An accomplished player and coach at the game’s highest levels, former Swiss international and FC Basel head coach Raphael Wicky will now take the reins of the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team. Wicky sat down with ussoccer.com to discuss his excitement to join the Federation, his experience coaching youth at almost every level in Switzerland and more.
You’ve had a very successful coaching career thus far. What excites you most about taking on this new position with U.S. Soccer?
Well, first, I think it's a great challenge and it's a great moment to come into this market. I believe that there is enormous potential for soccer in the U.S. I've been following U.S. Soccer for more than 10 years now very closely since I played at Chivas USA and I've gotten to know the league. It's an exciting moment to come to U.S. Soccer, with the new MNT head coach Gregg Berhalter, with Earnie Stewart as a new GM. As a coach, it excites me to be a part of the process and working to help players grow.
The great meetings I had with leaders at U.S. Soccer is one of the main reasons I decided to join the Federation. I had a very good feeling about the people here, that I could work together with them. When you take on a new job, it's important who you're going to work with and I had a great feeling when I came to Chicago meeting everyone at Soccer House.
It’s an exciting moment to join U.S. Soccer with the changes they’re making and the growth of the sport in the United States. I’m really excited to come in there and help develop the program, while also learning a lot from a lot of people who are very good at what they do because I’m still a young coach. The growth goes both ways.
What were your conversations with MNT head coach Gregg Berhalter like?
From the beginning of our conversation, we immediately started talking about tactics, about ideas, about principles, about how we see the game and I think we share similar ideas of soccer. I wasn't really surprised because I followed his team playing in Columbus over the last few years, so I saw the soccer he plays, I saw how he wants to build up from the back and I like that style because I share similar visions. Talking to him was very interesting to confirm that we had similar visions, that gave me a very good feeling as well. The idea of all National Team coaches working together developing the program is just very exciting to me. It's always good to share ideas with other coaches, and that's especially exciting for me personally because I'm sure I can learn a lot from all the coaches who will work here. I'm sure we will be able to develop a lot of young players who then will one day arrive all the way to the top to the senior Men's National Team.
You’ll be working out of Soccer House in Chicago. What’s the value of being under the same roof as the rest of the Federation?
It’s very exciting for me to come in to have not only all the National Team coaches together, but also all the specialists, all the experts in their fields. To have everyone together and to be able to share experiences, to develop new things, to develop players, to talk about soccer-specific things and to talk about other things where I'm not a specialist will be very valuable. It's good to have these exchanges, these conversations on a daily basis.
When coaching a Youth National Team, there’s always a balance to strike between getting results and player development. What’s your philosophy on that balance?
It’s always a big discussion in youth soccer. When players are 13, 14, 15, sometimes even 16, there’s a huge difference in physical development. That's my experience in Switzerland, coaching Under-14s and several other age groups. You have guys that are the same age but they don't look the same age. One guy looks like he's three or four years older. So, if you only want to win games at that age, then let’s only play with the fast ones and the tall ones and the strong ones. They probably win games against physically-less developed players at that age. But when they arrive into a category of 17, 18, and 19-year-olds, where the guys who were smaller when they were 14 have probably developed and are also fast and strong, then you may not win all the games anymore.
Most important to me is the winning mentality. We all want to win, and all the players need to have the winning mentality to win in soccer at the highest level. We want to give them this winning mentality. The clubs where they play, they want to give them the winning mentality. Every time you step on the field, every time you do something you want to have that mentality.
You’ve coached at almost every youth level in Europe. How has that range of experience prepared you for this position?
The experience that I've had in the last ten years of coaching, from the Under-14 to the Under-21s and then with the pros, have been amazing. With the U-17s here, I know what waits for me. I have coached this age group. I know what these players go through at this age. There are still things which I will learn, but it obviously helps to have coached at that highest level. Even at the highest level, I think my experiences with youth helped me to understand the whole process of a player, where he goes from age 13 to become a professional.
You’ve reached some of the sport’s highest levels as both a player and a coach. How will those experiences help you to inspire young players hoping to reach similar heights?
I know where they want to go - I have been there. I’ve gone through the exact same thing that they’re now going through. That experience helps me when I talk to them, when I try to teach them on and off the field. I have lived everything that they’re going through, and I think that helps a lot. When I talk to them, when I evaluate them, when I try to teach them, when I try to help them become a better player, I think it helps me a lot. Of course, it also helps if they see that you have coached Champions League just a year ago, it’s nice that I’ve done that, but I think the most important thing is that I know what’s needed to arrive there.
