On 18th of December Charlotte Independence announced that Jim McGuinness would be head coach for the 2019 season. The North Carolina side play in the USL Championship regarded as the second tier in the American soccer pyramid after MLS. The Glenties man signed a three year contract with Charlotte and after an impressive apprenticeship at Celtic and Beijing Guoan. Working under: Brendan Rodgers, Ronny Delia, Neil Lennon and Roger Schmidt in various capacities, gave him the desire to take on the task as head coach. I will address what went wrong during his tenure.
Success in Gaelic Football
His time as Donegal Bainisteoir led to impressive spell in the county history with three provincial titles and one All-Ireland. Titles were impressive but the process was far more intriguing with McGuinness ability to utilise his sport psychology background. Creating cohesive group willing to push themselves to the limit in search of that elusive All-Ireland. His successful playing career in inter county football gained respect straight away, allowing him platform to implement his vision. I see both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho in his time as manager of Donegal. Guardiola’s playing career with Barcelona helped him by commandeering players from same La Masia background. His understanding with players facilitated quick transition into his philosophy. Mourinho’s endeavour to win whatever the product on field resembled. Donegal’s style from the 2010-2014 had its detractors especially after the famed game against Dublin.
The USL Championship comprises of Eastern and Western conference with eighteen teams each. Without relegation and ten spots per conference entering postseason, time is usually granted. Play-off system should allow managers/head coach time to establish themselves throughout the duration of the season. Despite the format McGuinness first foray into management was short lived and questions will be asked why so? Getting the right players through the door is crucial part of management. initially links to his previous employers proved fruitful with loan signing of American Andrew Gutman and Mark Hill from Celtic. All new additions needed time to adjust to a new team and manager. Replacing Mike Jeffries was always going to be difficult but not insurmountable task. His history as only head coach of Charlotte since their inauguration in 2014 meant there was of course a loyalty and safety with him.
The Unforgotten Ex
Mike Jeffries shadow loomed over McGuinness as he became the general manager of Charlotte. Though of course his presence initially would be seen at outset as mere guidance and to help Jim in his role. Alas, it offered Charlotte owners a quick and experienced alternative. The former manager relationship with experienced pros of Martinez brothers and Jorge Herrera make the transition pretty easy after the dismissal. Jeffries tactics focused on ball retention and his style probably suited the roster more than philosophy earlier in season. Before McGuinness took charge of game he discussed his desire to play a high intensity style reminisce of Klopp’s gegenpressing. Charlotte forward line included Enzo Martinez, Alex Martinez, Dominic Oduro and Jorge Herrera. High calibre players especially in the USL Championship but maybe not particularly suited to high intensity press.
Season started in March 2019 and first two games offered entertainment and spirit with 3-2 defeat to Indy Eleven and 3-3 draw with Atlanta Utd 2.First and only win didn’t arrive until sixth match. As first time manager in a different country maybe it was expected the slow start and starting lineup rotation. One win in fourteen games obviously isn’t good enough for side with more loftier ambition. The style resembled neither an gegenpressing focus or possession based play. The positive draws against stronger opposition was followed by dour draws and defeats against teams supposedly inferior . The exit of the US cup which is basely equivalent to the English FA Cup was another mark against new head coach. A semi pro team from Florida shocked the independence to advance on penalties. A nil-nil draw to bottom side sealed the decision to reinstate Jeffries .
The Ex Returns
The change in management led to instant six game unbeaten run in honeymoon period but eight game run without a win demonstrated a lack of overall depth and quality. Jeffries side ended in 13th place considering he took over with them 17th in table with meager points total its plausible to think playoff position was achievable. The new season USL season under Jeffries started with away win. The Jack’s militia as Charlotte fan group is known will hope for postseason return.
Through Twitter I was able to get opinions of fans, they kindly answered my questions on Jim McGuinness reign. They were obviously skeptical about the appointment, as most football fans would be with first-time head coach. His success in management was in entirely different sport. But unlike maybe other football fans, American support isn’t as toxic and support of new man along with his approach were embraced. They failed to see definitive pattern of play emerge .The fans I spoke too believed that roster should have performed better especially with return of Enzo Martinez from MLS. Uruguayan failed to score during poor start to season. The return of former head coach was welcomed by the supporters in attempt to salvage the season with late sprint into play-off positions. The lack of direction and experience were sighted as clear reasons to act sooner rather than later.
In short I felt it was probably right move by Jim to take the position. Factors like, previous manager being still involved curtailed his journey. The roster probably should of been good enough to clinch 9th or 10th berth into first round of postseason. The ceiling for the team was probably first round win in postseason. Games I watched during the 2019 season led to me agreeing with fans regarding a lack of style. The experience will have taught him many things and I hope he gets another chance at a managerial position or at least stays in the coaching side of the game. Success didn’t follow Jim McGuinness to Charlotte but at least he demonstrated that he is ready for challenge of stepping into hot seat of professional club. The experience will no doubt hinder him in short term but I believe that his soccer journey isn’t over.