The cool thing in MLS in recent years has been to hire former players as coaches and to management positions. It's an outgrowth of a couple of generations of players cycling through their careers entirely in MLS and then getting a chance at these jobs. At present, 14 of 20 MLS teams have a former MLS player coaching their team. On the front office side, there are numerous examples around the league, at a variety of positions.
So John Thorrington's appointment as LAFC's first soccer operations person on Tuesday absolutely fits in that pattern. He's young (just 36), he played for several teams in MLS, from a decent club (Chicago Fire during the Blanco days) to an expansion team (Vancouver Whitecaps) to one of the worst teams ever that still somehow won a trophy (D.C. United).
He's also got experience abroad, in Manchester United's system, among other clubs. Thorrington name-checked former Man U coach Sir Alex Ferguson in his introductory press conference, and said he still maintains contact with the Scot. If that's the case, I guess it can't be considered a bad thing.
The hope has to be that Thorrington will be the next version of Garth Lagerwey, a player who didn't immediately jump into the management side, going to law school and working as a lawyer before becoming a successful MLS GM. Thorrington, who's finishing up his MBA, has that classroom component, too, and certainly came across as bright at Tuesday's press conference.
But of course the question is whether the experience as a player and connections and book smarts can actually translate to success in running a soccer team. That's a whole different kettle of fish.
And obviously there is no way of fairly evaluating Thorrington for the job at this point. No matter his experience level, there is an enormous amount of pressure, on some level, to build an expansion team well from the start. For MLS clubs that are not jumping up to the first division with a team already in place, like LAFC, the task is all the more difficult.
A person who has built MLS clubs before could very well fail, too. All expansion teams except the Seattle Sounders since 2005 have missed the playoffs their first season.
But there is big risk in taking someone who has never done this before and tasking him with getting it all right. And even if he does the best he can within the rules provided, it still may not quite be enough, as Orlando City found out this year.
But...there's also the hope that Thorrington can be the next Garth Lagerwey. Yes, he has no experience at specifically building a team from scratch, but there are only a handful of people around who have that experience, truthfully. Just because he hasn't done it before doesn't mean he can't.
Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. It will take time to reveal whether John Thorrington was the right man or not for the job, not even necessarily March 2018 as well beyond that. We'll probably jump to conclusions a time or two in the interim. But it will be interesting to see it unfold. For LAFC's sake, here's hoping they truly found the right guy for a big job.
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