a pathway on what type of people could fill the vacated general manager role at FC Cincinnati. Today I wanted to provide you with a “long-short list” of possible candidates that we could see over the course of the search. This exercise provided some more and less realistic options than others, but I wanted to have a good mix of GM types that we could see considered.
That there are many great names available or could become available is some realistic scenario playing out as we speak. Does this list excite you? Give us your thoughts at Feedback@CincinnatiSoccerTalk.com.
10-8: Good fit for both club and exec. Should be someone the club interviews.
7-6: Good fit for club and or exec. If interested, this should be someone who is interviewed
5-4: Will get an interview if interested, but that is a big IF.
3-1: Highly unlikely, but could you imagine?
0: You don’t come here for zeroes.
Second in Command – More likely
Brian Bliss: Technical director and VP of player personnel — Sporting Kansas City
Success — Two Supporters’ Shields (2008, 2009) and the 2008 MLS Cup with the Columbus Crew, 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champion and the Western Conference regular-season top finisher in 2018 and 2020. First place in the Western Conference in 2021.
Transfer/roster budget record — Bliss has always been associated with mid-to-low spending clubs with the KC Wizards, Columbus, Chicago and the current version of Kansas City. While under Peter Vermes, Bliss oversees SKC’s player personnel matters while also managing the salary cap, negotiating contracts, holding a scouting role and assisting in player development across Sporting’s professional pathway. Bliss was also instrumental in the signing of designated player Alan Pulido.
Bio — Bliss earned 33 caps for the United States men’s national team over 11 years. As a defender, Bliss played in the 1988 Olympics and the 1990 FIFA World Cup. Bliss has had several senior executive positions including being the technical director of the Columbus Crew (2008-13) and the technical director of the Chicago Fire (2014-15) prior to SKC. Bliss was also an assistant coach in MLS and was the interim head coach of both Columbus and Chicago.
Likelihood –– 9 of 10. Bliss should be on FCC’s list. He should be on any club’s list for that matter. If Bliss wants to return to the big chair, this could be an exceptional opportunity for both club and leader. He brings many skillsets to the position that is badly needed and would be a golazo of a hire.
Will Kuntz: Senior VP of soccer opps and assistant general manager — Los Angeles FC
Success – LAFC has made the playoffs in each of its three seasons 2018 (third), 2019 (first, MLS Cup semifinals) and 2020 (seventh).
Transfer/Roster Budget Record — Kuntz is part of a management team that has signed some of the highest-profile players in MLS including Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela. LAFC has also had success down roster inking Canadian Mark-Anthony Kaye from Louisville City and Eduard Atuesta. LAFC has been towards the top of league spending, ranking sixth this season. It has struggled with domestic signings lately but did succeed early in its tenure with players like Walker Zimmerman, Triston Blackmon and Jordan Harvey.
Bio — Kuntz works closely with Co-President and general manager John Thorrington in managing and assembling LAFC’s roster of players, coordinating the club’s scouting and data analytics departments and managing the salary budget. A member of the New York Yankees front office for 10 years, Kuntz transitioned to soccer as the director of player relations at MLS headquarters.
Likelihood –– 7 of 10. I think this boils down to whether Kuntz is interested. His resume and experience point to him being ready, and the club’s vision seems to be in step with Kuntz’s career path. Another great option should both parties be in sync.
Curt Onalfo: Technical director — New England Revolution
Success — MLS Cup as an assistant coach for LA Galaxy in 2011, 2012 and 2014. Western Conference semifinal in 2007 as head coach of the KC Wizards. New England has made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons — seventh in 2019 and eighth with a trip to the MLS Cup semifinals in 2020. New England is first place in the Eastern Conference with 40 points (2.11 ppg).
Transfer/roster budget record — Onalfo has been a part of many roster builds over his time as an assistant (LA) and as a head coach (KC Wizards, DC United and the LA Galaxy). In New England, Onalfo has been tasked with developing the academy and reserve pipeline with New England II. He has worked with Bruce Arena to bring in quality players to the Revs including Carles Gil, Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou. The Revs rank near the middle of the pack in roster spending this season, which has increased significantly since the arrival of Arena and Onalfo.
Bio — Arena’s right-hand man, Onalfo has served in various roles in MLS and with U.S. Soccer. Highly thought of in most football circles, the Sao Paulo native has overseen the development of many youth setups, including the Galaxy’s Los Dos program. The downside to Onalfo is his tenure in his latest stops. A top-notch assistant, Onalfo has floundered in short stops as the leader in KC, D.C. and LA. He does have many contacts around the game in the U.S. which could help recruit additional quality support staff.
Likelihood –– 5 of 10. You should respect what Onalfo has done in his career, but at this point I am not sure giving him a fourth opportunity to lead a club would be in FC Cincinnati’s best interest. I think there are worse options out there but also significantly better. Can he apply what he has learned from Arena in his most recent stop to propel FCC to success?
Ally Mackay: Assistant general manager — Nashville SC
Success – Seventh place in 2020 inaugural season (MLS Cup semifinal), currently fifth place in 2021.
