Who is Juan Carlos Osorio? That depends on whom you ask.
Ask players who have played for him and most will tell you he is a passionate coach whose desire to learn, teach and win have made him a success everywhere he has coached.
The truth is that the second description has been born out of frustration from fans and teams that watched Osorio work his magic only to leave for the next great job. Call the hate from his past places of employment a sort of badge of honor, a reminder that he made those fans love him before they wound up hating him for leaving.
Red Bulls fans would be glad to wind up hating Osorio for leaving. It would mean that he has done what no coach before him has ever done: turn the disappointing franchise into a winner. Osorio has two years to take a pretty talented Red Bulls squad and transform it into a league power worthy of Red Bull's millions and the new stadium set to open in 2009.
The list of coaches who have tried and failed to deliver hardware to the Red Bulls' trophy case is as impressive as it is long. That didn't faze Osorio when he decided to take the job. After all, he had succeeded in England as an assistant coach though he arrived there with very little professional first-division coaching experience. He also had no qualms about making Millonarios his first topflight head coaching job despite the club's status as one of the most strongly supported and closely scrutinized in Colombia.
Can he succeed with the Red Bulls? That is the multimillion dollar question. There is reason to believe he can. The 2007 Red Bulls were an incomplete team but still boasted one of the league's most dangerous attacks. A woefully inconsistent defense and poorly constructed roster, which left the team exposed at key positions, were the key reasons for the team's weak finish after posting an impressive start to the season.
Osorio is an ideal candidate to address the issues the team has. His emphasis on disciplined and quality defending already has him on the hunt for defensive replacements. Osorio's contacts in Europe and South America should be tested to the max as he looks to take advantage of the Red Bulls' very favorable salary cap situation, as well as the appeal that playing in New York has for foreign players.
"I think a lot of players would like to come and play here in New York," Osorio said. "I would hope that I could capitalize on that."
This is an aspect of Osorio's hiring that hasn't been mentioned enough. For the first time, Osorio will take over a team as head coach in preseason with the financial resources and freedom to build a roster as he sees fit. He took over Millonarios before the 2006-'07 season but the club's reluctance to spend money made shaping the roster difficult (and was one of the reasons Osorio left the club).
In Chicago, Osorio inherited the team constructed by former Fire coach Dave Sarachan. He was able to add a pair of players in Wilman Conde and Paulo Wanchope, but the team's dearth of proven goal scorers, and overabundance of defensive midfielders, led Osorio to construct a counterattacking squad that kept numbers behind the ball and attacked teams on the break using Cuauhtemoc Blanco as the captain of a short-handed attack.
The result was a brand of soccer deemed by some as ultradefensive, which led Osorio to be labeled as a coach who prefers winning ugly to playing entertaining soccer. Osorio never made any apologies for his defensive approach, choosing to remind skeptics that fans enjoy winning above all else and teams such as Chelsea have won by emphasizing defense.
Fire fans, the ones who haven't erased Osorio's success from their memory, can attest to how exciting it was to watch the Fire's late-season run and playoff upset of D.C. United.
Does that mean Osorio's Red Bulls will be a defensive-minded and low-scoring team like the Fire?
"Absolutely not," Osorio said. "Fortunately for us, we have people that can score goals in Juan Pablo [Angel], Jozy [Altidore], John [Wolyniec] and hopefully [Dane] Richards will mature to do that too.
"You know, as well as any other sport, that defense wins championships," Osorio said. "I will, without bad-mouthing the previous coach, who I respect greatly, I will try to have a better team defensively because last year the team here showed that it can score goals against anybody, but the other side of the game has to improve."
What must improve, above all else, are the Red Bulls' results. Managing director Marc deGrandpre paid a king's ransom to pry Osorio away from the Fire and both he and his bosses will be expecting Osorio to work his magic yet again. With a two-year contract, Osorio has the time to turn things around. The question now is whether Osorio will give Red Bulls fans a reason to love him before he leaves, be it two years from now or 10 years from now.
Who is next for Chicago?
John Guppy had to be loving life about two months ago. The Chicago Fire were riding an impressive hot streak, fans were making their way to Toyota Park and there was real excitement about the job being done by new coach Juan Carlos Osorio, the man Guppy gave a job to after several other teams passed him up.
Now Osorio is gone and Guppy must try to do twice what so many MLS teams fail to do once, make a good head coaching hire. Based on the names of candidates emerging from Chicago, Guppy has decided to stay within MLS to find his next coach. If he is smart, he will stay even closer to home.
Denis Hamlett has spent 10 years with the Fire, having served as assistant coach under three different coaches since being on Bob Bradley's staff on the 1998 MLS Cup championship team. More than his longevity, it was the way Hamlett handled being passed over for the Fire job last summer that has made him a front-runner, according to league sources.
For those who aren't aware, it is a pretty poorly kept secret that Guppy intended to hire Osorio to replace the fired Dave Sarachan last summer. In fact, sources insist that Guppy was already in touch with Osorio before Sarachan was even ousted (which is ironic and karmic now considering the talk of how Osorio betrayed Guppy by leaving). Hamlett interviewed for the position, and even after learning that his interview was a formality, Hamlett stayed on the staff and served as Osorio's biggest help in making the adjustment to MLS.
Hamlett not only impressed Osorio, he also impressed a Fire squad that developed a better respect for the long-standing assistant. Hamlett also developed good relationships with Fire newcomers Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Wilman Conde that should add to his appeal as Guppy's choice.
So why hasn't Hamlett changed jobs in a decade? Sources close to Hamlett believe he is happy in Chicago. It hasn't been for a lack of opportunities. Hamlett was a finalist for the Kansas City head coaching job that went to Curt Onalfo and he was a candidate for the Toronto FC job, but his interview there left Toronto officials believing that he was happy to be right where he was, in Chicago.
Now Guppy must decide whether to make Hamlett the team's fourth head coach or choose one of the league's top assistant coaches (Paul Mariner and John Spencer are in the running) instead. Can Guppy make the right choice a second time? With an impatient owner breathing down his neck, and a fan base still seething over Osorio's departure, Guppy is facing far more pressure this time around.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.