Out with the Old, In with the Noonan
FC Cincinnati makes the safe, sensible pick today with Pat Noonan as their fourth permanent MLS head coach. The 41 year old has spent the better part of four years in the Philadelphia Union system as an assistant coach to Jim Curtin.
In recent weeks, Jim Curtin had been seen as the “reach” candidate for FC Cincinnati’s head coaching vacancy. Rumors heated up this month about Curtin potentially jumping ship from Philadelphia to take on the same role in Cincinnati. Though it appears the Union successfully kept their coach for the remaining two years on his contract.
Pat Noonan comes to Cincinnati with a decade of professional soccer playing experience including one season abroad in Norway, 15 USMNT caps, and a coaching career that stretches back to 2013. The long-time assistant has been in the running for a number of head coaching positions in the last few years in MLS, but was never able to put pen to paper until now.
In Philadelphia, Noonan and Curtin won the 2020 Supporter’s Shield, finished runners up in the Open Cup in 2014, 2015, and 2018, and reached the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League earlier this year.
Philadelphia’s organizational philosophy has been driven by their general lack of investment: a strong academy system to sell promising young players to Europe and cleverly investing those profits in hard-working and efficient players. The system has proven itself to be successful, and two of the principle architects of that success will now be given much larger budgets to work with here in Cincinnati.
As for a system or style of play, expect to hear quite a bit about a 4-4-2 diamond formation. The diamond midfield has been a hallmark of the Union and has become a fairly uncommon formation as most of the rest of MLS, and the world, have opted for different formations over the years.
Tyrone Marshall’s time as interim manager also saw The FC playing in a diamond formation in his last few runouts in charge. This, along with General Manager Chris Albright’s emphasis on pressing and “in your face” soccer in recent interviews gives us some indication as to how Noonan and Albright will be looking to build their squad.
The 4-4-2 diamond formation notably does not feature out-and-out wingers, opting for wide midfielders who are expected to be equal parts defenders and attackers. This could be the reason why current Designated Player Yuya Kubo was left unprotected in the 2022 expansion draft. Similarly, players like Alvaro Barreal, Calvin Harris, and Issac Atanga could be odd-men out in Noonan’s system.
While Noonan has a great reputation in MLS circles, there are questions as to why he has been unable to land a head coaching gig until now. One mark against him on his resume was his time spent on Bruce Arena’s staff during the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. And while he has been a long-time assistant, he has not been the head coach for a team, until now. Typically new MLS managers have spent time at the youth levels or even coaching in USL.
In fact, Noonan’s coaching resume looks very similar to FCC’s interim manager Tyrone Marshall’s resume as well as Austin FC’s current manager Joshua Wolff’s resume. Both men struggled with their first head coaching assignments; Austin FC finished 24th in MLS last season and Marshall failed to record a single win in 9 matches.
That is not to say fans shouldn’t be optimistic, they should be. Albright and Noonan have a proven track records of success and are both rising stars in MLS off the field. In fact, there is a proven track record of success in MLS with both the Manager and General Manager for the first time in FC Cincinnati's history. That dynamic is sure to put a spring in the step of an organization looking to turn the page on a dark era. Despite the gamble that is a first time head coach with a first time general manager, Albright and Noonan represent the safest bets in MLS.