Friday, December 31, 2010

What makes Akron so attractive

National Champion Caleb Porter on why top prospects chose to attend Akron-

"There are a lot of reasons for kids to come to Akron. Our soccer program speaks for itself. We have the No. 1 winning percentage in the last five years and have been ranked in the top five the entire last three seasons. Certainly the last two seasons, if you ask anyone in college soccer circles, they would tell you we have been the best team in the country, hands down. So why would kids not want to come be a part of the best program in the country and have the realistic opportunity to win a national championship? In addition to that, we are proving that we can develop players as well or better than anyone. If you look at our track record of players moving on and being successful at the next level, that is very attractive to the top talent, who inevitably all want to be professional players one day. That is every kid’s dream: to play professional soccer. For the top kids, this is a very important factor. One of our biggest selling points is the style we play. This style is very unique and a big reason we develop players. There are very few programs if any in college soccer that play the way we play. This is something we’ve really branded Akron soccer on. When kids are looking at programs, they know that Akron soccer plays attractive, attacking soccer and that we develop players. This puts us in a category of our own. In addition to the soccer, our program has developed quite a reputation for having a very special culture of excellence. We’ve created an environment of success on and off the field that is second to none. Our players are developed into high achievers in all aspects of what they do. In the classroom, we had the eighth-highest GPA in the country with a 3.37 GPA last semester. We had 16 players make the dean’s list this semester. We have really good kids that are focused on school and soccer, and they know they will be joining a family with great role models that will shape their lives. Our mission is to “build champions and pursue championships,” and we feel like we’ve proven if you come to Akron, you will become a champion on the field, off the field and as a person. While in the process our players will compete and win [Mid-American Conference] and hopefully national championships during their time in the program. What more would you want??!!!!"

Kidd - "Balotelli needs time to adapt"

Brian Kidd has dealt with a number of star players with unique personalities during his career as the assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, helping develop Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Roy Keane into the United team.

Now as an assistant at Manchester City, he has a new challenge to undertake in getting temperamental prodigy Mario Balotelli to settle into City's team - taking on a task that Jose Mourinho opted to discard at Inter Milan.

Brian Kidd has pleaded for understanding as Mario Balotelli tries to combat the destructive power of homesickness.

In the way of his hat-trick against Aston Villa on Tuesday, the Manchester City striker attempted to play down claims that he is unhappy in the north-west and wants to return to Italy.

Yet manager Roberto Mancini acknowledged the 20-year-old does miss his home comforts in Milan, which presumably explains Balotelli's frequent return journeys, and speculation linking him with a transfer to AC Milan, who finally look ready to challenge for the Serie A title.

After scoring eight times in 11 appearances for the Eastlands outfit, it is hardly a surprise to discover City are not eager for Balotelli to go anywhere, even if his failure to celebrate goals is driving Mancini to distraction.

Assistant-manager Kidd feels there has to be some recognition of Balotelli's plight. A multi-million pound footballer he may be, but Balotelli is also human.

"There has to be an empathy towards players," said Kidd.

"When they do feel this homesickness you don't brow beat them all the time.

"The players have been very good with Mario too. There is an understanding there.

"Everyone tends to look at the materialistic side of things but it is never easy."

Contrary to Balotelli's image, which paints the picture of a lazy, disaffected young man, Kidd reports a striker who is eager for work and popular in the dressing room.

"Mario is working hard in training and all the lads were genuinely pleased for him when he got his hat-trick," said Kidd.

Premier League title is Man Utd's to lose, admits Kidd

The Premier League title is Manchester United's to lose given their track record, according to Manchester City assistant manager Brian Kidd.

The sides head into 2011 level on 38 points with United top on goal difference, and with two games in hand.

Kidd, a former assistant to United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, said: "It's theirs to lose, it's in their hands. You can't get away from that.

"They have been round the block and know how to win league titles."

