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THE GOOD: Ability To Work With Younger Players With the Whitecaps wanting to ideally field a USL PRO team that will consist of mainly players between 17 and 24 years old, Koch's history and experience will make him a good candidate for this job. These players are going to have to be pushed just right, there will be times when Koch will have to be brutally honest when they are struggling but there will also be times where he will have to be more of a friend that encourages the player than a coach. With young Canadian players like Marco Bustos, Kianz Froese, Caleb Clarke, Marco Carducci, Ben McKendry, Sam Adekugbe, and maybe even a Residency player like Dario Zanatta, their development this season in USL PPO is key. This can't be like when they sent players to Charleston Battery where it was a waste of the player's year and the player and team didn't benefit from it. This has to work. This has to be benefit the first team, Residency and most importantly the players themselves. Koch is the safe bet for the front office to hire. He is known to the coaching staff and players and he knows what the direction of the club under Carl Robinson is. This can be a gateway to maybe a MLS job in the future for Koch and we know he will give 100%. THE AVERAGE: Expectations For Team I hope supporters and casual fans realize that this team was not started to win USL PRO championships. Sure winning one would be great for the club but that's not the main goal. That goal is to build up young players, Canadian or not, to succeed enough to become a mainstay on the first team. With the mandatory roster rules of 50% Canadian and 6 out of 11 of the starters also being Canadian, these rules shouldn't be a problem for the Whitecaps. But with these young players getting these minutes this doesn't mean that it guarantees success this season. For club or player. Fans will have to be patient and enjoy the level of play that the USL will bring. It will be a chance for the fans to support soccer on a level where only those supporters who have followed Residency games will know. It would be great seeing a full Thunderbird Stadium supporting, chanting and cheering on these young players, but it may take a bit of time for those numbers to be hit. Koch's style of play will be vital to both player development, a winning team on the pitch and bums on seats. THE BAD: What If It Doesn't Work What if it doesn't work? What is the back up plan? All their eggs are in the basket for this team. If the team struggles and the fans aren't patient, the support at games will drop. This team has be supported. The players will have to feel apart of the community just like the first team. What if this doesn't help players move up to the first team? Sure you got players like Bustos, Adekugbe, Froese, Clarke and Carducci that will get first team minutes this season. They will play Canadian Championship and CONCACAF Champions League games this season and get their chance. But what about other players on the USL PRO roster? Will they get a chance to be in a gameday 18 and/or a MLS contract? What will they have to do to get that chance? In the long run I believe this will be a good fit for Koch, but fans will also have to be patient and look at the long term goals moving forward.
Koch's talents have been in demand before from professional clubs, so what was it about the coaching job with WFC2 that finally tempted him away from the Clan after seven years at the helm? "I've a lot of respect for the club. I've a lot of respect for the people that work for the club," Koch told AFTN. "I definitely have a very similar philosophy to Robbo. To move to the pro ranks when you don't have to leave home, or my adopted home, is obviously a lot easier. "I've had a lot of opportunities to go away and go live in another country and all that type of stuff, but those weren't the right fit. I feel very passionate and very loyal to the SFU program, but this was too good to pass by." Koch is a student of the game. Much like Carl Robinson, when he's not coaching football, he's watching it. I've often bumped into him at local soccer matches at all levels, and it's that passion for the game which immediately drew a bond with the 'Caps coach. That love of the game and the shared philosophy of how it should be played and how players should be developed. That would have played a huge role in his appointment. "I think so," Koch told us. "We're people who are very passionate about the game. We love the game. We can talk very easily about the game. And then obviously having done some work with him. "I was here last summer watching him train all the time. I guess he was picking my brain, I was picking his brain. And then going through the whole draft process in terms of scouting players, assessing players. Seeing what he values and what I value. I think we can say we're on a very, very similar page." Koch spent most of the summer working with the Whitecaps MLS squad and observing the coaches. With his strong scouting network and knowledge of the college game, the 'Caps hired Koch to be their college scout in preparation for this year's SuperDraft and the South African went to both the MLS combine and draft with the club earlier this month. That scouting role acted as a trial of sorts. The Whitecaps could see just what kind of player Koch would identify as being able to help the club and whether that fitted into the direction that Robinson was taking the club and what they saw as their needs. The two mindsets meshed seamlessly. They were clearly on the same page. "Players go on trial but coaches go on trial too sometimes," Koch acknowledged. "It's sometimes tough to bring a coach in on trial when we're sometimes scattered all over the globe. I was here. Came in and worked with them and as much as they were looking at me, I was looking to see what they were doing too and very, very impressed with how things are set and excited to be a part of it." As regular AFTN readers will already know from our college coverage, Koch comes to WFC2 with a stellar coaching record at the Simon Fraser University Clan in recent years. He's racked up 116 wins from 144 games, won four straight Great Northwest Athletics Conference (GNAC) championships from 2010 to 2013 and took the Clan to back to back NCAA Division II Final Four appearances in 2012 and 2013. A graduate himself from SFU, before Koch went into coaching he had a playing career as a central midfielder, playing professionally in South Africa, Germany and Ireland in spells both before and after his time at college. SFU is part of him, so it must have been a huge wrench to move on. Did he have to seriously weigh up whether to take the WFC2 job or was it a no-brainer? "I had to weigh it up, definitely," Koch admitted. "This is a great opportunity and I'm excited by it, that's why I'm here, but we've done a lot at SFU. We've built something. I think we've put a fantastic infrastructure in place. Safe to say we're leaving it in a much better place than we got it. So it wasn't easy to just give up your baby essentially, but the timing was