Experiencing International Competition at ICC Tourney
Many soccer fans in the Charlotte area were enthusiastic last month to get their tickets to the local Liverpool versus Borussia Dortmund (with US men’s national player Christian Pusilic) game. But one Mutiny coach and player were more excited to be out of the state in Orlando competing at the first ever International Champions Cup Futures tournament.
Mutiny Academy and Technical Director Jose Jimenez was an assistant coach for the North Carolina U-14 team. Over seven days in July he was on the sidelines with Michael Milazzo (NCFC South DA Director) and Carlos Somoano (UNC Chapel HIll’s head coach) at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. Also on his bench? Mutiny player Chris Thaggard.
The 24 teams in the contest represented Major League Soccer’s Development Academy, state All-Star teams, and European academy teams associated with leading professional clubs.
Jose was involved in selecting the players for the NC team, and overseeing all the defensive aspects of the games including defensive set pieces. Additionally, he did all the opposition scouting and presented his video analyses to the players. He also ran all pre-game warm-ups.
Coaching alongside Milazzo and Somoano was a great opportunity, Jose said. “Both are very experienced coaches in the US market. They know the culture of the player better than me, so I learned a lot in terms of communication, language and terminology.”
He also enjoyed the professional debates among the coaching staff regarding starting line ups, plans of attack, and objectives to achieve. “Obviously each club has its own style or philosophy of play,” he said. Yet, for this one-off tournament the focus had to be on figuring out what this particular group “can do well and setting up a style that suits the players.”
Different from Mutiny Coaching
In coaching for the Mutiny, Jose said he has an entire season to develop stages of learning and objectives. But for this one-week event, “there was no time.”
With just six training session prior to the team’s first game, the focus had to be on general concepts and achieving two clear objectives — competing well and getting better every game.
The level of the competition was high at the tournament, and while the focus on pressing and counter attack may not have been the style of play the NC team staff preferred, it was the best approach for the specific tournament. “Champions adapt,” he said, noting that this squad, “no matter what club they were coming from, had the Champions mentality.”
Another thing the tournament made clear? “The pool of talent in North Carolina is great and we have nothing to envy of European clubs and MLS,” he said. After all, the NC team made it to the finals against Tottenham, and were only defeated in penalty kicks. “We are very proud of how we represented NC and probably surprised more than one person with our results.”
He added, “the talent is here. Now we need to focus on working to provide the right environment for the talent to flourish and shine.”
Advice for Individual Players
Jose, who has coached over 18 years at the professional and youth levels, described this as the best tournament he’s attended. “Not only for the level of the teams, but also for the structure of the tournament.”
The teams played only one game per day over the ten days. All American teams were housed in the same hotel and met each other over the three meals a day. Plus, the event was fully sponsored for the players and the staff (including flight, hotel, meals, uniforms, and cleats). “This allowed us to select the players we wanted without any issue for families that could have not afforded the event,” he said.
Mutiny, of course, was particularly proud to see player Chris Thaggard make the team, especially as he was an 05 playing up on an 04 squad. “Chris had a great tournament,” Jose said. “His impact on the field was great with two goals and five assist in six games….Chris mixed very well with the team and found some good connections on the field with some of the more experienced teammates. He got better every game.”
So, what’s his advice to Mutiny players who might hope to represent North Carolina at a future ICC Futures event?
“Be a good person,” Jose said. “We made the selection not only thinking about the talent of each individual, but also about the role would that player have in the group.
“We obviously are proud of the results, but we are even prouder of the behavior of our players on and off the field and how this group of kids became a unit. In soccer, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and this group showed that.”