City are second in the table, two points clear of third-placed Arsenal, with Chelsea a further two points off the pace in fourth.

Despite a recent run of poor form, which produced only one win in seven league games, Kidd said he regarded Chelsea as the other main contenders for the ultimate prize.

"It's the same with Chelsea," Kidd commented.

"Not so much so with Arsenal as it's been five years since they were in the mix - but they [Chelsea] know how to go on and win it."

Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher dismissed Kidd's claims.

"It is just a bit of kidology," Scotland captain Fletcher responded.

"It is still early stages and lot of teams will feel they are capable of winning the league. We are one of them.

"We are in a good position. We are top of the league with games in hand. But it is easy counting the points. You have to win your matches and your games in hand.

"This is the important part of the season when you really need to kick on. After January, when all the big games come on the title run-in, that is when it is important to be playing well and winning games."

Toronto FC to name Mariner as their new coach

Several media outlets reported Thursday that Toronto FC is about to announce former England striker Paul Mariner as the team's head coach.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment officials did not return calls on Thursday.

Mariner, who was an assistant coach with the New England Revolution of the MLS from 2004 to 2009, resigned his job as head coach of Plymouth Argyle on Thursday. Mariner’s contract with the third tier club, which is having serious financial difficulties, ran through the 2011-12 season.

The British press has reported that Mariner, 57, was offered a three-year deal in North America.

Mariner would be the first major hiring after TFC enlisted Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S.-based company to advise on improving the team’s overall performance.

TFC has failed to make the playoffs in its four years of existence, employing five head coaches. In mid-September, general manager Mo Johnston and first-year head coach Preki Radosavljevic were fired, with Dasovic finishing the season.

In addition to coaching against TFC, Mariner has other ties to Toronto. His assistant at Plymouth last season was former TFC coach John Carver.

The two worked together from December, 2009 until August when Carver left to become first team coach for Sheffield United.

Mariner established a good reputation in his coaching stint in New England. During his stay there, the team made it to the MLS final three straight times but failed to win.

While he didn’t find much success as a coach and manager in Plymouth, he was a fan favourite.

The team has won only seven of 20 games this season.

“He was very popular with the fans and not just because of his playing career,” said Plymouth Evening Herald soccer reporter Chris Errington. “He’s well-liked even though things didn’t get any better under him.”

A statement on Argyle’s website confirmed the club had released Mariner to pursue other interests.

“Paul Mariner has asked the club if he can be released from his contract of employment as he has another opportunity that he wishes to pursue,” the statement read.

“Given the outstanding relationship that Paul has with this football club, we have therefore agreed to release him from his contract and wish him all the very best for the future.”

While Mariner’s English coaching record was spotty at best, his playing career was covered in glory.

He was a key offensive force for England in 1982, scoring in six consecutive matches. He scored 13 goals in 35 games for England in his international career.

Mariner started his playing career with Plymouth in 1973 and scored 56 goals in four seasons. He moved on to Ipswich Town for the 1976-77 season, scoring 97 goals in 260 league matches.

He was lured away to Arsenal in 1984, but failed to match his earlier success and was let go after the 1986 season. His Premier League career ended after two seasons with Portsmouth.

After retirement, Mariner worked as a British TV commentator and ran soccer-related businesses until moving to the U.S. in 2003, where he landed an assistant coach job at Harvard.

That led to his being hired by New England.

Whatever coaching magic he had there did not follow him on his return to England in October of 2009, where he worked under manager Paul Sturrock.

He replaced Sturrock two months later, but was in turn replaced last April. The team struggled in his time there and was relegated to a lower division.

Mariner’s departure comes with Plymouth facing the threat of folding unless the club can pay off a tax bill that tops $1.5 million Canadian.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bradley Ranks Among Best Coaching Moments of the Year

This was yet another great and memorable year in sports. Most of the memories start with the product in field, court or floor and that product begins with the coaches.