As a coach in Switzerland, you’ve seen each step of the player development pathway, from U-14 to the professional ranks. What are the unique challenges of this U-17 age group?
It’s a very interesting age group where the players have a very good level technically and tactically. There are a lot of players already at that age that are on the border of the first team, some already play on the first teams in Europe or the U.S. Some are maybe on the jump between maybe the second team to the first team. It’s a very interesting level as a coach to train because you can do the same thing you have done with the pros - I’m sure because I have done that. The other side is there’s still a long way to go, there’s a hard way to go. There’s still a lot of them playing at the youth level. The mental pressure, the competition in a team will be much stronger once they take the next step, once they’re not playing with only 16-year-olds or the same age group, once they really go into a professional team playing with players that are 18 to 35 years old, there’s a long way to go. It’s a hard business. It’s a dream, it’s amazing to be a professional athlete, but it’s very tough once you reach that level. There’s a lot of competition and not a lot of mistakes allowed. So it’s exciting for them and it’s exciting for me as a coach to train. There’s a long way to go, there’s hard work asked, there’s discipline needed, there’s luck, there’s a lot of things they still need, but they’re on a good track.
During the interview process, U.S. Soccer Sport Development leaders were impressed with your knowledge of the player pool. What excites you about this group?
I haven’t met them personally yet, but I have seen a lot of footage, I have seen videos and I’ve seen their results from recent years. I also really trust the people at U.S. Soccer and they all have told me it’s a very promising group. Some of these guys are already on MLS rosters, some have minutes already, some are abroad at big clubs in Europe, so I think there’s a lot of talent. I’m excited that there’s a lot of talent. It’s a good group, but you won’t reach your goals or win anything only with talent. Our goal is to go the U-17 World Cup, so we need to be a team and accomplish things together as a team. That’s an exciting challenge.
Qualifying is approaching quickly. What are your first steps as U-17 MNT head coach?
The first step is to get to know the players better. I’ve been watching a lot of video, a lot of different games, then I’ll be able to meet them at the beginning of April at our first training camp. Then it’s to set common goals and to start working together. It’s short, it’s challenging, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I think the goal of a National Team coach is to get everyone on the same page. They’re all playing for different clubs, in different systems with different principles, so when they come to the National Team you have to make sure that everybody is going in the same direction. I’m in communication daily with people from U.S. Soccer, and every day I get more information and more contacts with clubs.
How are you looking to fill out the rest of your staff?
For me it's clear, because when the team gets a new head coach and we don't have a lot of days to prepare it's important that there are some people on the staff who already know the player pool. I have spoken to Nico (Romejin, Chief Sport Development Officer) and Jared (Micklos, Youth National Teams Director) and there will be good people with me who have a lot of experience, who have good qualities and who know the player pool well.Read more
U-17 MNT Takes Down Turkey 1-0 on First-Half Stoppage-Time Goal at 2018 Nike International Friendlies
2018 U.S. Soccer Young Male, Young Female and Player of the Year with a Disability Award Nominees Announced
In the finale of the 2017 Men’s Nike International Friendlies, the U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team headed into halftime down 1-0 to Brazil. Thus far, the tournament had proved a tough learning experience for the newly-minted U-17s, as they dropped their first two matches in distinctly difficult fashions.
Despite the first-half deficit, the American attack had begun to click. While the USA struggled to penetrate in front of the net, head coach John Hackworth could feel his team building momentum. He asked the players if they felt it too.
“They said ‘yeah.’ So, I told them we have to go after it,” Hackworth said. “It’s an opportunity. Let’s make the most of it. If you have a team like Brazil and you feel like you have the momentum, we have to go. It’s not the time to sit back and be conservative. We want to take the initiative, we want to be aggressive.”
The breakthrough finally came in the 53rd minute when Gilbert Fuentes’ corner kick found Axel Alejandre whose header from the top of the area was poked home from close range by substitute Diego Lopez. The USA found several stellar opportunities down the stretch, but couldn’t convert a game-winner.
“I thought on the night, we were the better team,” Hackworth said. “We probably deserved even better than a draw. I think we finished on a strong note. It was a really good performance from our team.”
