Drip rankings: What each MLS coach’s style says about their team’s playoff chances

Quick Hits
  • One thing has been missing in our coverage of the MLS playoffs: analysis of each coach’s sideline style
  • So today, we’re breaking down each remaining MLS coach’s drip. The better the team’s manager fairs in the drip rankings, the better chance that team has of lifting MLS Cup

People tend to overrate the impact that managers have on games. 

Sure, they make the lineups, organize tactics, and determine substitutions. But in the end, games are won and lost by what the players do on the field and not what managers do on the sidelines. For that reason, you can make an argument (perhaps not a very good one, but you can make one) that vibes are actually the most important contribution a manager can bring to a game.

What absolutely nobody has talked about so far in the MLS playoffs is the impact that the vibes transmitted through sideline fashion could have on the remaining eight teams’ MLS Cup chances. As someone who once rode in an elevator with Tim Gunn, there’s probably no one out there who is more qualified to rank the impact of each remaining MLS coach’s drip. The better the team’s manager fairs in the drip rankings, the better chance that team has of lifting MLS Cup. 

It’s rankings time.

8. Nick Cushing, New York City FC

Nick Cushing may have been on the sidelines for the most impressive win so far in this year’s playoffs, but NYCFC’s interim manager finds himself at the bottom of the style rankings. New York City’s position at the center of the United States’ fashion scene seemingly has had no impact on Cushing. He leans heavily on the team-branded coaching gear on game day and for most games looks like he just came straight from the practice fields. 

Cushing’s style gives strong “I became a high school physical education teacher who loves talking about their short minor league baseball career so I could wear my athletic gear to work every day” vibes. Not exactly what you want if you’re hoping to repeat as MLS Cup champions. If City Football Group had any sense, they’d be getting Nick some tickets to Fashion Week next spring.

7. Josh Wolff, Austin FC

If Josh Wolff ever decides to leave coaching, he could pivot to becoming a golf pro without changing anything in his wardrobe. Wolff’s favorite green polo screams “country club” more than it does “Austin are going to MLS Cup”. 

Every time I see him talking to players on the sideline, I can’t get over the feeling that he was telling them to keep their head down and make sure that they hold their follow through. The green color is a nice touch to fit in with Austin’s Los Verdes branding, but Wolff needs to go beyond the expensive department store look that I bought with my dad’s credit card to stylistically inspire his squad. 

6. Nico Estevez, FC Dallas

Here’s a fun fact for you: cognitive psychologists who study how color impacts people describe the use of black as ”formal”, “dignified”, and “sophisticated”. Those are three words that I’ve never heard anyone use to describe someone that wears a short-sleeve vest over a long-sleeve shirt like Nico Estevez did on Monday night in FC Dallas’ first round win over Minnesota United. 

In Nico’s defense, he has a fashion leg up on former Dallas manager Oscar Pareja (who I’m pretty sure was born in an Adidas tracksuit), but that short sleeve vest can’t hold a candle to some of Luchi Gonzalez’s looks on the sideline for Dallas.

5. Pat Noonan, FC Cincinnati

This past weekend’s matchup between the New York Red Bulls and FC Cincinnati pitted two coaches with similar soccer philosophies and similar sideline styles against each other: the t-shirt loving Pat Noonan and Gerhard Struber. Frankly, it was obvious that Noonan’s team won both the chess match on the field and the far more important battle on the sidelines. ]

Either Mr. Clean just isn’t a thing in Austria or no one in the Red Bulls’ organization has had the courage to inform Struber of his doppelganger.

Now, looking at Noonan’s t-shirt, I get strong “I work at a West coast tech startup and will tell you about how we’re building a suite of products that is about to disrupt the market so hard the market won’t even know what hit it, whether you like it or not”. And you know what? That vibe fits quite well with how Noonan has helped rebuild FC Cincinnati. Gone are the dull old ways of winning the Wooden Spoon every year. In their place is an exciting and innovative FC Cincinnati looking to disrupt the MLS Cup playoffs. 

The t-shirt fit doesn’t work for everyone, but it works well this year for Noonan and Cincy this year.

4. Greg Vanney, LA Galaxy

So far, Greg Vanney is the only winning coach in this year’s MLS playoffs to wear a suit jacket. While the suit jacket is a conservative look and can be drab if it falls into the wrong hands (yes, we’re looking at you Adrian Heath), Vanney spiced things up with the dot pattern. 

The whole setup exuded a classical and professional, yet somehow bold look that the LA Galaxy will try to replicate on the field as they get ready to face the Supporters’ Shield winners LAFC in a playoff edition of El Trafico this Thursday. Bring the dots back against LAFC, Greg. Bring. Back. The. Dots.

3. Wilfried Nancy, CF Montreal

The black overcoat has been a foundational element of Wilfried Nancy’s style ever since he took over as CF Montreal’s manager. 

It’s a straightforward, versatile piece that classes up (yes, “classes up” is a technical fashion term) any outfit. And, let’s not overlook how practical that overcoat is in the colder Canadian climate. It’s exactly that type of practical style – based on a simple, yet ruthlessly effective possession-based attack – that has Montreal buzzing towards this year’s MLS Cup.

2. Steve Cherundolo, Los Angeles FC

Steve Cherundolo is a bit of a wildcard for me. Since LAFC got a first-round bye after winning the Supporters’ Shield, we didn’t get any swag last week to compare to the rest of the field here. But then I found this picture of Cherundolo. 

Doesn’t he look like a guy who is getting ready to ride his motorcycle down to Napa Valley? Or a guy in your book club who actually read the book (c’mon Steve, you’re making the rest of us look bad)? Or a guy at the trendy brunch spot getting ready for his avocado toast on artisan sourdough? Let’s face it: Steve just might be better than the rest of us. He’s going to need to keep up those elite vibes to help LAFC manage the postseason pressure as they search for their first MLS Cup.

1. Jim Curtin, Philadelphia Union

We all knew this was coming, didn’t we? Jim Curtin is a super-hip guy with transparent glass frames and enough sneakers in his closet to match every outfit

But what I want to know is how this super hip guy replaced pre-pandemic Jim Curtin. Do you remember that version? Yeah, I’m talking about the slightly stylistically challenged, more-likely-to-be-wearing-an-oversized-suit-than-anything-else Jim Curtin.

If you view fashion as a reflection of our own personality, hip Jim Curtain is a perfect fit for the Philadelphia Union’s sporting philosophy. After all, what’s hipper than scouting and signing unknown talents from the German third division? People dig that stuff.