They shape the identity of their team, prepare them to handle adversity, give them the plays and strategy to succeed and mold the individuals on the roster into one team—a job that is much easier said then done. The Bleacher Report ranked the top coaching moments of the year, and recognized US National Team head coach Bob Bradley for his performance in the 2010 World Cup.

With Bob Bradley's US World Cup Soccer team locked in a 0-0 tie with Algeria and their tournament lives hanging on the line, he kept his players on the offensive. Bradley would not let his team's spirits drop after the referees, for the second time in the tournament, disallowed a US goal.

The match went into extra time and the aggression of the US led to a rebound shot and score by Landon Donovan.

It is impossible to mention coaches in 2010 without bringing up one of the most successful and respected coaches in history, John Wooden. Coach Wooden passed away on June 4, 2010 and his mark can be seen and felt across all sports and walks of life.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Osorio will become the new coach for Chivas USA

Juan Carlos Osorio, a former head coach for the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls who has been coaching in Colombia, will become the new coach for Chivas USA, multiple sources, including a club official, confirmed Wednesday to ESPN Los Angeles.

Chivas USA officials plan to make an announcement after Christmas. The team had been forced to wait until the close of the Colombian season, which ended last weekend.

Osorio, a Colombian-born coach who was educated in the U.S. and received much of his coaching education while serving as conditioning coach at Manchester City in the English Premier League in 2001-06, last weekend won the Colombian championship with Once Caldas.

The other finalists for the Chivas job, the sources say, were Real Salt Lake assistant coach Robin Fraser, a former star defender for the Galaxy and other clubs, and Denis Hamlett, who succeeded Osorio as head coach of the Fire.

Martin Vasquez was dismissed in late October after Chivas finished last in Major League Soccer's Western Conference.

Antonio Cue, Chivas USA's managing partner and president, and interim general manager Jose L. Domene were in Mexico and unavailable for comment.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Onstad embarks on coaching career

Ridge Mahoney of Soccer America looks at the start of Pat Onstad's career as an assistant coach for D.C. United.

In addition to reviving the fortunes of D.C. United, a four-time MLS champion who posted the league’s worst record last year, ex-Dynamo keeper Pat Onstad is looking forward to other aspects of his new role as assistant coach.

“The height thing is going to be a bit of an issue,” says the 6-foot-4 Onstad of his new boss, former midfielder and head coach Ben Olsen, who is eight inches shorter and more than eight years younger. “The age thing won’t be, but the height thing we’ll have to see. I don’t mind the age thing. I’ve been taking orders from a boss [Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear] whose six months older than me for the past seven years, so that’s okay.”

Onstad, 42, officially announced his retirement Tuesday as a D.C. United press release confirmed his appointment as assistant coach. He will serve as second assistant coach and work with the goalkeepers. Chad Ashton has been retained as first assistant.

In eight MLS seasons dating back to 2003, when San Jose head coach Frank Yallop bought out his contract with A-League Rochester, the Vancouver native played on three championship teams, including back-to-back titles with Houston in 2006 and 2007, and was twice named Goalkeeper of the Year. He played 220 regular-season games and recorded 64 shutouts with a 1.12 goals-allowed average, a league record for keepers with more than 10,000 minutes played.

In addition to a USSF “A” coaching license and NSCAA Level II Goalkeeping Certificate, Onstad holds dual bachelor’s degrees from the University of British Colombia in human kinetics and education. He briefly left the game in 1995 to work as a physical education teacher in Vancouver before resuming his playing career.

“I’ve always thought I would teach,” says Onstad, "but by the same token I want to stay involved in the game, so coaching the sport of soccer, I think it’s a perfect fit.”

United just traded Troy Perkins to get back Steve Cronin, who played on loan with it in 2009 and was a teammate of Onstad’s at San Jose in 2004. The 27-year-old keeper joins 20-year-old Bill Hamid, an academy product who most observers believe has great potential.