An encouraging first half carried into a positive result for the USA in the finale, with Hackworth’s side the only team to take points off tournament champions Brazil . Now, the encouraging result can provide momentum for the program as it moves forward. The U-17s showed some flashes of serious potential at the Friendlies, but the tournament represents just the beginning for this age group. There’s a long road ahead as the team works towards qualifying for the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
“I like the way we play. We could do big things in the future,” Lopez said. “This week has been difficult but we just have to keep growing as a team. Hopefully we get the results we want in the future.”
The Nike Friendlies kick-started the new U-17 cycle. The tournament gave head coach John Hackworth his first opportunity to work with the group, but the team assembled just a few days before its first game against England on Nov. 29.
In the tournament opener, the USA was a minute away from drawing the Three Lions. As the teams traded runs, goalkeeper Damien Las made some highlight-reel saves to keep things deadlocked. Despite his seven stops, the English broke through in the 79th minute, scoring on a perfectly-placed header from a corner kick.
Hackworth started nine different players against the Netherlands in the U-17s’ second match. The Dutch overwhelmed the fresh XI and defeated the USA 5-1.
“This three-match tournament has shown us both ends of the spectrum. We know so much more about these young men than we did coming in,” Hackworth said. “To leave on a very positive note, a positive performance, is really important. This group that played tonight, I think there’s some good quality in there.”
Next up for the U-17s: a January domestic camp that will bring in more than 30 players. Hackworth’s Nike Friendlies roster included just 20 born in 2002, but the concurrent Development Academy Winter Showcase brought together hundreds of the nation’s top youth players, all hungry for opportunities with the Youth National Teams.
“We need to increase the depth of this pool, there’s no question,” Hackworth said. “When we were scouting around the Academy games, all the scouts and our whole staff were pleased that there are players out there that we’d like to bring into camp.”
The Youth National Team program put together a banner year in 2017. Both the U-17 and U-20 MNT made runs to the quarterfinals of their respective World Cups, and other age groups also earned positive results around the globe. There’s plenty of hard work ahead for the U-17s, but they have the potential to continue the YNT’s success in the new year.
“There’s lots of room for improvement,” Hackworth said. “We could play faster in the first half, we could move the ball a little quicker. There’s a lot of little details that this group, with time, is going to get much better at. That’s what we’re set out to do.”Read more
After leading the Under-17 U.S. Men’s National Team to the Quarterfinals of the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, John Hackworth now takes over a new U-17 player pool that will work towards qualifying for the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup, a journey that begins at the 2017 Nike International Friendlies. With a complete coaching resume that includes stops at the youth, collegiate and professional ranks, Hackworth has continued to pave the way in player development.
Here are five things you should know about the U-17 MNT head coach:
THE SOCCER PLAYER
After graduating from Dunedin High School (Dunedin, Fla.), Hackworth played two seasons at Brevard College (Brevard, N.C.) in 1989 and 1990 before transferring to Wake Forest. In his three seasons at Wake Forest, where his primary position was right back, Hackworth earned Academic All-ACC honors.
After college, Hackworth began his professional career with the lower league Carolina Crunch. Following two seasons with the Crunch, Hackworth was signed by the Carolina Dynamo of the A-League after he was spotted playing against the Dynamo, locking down future Trinidad & Tobago and English Premier League striker Stern John. Though he made good memories, Hackworth recalls his one season with the Dynamo as, “Having a cup of coffee in the A-League,” and hung up his cleats shortly after his run in the A-League.
PLAYER TURNED COACH
Always having had a view towards coaching, Hackworth began working on his craft while still in his playing days at Wake Forest when he served as a youth coach at Twin City Youth Soccer (now NC Fusion). During his playing days with the Carolina Crunch, Hackworth also simultaneously worked as an assistant for the Wake Forest University Women’s Soccer team. One year later in 1993, Hackworth became an assistant with the school’s Men’s Soccer Team, a position he held until 1997. In his four seasons under one of his key mentors Jay Vidovich, the tandem helped lay the foundation for a program that would later go on to win a national title (2007).
In 1998 Hackworth took the head coaching job at the University of South Florida, where the 28-year-old became the youngest head coach in NCAA Division 1 Soccer at the time. In his four seasons at the USF helm, Hackworth led the Bulls to two Conference USA Championships and two NCAA Tournament appearances.
Hackworth also continued to hone his role in player development, going through the State and Regional Olympic Development Program (ODP) coaching ranks in North Carolina and Florida from the time he became the assistant Women’s Coach at Wake Forest.
