Just one year after a pilot group of 13 candidates completed the first U.S. Soccer Pro License, a new set of 17 graduates received their diplomas, growing a list of some of the greatest Soccer minds in the United States to 30 to have completed the highest level coaching license in North America. The common denominator between the first and second group was ambition and an unquestioned desire for lifelong learning.
From a league representation standpoint, the Pro Course License diploma has now reached the hands of at least one person from each of the country’s top tier leagues: Major League Soccer, North American Soccer League, the National Women’s Soccer League and United Soccer League. In addition to the concentrated effort to improve the highest levels of the game across the top domestic leagues, the Pro Course has also impacted U.S. Soccer’s national team programs with representation from the Men’s and Women’s National Team programs, and the youth National Teams.
Perhaps the most interesting storyline of the 2017 Pro Course was the fact that candidates Brian Schmetzer (Seattle Sounders) and Greg Vanney (Toronto FC) ended up competing for the MLS Cup against each other. With numerous meetings, small groups and an open dialogue constantly setting a precedence throughout the 12-month process, it was to no surprise that the pair’s focus on the course was unchallenged despite the recent faceoff for the top prize in American professional soccer.
“When you talk about Brian Schmetzer, he lost to Greg Vanney last weekend at MLS Cup but both are here,” U.S. Soccer National Coach Educator Wim van Zwam said. “They were respectful to each other, and all of the candidates for that matter were respectful to Brian and Greg.”
If the coaches of the two MLS Cup teams weren’t enough to headline the 2017 class, U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis became the first female to complete the license. With a critical year of World Cup qualifying on the horizon in 2018, the knowledge absorbed from the Pro Course could not have come at a better time.
“I’m very proud to have been a part of this program,” Ellis said. “The course was very comprehensive and yet it really was able to dig down into the details. It looks at all aspects of coaching, from the tactical side to periodization. It really digs into all the facets of what I do. Not only were the instructors very experienced in how they navigated us through this course, but you learn a lot from your peers. Overall, I think it was incredibly valuable and added more in terms of growth and knowledge to who I am as a coach.”
The Pro Course also expanded for the first time to include coaches from NASL, NWSL and USL. Paul Buckle, head coach and Technical Director of Sacramento Republic FC Head Coach, was particularly pleased with the two site visits he received from coach educators, in particular from his mentor, van Zwam.
“Professionally, they showed so much respect to me as a head coach in terms of when Wim came in to analyze me in my working environment twice,” Buckle said. “He would always ask, ‘Can I do this? Do you mind me being here?’ And I opened every door, from the training field, to individual meetings with players, group meetings, pregame, postgame and halftime. Wim was there. So he was brought in as part of the staff. I received invaluable feedback, incredible feedback. The details that U.S. Soccer have put into this license have been phenomenal.”
As the course concluded and candidates officially received their diplomas in Chicago, the greatest commonality was the responsibility that even the best coaches in the United States have to continue to grow and develop in order to raise the level of soccer and develop world class players.
“I think we need to continually use our experiences as we evolve the game. We have another generation coming through of coaches that have played at a high level,” Sporting Kansas City assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin said. “So to take that experience and now pass it on the younger generation, it’s certainly an obligation that I feel strongly about, trying to improve myself and share my experiences with players that we work with today but also to become better ourselves, because at the end of the day coaching is a lot about becoming an effective teacher and communicator. As we try to improve our players, so must we improve ourselves so that we can create an environment where we are all growing together.”