“I’m excited to work with Bill, I think he’s a great young talent,” says Onstad. “I think he’s got some opportunity to do some really special things not only in this league but in his career. Hopefully, I can be part of that process. I know Steve very well and they’re happy to get him in there. They were happy to have him a couple of years ago. The two of them will be a good tandem.”

During the 2010 season, Onstad sent out feelers about his interest in coaching and discussed a job with the Vancouver organization. When D.C. United announced a few weeks ago it had retained Olsen as head coach, a quick e-mail to general manager Dave Kasper started the process.

“Fortunately, he thought enough of me to give me a shot,” says Onstad, who believes he can contribute to United’s rebirth. “I think so. I wouldn’t want to be involved if I didn’t think I could have some influence on that. We’ve got a great opportunity to improve on last season, a disastrous season by most respects. By the same token, I think the building blocks are there, I don’t think we’re far off from being a competitive team. That’s the nice thing about the league. From the top, it’s relatively easy to slip down to the bottom and you’ve seen teams in our league go from the bottom to the top pretty quickly. That’s certainly one of our goals to start the season.”

Onstad will head east in early January to prepare for the start of preseason training. Wife Becky and their three children will move from Houston in the spring.

Coming from a team that established its own successful tradition and itself won four titles in San Jose and Houston, Onstad is looking forward to working with Olsen, Kasper and president Kevin Payne to restore United’s reputation.

“It’s a fantastic place to play, the history there is tremendous,” he says. “With Dave and Kevin in the front office, you have guys who are experienced and know how to deal with adversity and make the right decisions to push the team back to its winning ways.”

And given the height disparity among certain employees, there will be some side benefits.

“It’ll be fun,” laughs Onstad of the possibilities. “There will be some good team photos of the staff.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Donovan Named US Soccer Athlete Of The Year

Landon Donovan won his fourth US Soccer Federation Male Athlete of the Year award on Monday. Donovan was last year’s Athlete of the Year, and this marks the fourth time he’s won the award.

“I want to thank everyone who chose me for this honor,” Donovan. said in a press statement. “I am very proud to have been part of this team and how we represented ourselves this year. For me, the lasting memories from South Africa this summer will be as much about the amazing support we received from fans across the country as our team’s performance. It certainly meant a lot to all of us.”

Gale Agbossoumonde won the Young Male Athlete award. Abby Wambach won her fourth Female Athlete of the Year award with Bianca Henniger named Young Athlete.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Manchester United-Arsenal smash US viewership record

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America reports on how the recent Manchester United-Arsenal game was watched by 570,000 viewers on ESPN2, making it the most-watched English Premier League telecast on U.S. cable television.

It underscored ESPN's commitment to English soccer. ESPN2 is averaging 324,000 viewers for its 2010-11 EPL coverage mostly on early Saturday morning and Monday midday, 30 percent more than it drew for its 2010 MLS regular-season coverage.

The Man. United-Arsenal telecast out-delivered the previous high -- 526,000 viewers -- for Man. United-Chelsea on April 3, 2010.

The previous high for the current season was 428,000 viewers for the Sept. 25 game between Manchester City and Chelsea.

Through the first 21 matches of the 2010-11 season, ESPN2 is averaging a 0.3 household rating and 324,000 viewers, increases of 50 percent in ratings and 25 percent in viewers vs. the first 20 matches in the 2009-10 season.

According to a report in Sports Business Journal, ESPN2 averaged 249,000 viewers for its 25 MLS game telecasts in 2010, down 12.3 percent from its 2009 average.

ESPN acquired some U.S. cable rights to the EPL last season. The bulk of the EPL U.S. coverage is on Fox Soccer Channel.

First winter World Cup to be studied

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America reports how air-conditioning all or part of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup may not be necessary as FIFA seems to be seriously considering the idea of playing the finals for the first time in winter.