Transfer/roster budget record — Nashville SC was near the middle of league spending prior to the arrival of DP Ake Loba. Nashville has set the bar for low-spending expansion sides, spending on MLS experience over sell-on potential. The shrewd moves for Walker Zimmerman and Dax McCarty help provide a solid foundation for Nashville in 2020. DP Hany Muhktar has shown to be a very good playmaker in MLS with Mackay helping to pull many of the right levers for NSC.
Bio — Mackay was an agent for the Stellar Group prior to Nashville SC. Based in London, Stellar is one of the largest sports agencies in the world, representing over 200 soccer players worldwide, and has offices in countries around the globe. Mackay utilizde those connections to assist Jacobs in building Nashville’s inaugural MLS roster in 2020.
Likelihood — 4 of 10. Mackay is relatively new at management in MLS, but his stock has to be high due to the success of Nashville. I would think he is to the point where he could be interviewed, but possibly a quality backup option at this point in his career. Very impressed so far.
Craig Waibel: Senior vice president of soccer and sporting director — Seattle Sounders
Success – Real Salt Lake reached the postseason in three of his four seasons as GM 2016 (sixth), 2018 (sixth) and 2019 (third).
Transfer/roster budget record — Waibel was on the cutting edge of bringing along youth players into MLS. During his tenure, academy players featured over 10,000 minutes of play for RSL in 2018 and 2019. Some of these players, including Corey Baird, Justen Glad, Sebastian Saucedo and Aaron Herrera, have become great professionals. Waibel did have some decent international signings along the way, including Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino and Damir Kreilach.
Bio — First off, putting him in the second in command group feels a bit wrong for the former RSL GM. A large reason why he is now in Seattle in a secondary role is due to the environment around embattled RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen. Waibel was named technical director at RSL in 2015 and took over as GM following Garth Lagerwey’s departure to Seattle Sounders FC. Waibel served in that role through the 2019 MLS season.
Likelihood — 1 of 10. While I think Waibel might be the most qualified candidate listed on here next to Vermes, he just began back with Seattle replacing Chris Henderson, who left to go to Miami. If FCC can somehow convince Waibel to come to Cincinnati, it would be a dream hire.
Current GM – Possible given the right situation
Elliot Fall: General manager — Real Salt Lake
Success — Third place Western Conference finish in 2019 as assistant GM under Craig Waibel. Currently in eighth place.
Transfer/roster budget record — After being named as the youngest GM in MLS history in December 2019, Fall was tasked with rebuilding an aged RSL roster. Fall had to retool by adding young DP Jeizon Ramírez, former USMNT forwards Bobby Wood and Rubio Rubin, and international attacker Jonathan Menéndez. He also relied on MLS veterans such as Justin Meram along with a host of academy and Real Monarchs players.
Bio — Fall began as an intern at RSL but learned under top MLS execs such as Lagerwey and Waibel. He assumed the GM role after the departure of Waibel and had been working to make RSL a quality side under the cloud of the sale of the club from Dell Loy Hansen. He has lured some decent names to the club and has played a large part in the development of the its academy and USL side.
Likelihood — 4 of 10. I am concerned that he is not the “flashy” signing that FCC might want to make. He does not have a playing pedigree of some candidates but could be a great GM or second man in charge should the club go the route of a high-level head coach or VP. His job could be up in the air due to the ownership change, so that could make it more likely that he is looking around for other opportunities.
André Zanotta: Technical director — FC Dallas
Success –– Playoff appearances for FC Dallas in 2019 (seventh) and 2020 (sixth). Currently ninth in the Western Conference. Won the 2017 Copa Libertadores in 2017, Recopa Sudamericana in 2018 and Campeonato Gaúcho in 2018 at Grêmio. Under Zanotta’s leadership, Grêmio reached the final of the FIFA Club World Cup in 2017.
Transfer/roster budget record — Zanotta oversees a budget that ranks in the middle to bottom half of MLS. His duty has been to mix a healthy amount of homegrown players around MLS and international veterans in an effort to sell players. He has done an outstanding job of continuing the Dallas development pipeline, ensuring inflows of cash for prospects Tanner Tessmann, Reggie Cannon, Bryan Reynolds, Chris Richards and others.
Bio — Zanotta is an international “GM” that was sporting director of Santos FC and Grêmio. At Santos he was instrumental in the sale of Brazilian superstar Neymar from Santos to FC Barcelona in 2013. Zanotta has signed quality players while at Dallas including Bressan and Bryan Acosta while balancing playing time for young Dallas prospects. He has recently relied more on the international market to help add to the roster and continue the development and productivity of youngsters like Ricardo Pepi.
Likelihood –– 3 of 10. I could see FC Cincinnati as being a project of interest to Zanotta. He has the international contacts the club liked in Nijkamp but also learned the intricacies of the league in Dallas. Increased spending potential in Cincinnati could make it worth considering.
Matt Jordan: Senior vice president/general manager — Houston Dynamo
Success — Fourth in 2017. Never has finished higher than eighth nor made the playoffs in any other season as GM. Eleventh place on 1.00 ppg this season. Has the experience but not the winning track record.
