To begin, talk a little about how you got connected to the Lights and LAFC.
It was a few years in the making. A couple of years ago I was in the LA area and I've always been in touch with old friends and teammates. Bob Bradley was my coach with the US National Team for a long time and John Thorrington is somebody who I've known for a very long time because of his time in Germany and the US Youth National team – so, I've always kept in touch.
Then when I saw John being involved with this club and this project when everything first started getting started I was in LA and I said – ‘hey John can I come around and see what you guys have done’? I was a couple years too late. I wanted to come see everything for a while but it never worked out timing wise. Then I was there and went in and I saw Bob and their staff and John and they showed me around and we had some great discussions about just soccer in general with really no ambition for a position. It was just catching up, and talking about soccer - what they're doing, their philosophy and we were all on the same wavelength.
They were great discussions and ever since then, John and I have had conversations and I've always kept in him in the loop about what I'm doing and where I wanted to go with my career.
Then a couple of weeks ago, he called back and said ‘hey listen there might be something happening, would you have any interest’? I said, I think so, let me work on a few loose ends here [in Germany]. Then we had a few more discussions, and sure enough, we both had the feeling that it would be a great fit. Bob was on board as well. In this business in my experience, it's all about timing and to make sure that it's a win- win situation for both sides. In this case - from my perspective right now at least (without being there yet), it truly is and I am ecstatic to get started.
What were some of your biggest reasons for taking on the job?
Well first, it’s my home. Next, I think with the direction that soccer is going here - especially leading up to the next World Cup, it’s an extremely exciting place to be. When you look at what's happened in LA with LAFC, with how much has happened and how positive change can be, it’s something that I truly want to be a part of.
Some of the things here in Europe and more particularly, in Germany, that are happening - it's very difficult to start a new project. You are not starting with a blank page. There’s a lot of tradition involved, a lot of people and politics involved. So, it's difficult to really implement change or new ideas. You'll be able to, but only in a minimal manner.
Something that's extremely attractive to me about soccer in general in the United States, is that you can build projects from the ground up and be successful in doing that. LAFC is a fantastic example of that and adding to that program now with Las Vegas is just another layer of this of this already great story that I'm ecstatic to be a part of. This is the attractive thing - that we can actually make change.
You were coached by Bob Bradley during some of your tenure with the US Men’s National Team, talk a little about your experience with him and your excitement now coaching alongside him.
Bob’s passion for the games and the tactics and pushing his groups further is second to none. These were things that I always admired being his player. He didn't miss a beat. He was always looking for an edge, always trying to help us, relentless on the training pitch - but also somebody you can just talk to. So, really the complete package and his record speaks for itself.
He's a successful coach, he's a great soccer brain and on top of that, in my experience, is a fine human being as well. I'm looking forward to looking over his shoulder and learning from up close. He’s also somebody who I know from our conversations already is willing to listen to some new ideas I have as well. So, it's a relationship that I'm ecstatic at furthering and just diving straight into.
You were raised in San Diego, California, and after almost 20 years in Germany - what does it mean to you coming back to take on the beautiful game close to where you grew up?
It's extremely important for the development of players. When you grow up watching sports - whatever sport it is, you have idols. What kids do is copy their idols. When I was a kid I watched baseball and I tried to swing like Barry Bonds. In soccer it's the same. You try to move like Zinadine Zidane, who I grew up watching or you do a step over like Ronaldo (the first one).
You emulate these top performers and now kids growing United States, they have a quality professional League in my opinion that they can emulate. Now they have stars like Carlos Vela who kids going through the LAFC Academy can look up to - and if they can move like he does, or be as proficient in front of goal as he has in their own league, that is a step in the right direction.
This is something that we didn’t necessarily have when I was growing up. I grew up watching the San Diego Sockers in the indoor league and that was obviously very different than what I wanted to play in the end - outdoor soccer, but it was still a step in the right direction. Now the finished product in the United States, MLS is so much better than it was and I was younger. Now these younger players have idols, they have tangible goals they can see and feel which is imperative in development soccer.
John Thorrington has mentioned that one of the most important outcomes of this new partnership was having a wholly integrated pipeline to the professional game from the youngest Academy group, up through to the first team. As someone who has been involved in coaching across different age groups in a system like Hannover 96 – what are some of the benefits of this reality you’ve seen firsthand?
When you have the ability to control what your players are learning without the pressure of having to turn results week-in-week-out at youth levels, and you also have the ability to control what happens in the first team - to make it a philosophy from top to bottom or bottom to top, it’s a huge advantage. That's something that through my experience is imperative. What makes player development difficult is when you have influences from all sides coming in. Players are being torn away to go to other clubs for periods of time. You're forced to get results in youth ages which forces you to make potential irrational decisions about which players you take onto the next season and so forth.
So, all of these outside influences change the way you develop your players. If you can develop a player and give he or she the time they need in order to maximize their potential, that is the key. Everybody develops at different rates and speeds. If you can give everybody the time they need and put them at the level they need to be at to develop to maximize their potential, your number of finished players will go up. You'll have more talented players who will be ready for the first team and this is what I think is happening in LA and I think it's going to be something we can continue to grow on. All of the knowledge I've learned in how to develop players here in Germany, what systems work and what systems don't work – I can't wait to help implement that in the already existing fantastic Academy.
As an American who has seen more than most on the European side of the game, how have people’s perceptions on the other side of the pond changed over the years from your perspective?
They’ve changed for the better, absolutely. Players from the generation before me, whether it’s Claudio Reyna or Eric Wynalda, they were over in Germany as well and doing that job first before me. Then hopefully I was able to help push the bar a little further and now the players there are doing more of the same. The perception is definitely better and I think a good way to describe it is - when I came over, Americans were never given the benefit of the doubt.
If I had a bad game, it was ‘oh see I told you Americans can't play.’ Now, when Americans have a poor game it’s, ‘oh maybe he was just off form or just a bad game, it'll be fine, he's a good player.’ So, the trust in American players has grown considerably and this is a great sign.
You see it also in the way players are being sought after. Some clubs love American players. They've always loved our mentality and our, now you throw in the tactical awareness which is being taught at a higher level in America and the technical ability of the boys or girls is higher. The players are further along there then when I was growing up. It's great to see, it's gratifying and what excites me the most is - I feel like there's still lots of room to improve. American players are now playing in the Champions League regularly which is exciting to watch, what's going to happen in the next 10 – 15 years?
What excites you most about this opportunity?
To me the most exciting thing in my job, my line of work and what I love the most is helping young players find and maximize their potential. To do it in a way that they sacrifice things - time away from friends, away from the family, they put in the work. They put in the time. They do it for the right reasons. They enjoy doing it because they understand why they're doing it and they see real results.
To help a young person or to guide young person in this path is so gratifying to me, that is what I'm looking forward to most. To see that first player understand, we did something cool here. I learned a lot. I'm ready to take the next step. That’s why I'm in this business and that's why I love doing it.