"FIFA's job is to have a World Cup that protects the players so we take note of the recommendations and go through the list of requirements," FIFA President Sepp Blatter told journalists in Qatar in his first visit since the tiny Gulf nation was awarded the World Cup this month. "We will look into this and make the right decision."

Holding the World Cup in winter would involve a change in the international calendar for qualifying and for league play, requiring significant support from leagues around the world.

With temperatures averaging 107 degrees in Doha in the summer, Qatar 2022 proposed air-conditioning stadiums, as well as training venues and fan zones.

It is illegal to work outdoors midday in the summer in Qatar. Many expatriates, who dominate the work force, send their families abroad during the summer.

FIFA executive committee members Franz Beckenbauer and Michel Platini, the UEFA president, both have suggested the idea of moving the tournament dates.

Blatter has also floated the idea of having other Gulf states host games in 2022 but FIFA has reiterated that the support for the idea would have to come from the Qataris themselves.

Porter signs contract through 2020 to stay on at Akron

Caleb Porter, coach of the NCAA champion Akron Zips, has signed a 10-year contract extension with the school.

With success comes rewards. The University of Akron made that clear on Friday when it announced a contract extension through 2020 for Caleb Porter, coach of the NCAA champion men's soccer team.

The Zips defeated Louisville, 1-0, on Sunday in Santa Barbara, Calif., to capture their national championship in any sport. The win marked the third national championship in any sport for a Mid-American Conference school.

Porter's name has been on the lips of nearly every college soccer fan and several athletic directors across the country, as well as professional teams.

But Porter made it clear in a release issued by the univeristy that Akron is home sweet home, as he thanked UA president Luis Proenza and others on the board of trustees.

"With their unwavering support, we were able to achieve our goal of winning the national championship," Porter said. "There are plenty of places to have a coaching career and raise a family, but the University of Akron and this community are truly unique and special.

"I am loyal to Akron and I want to leave a legacy for Akron soccer. I am proud of our program and the success we have had. Over the last five years, the friendships I have made and the support we have received from our alumni, fans and the AK-Rowdies brings meaning to what we do. I look forward to building on our tradition of excellence for many years to come."

In five seasons as Akron's coach, Porter has a career record of 90-13-10 (.841). The Zips have advanced to the NCAA Tournament every year of his tenure and to the national championship game each of the last two seasons, finishing as runner-up in 2009. Their back-to-back title game appearances were the first in Division I men's soccer since Indiana in 2003 and 2004.

Fans have responded to the Zips' success. Akron was seventh nationally in attendance in 2009. This season, they drew an average of 3,213 fans to Lee Jackson Field, the second-highest attendance in the country and an increase of more than 1,000 from last season.

Akron has produced a finalist for the Hermann Trophy -- soccer's version of football's Heisman Trophy -- in each of the last three years. In 2009, the Zips' Teal Bunbury because the first player in school history to win the award. Also, the Zips have had five players drafted by Major League Soccer during Porter's tenure.

Porter is the winningest active coach in Division I men's soccer. He has been named Mid-American Conference Coach of the year four times and national coach of the year once.

"I'm very pleased that the University will have coach Porter for 10 more years," Proenza said in the statement. "I think it's important that we not only reward Caleb for the job he's done, but also give him the support and stability he needs to keep our men's soccer program a successful and nationally respected program for many years to come."

Winning wasn’t the only thing for Lombardi

Vince Lombardi has come back into the mainstream with HBO's documentary Lombardi chronicling the larger than life character.

Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star writes of how the former Green Bay Packers and coaching legend was more than a few motivational quotes.

Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach, has been credited with a long list of memorable quotations.

“Show me a good loser,” he once said, “and I’ll show you a loser.”

“The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

And this: “Winning isn’t everything . . . it’s the only thing.”