Transfer/roster budget record — Houston is in the bottom five of salary spending for 2021. Jordan has done fairly well with big signings including starlet Mauro Manotas, Matias Vera, Demarcus Beasley and Alberth Elis. He orchestrated the trade for Tim Parker this year and signed USL standout Tyler Pasher who has been very good this season. His addition of Darwin Quintero could be questioned however.
Bio — Jordan joined the Dynamo as their first GM following the departure of Dom Kinnear. Prior to Houston, Jordan was the technical director of the Montreal Impact for four seasons. Jordan has been hampered by an ownership group that hasn’t been willing to spend. The new ownership group could decide to replace Jordan in the winter, possibly making him more interested in FC Cincinnati. His three head coach hires of Owen Coyle, Wilmer Cabrera and Tab Ramos have underperformed.
Likelihood –– 2 of 10. Another situation like Fall. Will the new ownership group continue or bring in its own candidate? I think Jordan could be an interesting candidate especially with his recent track record of signings. He has missed on his fair share, so his “winning-ness” will be heavily scrutinized. Not sure if his pattern of mediocrity would be good enough to be a top-tier candidate.
Coach as GM – If only this were the Winter window
Peter Vermes: Manager and sporting director — Sporting KC
Success — Won the 2012, 2015 and 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the 2013 MLS Cup. Western Conference regular-season top finisher in 2011, 2012, 2018 and 2020. Named the 2019 MLS Sporting Executive of the year and one of the top five winningest coaches in MLS.
Transfer/roster budget record — Sporting KC routinely ranks in the upper half or third in MLS roster budget spending. Vermes up until recently did not spend large sums in the international transfer market. His largest signing happened this past year by bringing in DP Alan Pulido from Guadalajara. He has a strong track record of identifying low-cost international signings while developing college draftees and youth players.
Bio –– Vermes was appointed as the technical director for the Kansas City Wizards in November 2006 and was named manager of the Wizards on Aug. 4, 2009. He is a former USMNT player and U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame inductee. He represents the top caliber of managers and heads of football in MLS.
Likelihood — 1 of 10. Sporting KC ranks at the top of the Western Conference. SKC has great facilities, youth development and a core of top-level MLS players. I would doubt that he would choose to leave an MLS Cup contender for FCC no matter how much the author of this story wants it to happen.
League Office – Wild cards
Lino DiCuollo: Former senior VP of competition and player relations — MLS headquarters
Success –– Limited. Helped chart new rules and MLS collective bargaining agreement while at MLS headquarters.
Transfer/roster budget record — This would be the first time DiCuollo would be in the front office of an MLS club but not his first time negotiating international contracts. A central figure behind the scenes since 2005 in the MLS player department, DiCuollo set roster and budget guidelines, managed transfers and approved contracts for MLS clubs.
Bio — Currently a Senior Advisor at the Kapital Football Group. DiCuollo was an influential member of the league office player department as the longtime assistant to Todd Durbin. According to the Athletic, DiCuollo was considered for a top position in Montreal’s front office before remaining with MLS to finalize the latest CBA.
Likelihood — 2 of 10. Does FCC want to take a risk with someone who has not managed multiple facets of an organization? A potentially great hire in terms of understanding the intricacies of MLS, is DiCuollo equipped with all the skills to be a GM?
Alecko Eskandarian: Director of player development — MLS headquarters
Success — 2004 MLS Cup MVP and champion as a player for D.C. United. NASL Soccer Bowl Champion as an assistant coach in 2013.
Transfer/roster budget record – Eskandarian has not been a member of an MLS front office outside of his season as the technical director of the Philadelphia Union academy. He has however been a part of one of the best non-MLS clubs in the history of the U.S. that saw quality players such as Marcos Senna and Alessandro Noselli and others.
Bio — Eskandarian has over 125 professional appearances as a player including one appearance for the USMNT. His time in management comes as an assistant coach for the New York Cosmos from 2013-17 and as the manager of their reserve squad in the NPSL in 2015-16. He has since moved to MLS headquarters, where he is currently the director of player development. Eskandarian has championed for player health and safety after a concussion ended his career.
Likelihood — 1 of 10. I understand that Eskandarian’s credentials do not equal the others, but he is a well-respected individual that could benefit from being the second in command to a head coach/GM or VP role. He would bring a solid name with MLS headquarters experience to a role at FC Cincinnati which I believe could extend to a successful run for FCC.
Ned Grabavoy: Technical director — Portland Timbers
Meghan Cameron: Assistant director of player personnel — Sporting Kansas City
Luiz Muzzi: Executive vice president of soccer operations — Orlando City SC
Chris Albright: Technical director — Philadelphia Union
Jon Scheer: Director of scouting — Philadelphia Union
Bruno Acosta: Director of recruitment & scouting — San Jose Earthquakes
Jaap Stam: Head coach — FC Cincinnati
Pádraig Smith: Executive vice president and general manager – Colorado Rapids