FC Cincinnati’s Pat Noonan wins 2023 MLS Coach of the Year: How he’s turned the club around

pat noonan

Pat Noonan has been named the 2023 MLS Coach of the Year amid FC Cincinnati’s incredible turnaround during his two-year tenure. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Noonan’s squad became the first team to qualify for this year’s MLS Cup playoffs and has the best record in the MLS (20-9-5) and the most points (69).
  • He led Cincinnati as they captured the Supporters’ Shield, the club’s first trophy since joining MLS in 2019, and a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
  • In 2022, the club hired Noonan ahead of the season and went on to make the playoffs for the first time. This fall, he signed a long-term extension with Cincinnati.

How Noonan turned the club around

FC Cincinnati were a laughing stock in MLS before Noonan took over as coach. In two short years, Cincy clinched their first-ever playoff berth, won their first-ever playoff game and won their first-ever trophy. Noonan is rewarded by being named Coach of the Year. He was voted ahead of finalists Bradley Carnell (St. Louis City) and Wilfried Nancy (Columbus Crew).

FC Cincinnati ran away with the Shield race by the summer, essentially leading wire to wire with 69 points. The team is led by several players that Noonan inherited from the previous regime, including MLS MVP-favorite Lucho Acosta, forward Brandon Vazquez and star wingback Álvaro Barreal. All three played the best soccer of their careers under Noonan.

Noonan’s Cincy teams have thrived with a high-pressing and transition style, most often playing out of a 3-5-2. Cincinnati advanced easily past the New York Red Bulls in round one of the 2023 playoffs. They host the Philadelphia Union, the club Noonan was hired from, in the conference semifinals on Saturday. Philadelphia eliminated Cincinnati last year. — Tom Bogert, MLS staff writer

Noonan among next wave of top coaches

In some leagues, Coach of the Year is awarded as something of a backhanded compliment to the nominee who got more out of their team than preseason projections expected. MLS has bucked that trend in recent years — of the last ten winners, only one won the honor without his team also winning its conference (Tata Martino, whose 2018 Atlanta side narrowly finished second before winning the MLS Cup).

So no, this isn’t a surprise. Nor is it surprising to see the Supporters Shield winner carrying the vote among team staff and players while remaining neck-and-neck in the media vote with Bradley Carnell after St. Louis’ surprising conference title.

Simply put, Cincinnati has been the one team that from Game 1 to Game 34 consistently looked like a title favorite. In his second season, Noonan and the technical staff have established a core of players still in their prime who love playing for this club. It’s especially impressive that he got more out of his team considering their strikers took a step back in production from last year.

In a year that saw longtime American coaching titans Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena dismissed from their jobs, Noonan is rightfully alongside Jesse Marsch and Steve Cherundolo at the forefront of the next wave. — Jeff Rueter, MLS staff writer

Required reading

(Photo: Katie Stratman / USA Today)

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