For years there were those who’d claim Lombardi never actually said that last one; that his defining mantra was stolen from someone else or cribbed from a John Wayne film. So if Lombardi, the new documentary currently screening on HBO Canada, serves one purpose, it clears up this non-controversy. The 90-minute feature includes previously obscure footage of Lombardi uttering his famous catchphrase, which he once had printed on a locker room wall. And it tells viewers something else: Lombardi would live to regret being associated with those well-travelled words.

We’re in the midst of a Lombardi renaissance. Forty years after the death of the sideline patriarch, Robert De Niro has reportedly been slated to play Lombardi in an ESPN-produced film that’s in the pipeline. And there’s also an excellent Lombardi production currently running on Broadway. (This typist, never confused with a theatre critic, took it in recently and came away impressed, especially with the title-role work of Dan Lauria, best known as the dad from the TV show The Wonder Years.)

Yet despite the ubiquity of his storyline, and the existence of David Maraniss’s acclaimed 1999 biography When Pride Still Mattered, Lombardi remains one of the misunderstood icons of modern sports. For the coach, if winning wasn’t the only thing, it was the usual thing: Before he died in 1970 of cancer, he won five championships in nine seasons as coach of the Green Bay Packers.

But as the documentary points out, the success came with a price. His wife, Marie, is cast as the loneliest of football widows, and you get the idea the coach would have been more supportive of her struggle with alcoholism if she’d been, say, one of his starting linemen. And as for his two children, Susan and Vincent Jr., their HBO screen time is as raw and honest as these things usually get; they grew up viewing their father as distant and, to use Susan’s term, “bipolar.”

But it’s complicated, and Vince Lombardi, the altar boy who liked to describe himself and his football-crazed kind as “madmen,” was a contradictory character. He was the control-freak coach who, in the most crucial moment of a defining victory — the 1967 Ice Bowl between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys — deferred to the judgment of his quarterback, Bart Starr, who suggested the one-yard-line QB sneak that produced the winning touchdown.

And while Lombardi was deeply loved by many of his players who deify him to this day, shallow imitations of his methods have left us with a lamentable effects. You know the screaming, condescending hothead stampeding the sidelines of your 8-year-old’s soccer game? He’s there because Lombardi didn’t just make it acceptable to pursue victory at the expense of being a jerk, he made it the gold standard.

Some have even cited Lombardi’s transcendent popularity as the root of bigger disgraces. He once made the cover of Time magazine, and in his prime he somehow stood outside his sport, the way his 14-foot bronze likeness now guards a gate of the Packers’ stadium. Maraniss’s book tells of a Lombardi-influenced sign that hung in the headquarters of Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign for U.S. president: Winning in Politics Isn’t Everything, It’s the Only Thing.

Nixon and his cronies got caught stealing to win, of course, and therein lies just one misinterpretation of the coach’s legacy. Lombardi didn’t encourage cheating or dirty play. He attended church, his daughter tells us, 365 days a year. He preached team values over individual glory. And as much as his famed 24/7 work ethic helped give rise to the over-coaching so prevalent in today’s games, he valued simplicity over complexity. (While Dallas’s Tom Landry, one of Lombardi’s coaching rivals, derisively referred to Lombardi as “Mr. High-Low” for his emotional swings, Lombardi, Maraniss told a post-show symposium on Broadway last week, similarly looked down on Landry’s intricate systems as doomed to fail under pressure).

Above all, Lombardi did not, the best evidence suggests, believe winning was the only thing. He would frequently lambaste his championship squads after victories, blowouts and otherwise. He didn’t always do the same after rare losses. Perfection was what he was after; excellence was what he’d settle for; winning was the only thing worth striving for, but hardly the only acceptable end.

“(Lombardi) told me once, ‘I wish to hell I’d never said (‘Winning isn’t everything . . . it’s the only thing’),’” Jerry Izenberg, a sportswriter from Lombardi’s native New Jersey, tells the camera near the end of the documentary. “I said, ‘Don’t you believe it?’ He said, ‘What I believe is, if you go out on a football field, or any endeavour in life, and you leave every fibre of what you have on the field, then you’ve won.’”

