USL PRO developing into proving ground for college coaches too


Much has been said about USL PRO’s growth and partnership with Major League Soccer as it relates to player development, but Jay Vidovich’s decision to leave Wake Forest and take the head coaching job of the Portland Timbers’ USL PRO team signaled that the third tier league could also develop into a proving ground for college coaches as well.

Only three of the 20 Major League Soccer head coaches have experience coaching at the college level and all three of those coaches had some experience coaching in the U.S. youth ranks before making the jump – Bruce Arena won five national titles at Virginia, Sigi Schmid three titles at UCLA and Caleb Porter a national title at Akron – so the path from coaching in college to the professional ranks isn’t very well worn.

But the addition of more teams in USL PRO and the link with Major League Soccer could make that path more clearly marked for aspiring coaches in the college ranks.

Vidovich was the head coach at Wake Forest from 1994-2014, winning a national championship in 2007 and posting a 225-87-31 record. He started his career as an assistant at Denver University for a year before assistant coaching gigs at Regis College, Ohio Wesleyan and Wake Forest.

He is the only current USL PRO head coach with head coaching experience in college. Charlotte Independence coach Mike Jefferies was an assistant at Duke and SMU, Wilmington Hammerheads coach Carson Porter was an assistant under Vidovich for five seasons, Arizona United SC coach Michael Dellorusso was an assistant at Maryland and Colorado Switchbacks FC coach Stephen Trittschuh was an assistant at SIU Edwardsville.

Evansville’s head coach Mike Jacobs, who took a job in USL’s front office, and Brian Jones also recently made the jump from college to USL PRO. Jones was the co-head coach at SIU Edwardsville last season but took a job as goalkeepers coach for the expansion team St. Louis FC.

The coach of Portland Timbers senior team, Caleb Porter, took a pay cut when he left Akron in 2012 so the move from college to the professional ranks isn’t necessarily a financial windfall. In fact, many of the top Division 1 programs have facilities and resources that rival most of the USL PRO teams not run by MLS parent clubs.

But for coaches with dreams of being the next Bruce Arena, whose humble college beginnings saw him coaching soccer and lacrosse for his first seven years at Virginia, USL PRO does provide college coaches a chance to prove themselves in a professional environment with FIFA subsitution rules.

Seeing Vidovich and Jones jump to USL PRO could also be viewed as a sign that college’s place in the development puzzle is slipping, but a overhaul of the rules to Division 1 soccer would go a long way in re-establishing the college games fading relevance in that picture. A season that spreads out over two semesters (thus elminating the need for liberal substitution), the promise of scholarship money and top-notch training facilities would still make college a preferred destination for many of the top teenage prospects not being courted by European clubs and promises of senior team minutes in MLS.

As it does in all sports, the aforementioned coaching moves have created a carousel of other coaching changes in Division 1 soccer. Vidovich has been replaced by Bobby Muuss, who was replaced at Denver by Muuss’s former assistant Jamie Franks. Mike Jacob’s departure at Evansville led to the promotion of his assistant Marshall Ray to head coach. Jones and co-head coach David Korn have been replaced by former Louisville assistant Mario Sanchez as head coach at SIU Edwardsville.

Two former Major League Soccer coaches have also returned to the college ranks in recent weeks. Former U.S., Costa Rica and LA Galaxy coach Steve Sampson has taken the reigns at Cal Poly and former SMU and FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman is now leading Grand Canyon University.

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