THE RED WHITE AND BLUE CALLING
After success at USF and his experiences at the ODP levels, Hackworth left to take on his first coaching opportunity with U.S. Soccer as an assistant to John Ellinger with the U-17 Men’s National Team leading up to the 2003 FIFA U-17 World Cup. Coaching a roster of players led by Freddy Adu and Jonathan Spector, the U.S. used wins against Korea Republic (6-1) and Sierra Leone (2-1) to advance to the Quarterfinals where they fell to eventual champions Brazil.
In 2004, Hackworth moved into the head coaching role when Ellinger departed the U-17 MNT to become the first head coach of expansion M.L.S. side Real Salt Lake.
Hackworth led the U-17 MNT back to the Knockout Round of the next two World Cups. At the 2005 competition in Peru, a side featuring Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez helped the USA defeat Korea DPR (3-2) and Italy (3-1) before a 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals to finish fifth in the world. In 2007, a U.S. team with Brek Shea and Greg Garza downed Belgium 2-0 in its final Group Stage game before a narrow 2-1 defeat to third-place finisher Germany in the Round of 16.
Upon the conclusion of the 2007 U-17 World Cup, Hackworth became an assistant coach with the Men’s National Team, assisting Bob Bradley in qualifying the USA for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Starting the Development Academy
Concurrent to his role under Bradley, in 2007 Hackworth was also charged with starting the U.S. Soccer Development Academy where he served as the inaugural Technical Director.
Working closely alongside several key U.S. Soccer management officials, Hackworth collaborated in bringing to fruition the philosophies that continue to drive the Academy: more training, less games, more meaningful games, international standards and a holistic environment centered around individual player development. One of the key notions behind the Academy was to create everyday club environments that were similar to the U.S. Soccer Residency Program, where the daily, consistent focus was on development, something Hackworth nurtured first hand with the U-17 Residency Program.
Having just celebrated its 10th anniversary, the Development Academy is the highest level of youth soccer in the United States. Working to create elite, everyday environments to maximize youth player development in the country, the DA is responsible for helping develop current U.S. internationals Christian Pulisic, Kellyn Acosta, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Matt Miazga, among many others.
MLS Experience and Return to U.S. Soccer
In November 2009, Hackworth took on his first challenge in the professional ranks, becoming the first assistant and Youth Development Coordinator for Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union. In 2012, Hackworth was quickly tagged as head coach after a promising record in an interim role. Though he departed the club during the 2014 season, his legacy there can still be felt in the Academy ranks, where he laid the early seeds for the club’s burgeoning youth system.
In 2014, Hackworth rejoined U.S. Soccer as head coach of the U-15 Boys’ National Team, as well as serving as Andi Herzog’s assistant with the U-23 MNT. Things came full circle for the veteran coach at the end of 2015, when he continued on with the 2000 birth year to return as head coach of the U-17 MNT, tasked with leading the USA back to the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.
Nearly two years later, Hackworth and his team fulfilled their mission in making their way to the U-17 World Cup. A high-flying attack which featured Josh Sargent, Timothy Weah and Andrew Carleton earned Group Stage wins against host India (3-0) and Ghana (1-0), before an emphatic 5-0 victory against Paraguay in the Round of 16. The victory was the USA’s first Knockout Round since the tournament expanded to 24 teams, but was also sixth overall for Hackworth as a head coach, tying him with Roy Rees (1987, 1989, 1991, 1993) for most wins by a U.S. coach at the U-17 World Cup. Though the side’s magical run ended with a defeat to eventual champs England in the Quarterfinals, Hackworth’s team once again showed well.
Equally as impressive, Hackworth’s U-17 World Cup Qualifying record continues to be a standard in the CONCACAF region. Overall, Hackworth-led teams have posted an 11-2-1 mark in qualifying after successful campaigns in 2005 (2-1-0), 2007 (4-1-0) and 2017 (5-0-1).
Beginning with the 2017 Nike international Friendlies, Hackworth now leads a new crop of players towards qualification for the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Since 2002, Hackworth has been a U.S. Soccer coaching education instructor for the A, B and C licenses. Most recently in December 2016, Hackworth was part of the first graduation class of the highest form of soccer licensing offered in North America, the U.S. Soccer Pro License course.
Some of Hackworth’s fondest U-17 MNT memories come from summer trips to Lake Burton, where he would bring his group to Rabun County, Ga. to explore the body of water near the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
Circa 2005: U-17 Men’s National Team at Lake Burton
July 2017: U-17 Men’s National Team at Lake BurtonRead more