To rephrase the catchphrase in tune with what Lombardi might have intended: The only thing is giving everything.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

MLS vs Coca-Cola Championship

J Hutcherson wrote a good article about Colorado Rapids' coach Gary Smith's comments recently, where Smith compared Major League Soccer to the English Coca-Cola Championship.

Smith told the League's official site that his MLS Cup champions would beat a team like Coventry "seven times out of 10," taking it that next step by criticizing the physical style of play that dominates the Championship.

England's second division exists for two reasons, winning promotion and not getting relegated. There are no style points involved, no long term sense of security for simply surviving.

No, that's not the dream of the Football League's top division, who would probably prefer to think of the Championship as almost an alternative Premier League. A lot of established teams who understand what it takes to win at Championship level content with their lot in life and not all that interested in a one and done season in the Premier League.

Once upon a time, the lower divisions were stocked with teams more than happy to play relative to scale soccer. They were willing to entertain at whatever level they happened to be at, with promotion not exactly a by-product but also not exactly the point. When a club decided to run up the divisions, it was almost looked at as arrogance with the rest of the English football setup waiting for that club's inevitable slide.

Instead, the current version of the Championship - rebranded and ready to give England that footballing alternative - is about the grind of a lengthy season with clubs responding in kind. For enough, that means the kind of soccer easily identified by lobbing the ball up field and rolling the dice on 50/50 chances.

Call it pragmatic soccer, in too many ways similar to what happens in a Major League Soccer stadium near some of us. What historically keeps MLS from sliding into the doldrums of lower division English soccer is the facade of competitive balance. The League table doesn't offer enough punishment for teams playing badly. All are still technically a win streak away from respectability even very late in the regular season.

Lolla made Cardinals believers

A midfielder for most of his soccer playing career, J.T. Murray’s life was about to change when Louisville soccer coach Ken Lolla decided to switch him to a defender.

It’s turned out to be a great move for the left-footed Murray and the Cardinals. With Murray playing solid at left fullback, the defense allowed only 17 goals this season. It is one of the reasons why the team is undefeated and playing in its first College Cup.

The Cardinals’ defense will face a tough test when it goes up against the uptempo offense of North Carolina in the first national semifinal game of the NCAA Men’s Soccer College Cup on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at UCSB’s Harder Stadium.

The second semifinal pits three-time College Cup participant Akron against newcomer Michigan at 8 p.m.

Murray, the first Cardinal to play in four NCAA Tournaments, was a good left halfback before Lolla moved him to the back line. Murray remembers the conversation he had with the coach about changing positions.

“Coach moved me from left mid to left back, where he knew i could grow as a player and help the team the most,” Murray said in an email interview with “This helped me to see the game from a different perspective, the back instead of midfield, which i had played most growing up.

“At this position, he believed I could have a longer soccer career. I jumped on board and I now feel like a more rounded player from defense to attacking. And, I’m not limited to an attacker’s mentality.”

Besides convincing Murray he’d be more valuable as a defender, Lolla got his players to believe they could win.

Murray bought into it when he was being recruited by Lolla, who had a successful career at Akron before coming to Louisville in 2006.

“i wanted to be part of a program that would compete for a national championship,” Murray said. “Coach reassured me that this was the main priority and that we would be competitive for a NCAA title. That is all I needed to hear and shortly after that i committed to Louisville.”

In his four years in the program, Murray has been on teams that have posted double figures in wins and reached the NCAA Tournament every year.

With its advancement to the College Cup, Louisville soccer has risen from obscurity to elite status.

“The first thing that he brought is a winning attitude, a winning a mentality,” said Murray of Lolla’s impact. “He implements his view and beliefs into the team on an individual level for life success first, and that carries to the soccer aspect. Coach also knows the game very well. He can help players from a coach’s perspective and a player perspective, as he also played highly competitive soccer.

“Ken also has maintained the best coaching staff we could have during the four years i have spent here,” Murray added. “Finally, we are all a tight-knit family which allows us to know that everyone is there behind you, from Ken to the freshmen.”

Coaching your own children

There are a number of reasons that a parent should coach their own children in sports, and it is important that both the parent and their child have a good understanding of their relationship and roles.

Youth and school sports rely on volunteer coaches that are in most cases parents of a participating player. A parent volunteer is most apt to participate if one of their own children are playing – giving that parent the opportunity to be involved in an activity with their child while also being able to watch their child participate.

A major challenge with being a parent coach is balancing the responsibilities of wearing the hat of a coach during a practice or game, and then taking that hat off and replacing it with the hat of a parent for their own child.

Here are some important tips to consider when coaching your own children in sports-

Keep the focus on the process – the two most important reasons that parents should encourage their children to participate in sports at the recreational, youth and school levels are to have fun and to learn valuable life lessons.

Whether the parent coach has a practical level of experience as either a player or a coach, it is important to keep a perspective of why they had enjoyed playing that sport when they were their child’s age. Keeping the game fun and fostering a level of enthusiasm for the sport is a lot more important than learning how to dribble or to shoot. The more enthusiastic your child and their teammates are about the game, the more apt they are to retain coaching points and to improve. Also, the child of the parent coach wants to enjoy the time they have with their parent – creating an environment that is not enjoyable on the playing field could potentially transfer over to their setting at home, too.

I feel strongly that sports offer an experience and lessons that transcend what happens between the lines of a ball field, and that it is a coach’s responsibility to make sure that their players learn those valuable lessons that they can apply to life after sport. That’s probably the coach’s primary role – even more than winning games. As a parent coach, you should take pride in teaching your own child and their teammates lessons about teamwork, discipline, working with others, and dealing with adversity. No one will win at everything they do, and no one gets to be ‘the star’ all the time – sharing these lessons with your own child and their teammates can potentially expand and enrich your own relationship with your child.

Be equitable – when a parent takes on the responsibility of coaching their own child, it is a natural reaction for other parents to question the equity within the team: does the coach’s child get preferential treatment? The best way to provide an environment of equity is for the parent coach to treat their own child as they would any of the other members of that team. Playing their child less or more than other players on the team doesn’t prove a level of equity. The best parent coaches hold their own child as accountable as any of the other players on the team, and rewards or penalizes their child in the same fashion.

‘Players worry less about how much you know, and more about how much you care’ – I was told that saying when I first got involved in coaching years ago, and it applies as much with coaching your own children as anywhere else in sports. Make sure that your own children know that the primary reason you are a parent coach is to spend more time with them, and that winning and losing are secondary items.

Be honest with your own intentions – if a parent is coaching their own child, it should be for the reasons that I previously mentioned. There is nothing wrong with aspiring to win games or championships, but that should not be the primary focus. Parent/child relationships in sports most commonly get fractured when a parent coach is more motivated to participate than their own child. It is important for the parent coach and their own child to make sure that they share the same desires and motivation to participate. If there is a common goal, both parent coach and player will be put in the best possible position to succeed.

Perception is reality – as a parent coach or a spectator, whether you realize it or not, your own children are taking inventory of you. They are measuring the level of support you provide for them; the forms of feedback you give them before, during or after the game; how you carry yourself and represent them while you are attending their game. Ask your child how they perceive your behavior on game day, and ask them how they want you to represent them during their game. I have heard youth players comment about how embarrassed they were about their parent’s behavior – be it as a spectator or as a coach – and these are the kind of things that can fracture a relationship at home as well.

I have had the opportunity to serve as both a coach and spectator for my own children at different times, and both can be rewarding when the primary focus is to provide support and encouragement. Nothing is more rewarding than getting to share in your own children’s interests, and when structured properly, to be able to participate in those events with them as well.