right. "We've done everything there apart from winning the national championship. I wish them nothing but going on and winning that national championship. We're leaving behind a very, very good team at SFU. The tools are in place. A good group of guys, they're willing to work hard. So hopefully they can achieve that goal. But the timing was right for me now." By Clan standards, 2014 was a disappointing year - they only made the first round of the postseason. With a large turnover of playing personnel and some key injuries, SFU took a little bit of time to find their stride this past season, but Koch pulled them together and they finished the regular season by winning eight of their last nine matches. After all of their previous headline grabbing heroics these past couple of years, it wasn't the way that Koch wanted to bow out from the Clan. He leaves with tinge of sadness but he knows that he's left them in a very strong and healthy state to go on and win that first NCAA crown. "I think for SFU fans there were some challenges we had, and I can tell you exactly what they were. Justus Hogback, that we brought in from Sweden, a fantastic striker, only played in two games. He got injured and he got a medical redshirt, so he'll be a freshman again this year. If we had him, that's another 10 to 15 goals in the season and that would have made a huge difference. "We also had Adam Jones from Metro-Ford and Pascal Schmidt who came over from the Stuttgart Kickers and both of them, under NCAA rules, had to spend a year of residency, so they weren't able to play. "If we had those three players, you're looking at a Final Four team that can challenge and win it all. Those guys now will all be eligible for next season. It's tough to leave a good group and that's a very, very good group. Having trained with them last week, the nucleus was there but this opportunity wasn't going to come up every year, so when it came up I had to take it." Koch's departure will be heavily felt by SFU and it will be interesting to see who they hire as his replacement to keep the success of program continuing. There will be other changes when SFU open their 2015 season in September too. Clan captain Jovan Blagojevic will no longer be a part of the side, drafted by the Whitecaps earlier this month. That selection was the biggest indication yet to us at AFTN that Koch was about to become the new WFC2 coach. Blagojevic credits Koch with his continuing improved development, affording him his chance in the pro ranks. Koch clearly had a huge input into Blagojevic's selection and he is excited to see what the local winger can now do at the next level. "He's a guy who has no ceiling on his game," Koch told us. "We didn't bring him in [to SFU] straight out of high school because he wasn't quite ready. We watched him and he showed signs that he could do it and literally every single year he's got better and this is why I really promoted him to the Whitecaps. "I think he'll come in here and step up and do better. The sky's the limit for him. It's great for him to start in USL PRO. Let's see how he does and that goes for every player. You come in, you get an opportunity, you take it, but he is certainly one of those guys who hasn't peaked or reached his ceiling by any means. So I'm looking forward to working with him. It'll be nice to have a familiar face at training. Blagojevic was the first SFU player to be selected in an MLS draft. The previous year Chris Bargholz garnered a lot of interest and his fellow German, central defender Alex Kleefeldt, went to train at Sporting KC last summer and there was even some talk they may have taken the senior in the draft. Koch didn't rule out further additions to the WFC2 training camp from the Clan but added that he "certainly won't just be zoning in on SFU players. We'll look everywhere to see if we can find the right guys." A number of the 'Caps USL PRO squad are already known, whilst others are easy to speculate on. So does the new WFC2 coach have an input in what players the 'Caps might look to bring into his squad, or will that be more dictated by what Robinson and the upper echelons of the Whitecaps management seek? "I think really by committee is how we'll do it," Koch told us. "Obviously Robbo is the manager of the club, so he has full say on all the players but we'll all work on it together, we'll identify players together, we'll discuss them and make sure that we all agree that these are the right players to bring in because there has to be a plan for the guys. There's no point me saying I'm going to bring a guy in if he doesn't fit into Robbo's plan. That makes no sense." Koch has a UEFA 'B' licence and is working towards UEFA 'A' licence, adding to the wealth of coaching qualifications at the Whitecaps right now. His SFU side were known for their very attacking style of play and Koch doesn't see that changing when he takes charge in USL PRO. "I think we're going to be a very attack minded team, which the first team are too. We'll play possession football but definitely focus on the outcome. Go forward and see if we can score some goals. Of course we'll play organised football at the same time. Measured. But there is a club philosophy. I fully support that philosophy. I buy into it and we'll go out and do exactly that." There will be many other similarities to what he has been used to up the mountain these past seven years. He will have a young squad to mould and develop, many of them recent college players. A lot of raw talent, and some egos, to hone. An interesting mix of backgrounds and nationalities. But amidst all of that, Koch knows that he is being tasked with perhaps the fundamentally most important aspect of the Whitecaps - that crucial missing link in player development between the Residency program and the MLS first team. Something which we have discussed with Koch on numerous previous occasions was also the missing link for BC players at college or in the local amateur leagues. Those outwith the 'Caps system right now. Blagojevic is there now to show that it can be done. You can reach the pro ranks from local soccer. Koch and the Whitecaps also hope that the WFC2 can now be that bridge. The Whitecaps 2 will start their preseason camp shortly, ahead of a 28 game season, but as the roster starts to take shape the 'Caps announced today that they will hold open trials for local, national and international players on February 21st and 22nd, with at least one guaranteed spot in the WFC2 preseason training camp. It's a chance for some of the unsung local talent in VMSL, FVSL and the college system to impress. I've seen the wealth of potential there and so has Koch. Some would thrive in a professional training environment. So if he had a message for these guys and those looking to take part, what would it be? "Probably one of the biggest complaints locally, in our local football community is people saying that there hasn't been the opportunities. Well here is the opportunity. The club are investing in it. There's essentially open try outs. They need to sign up obviously and come and show what they can do, but this is your chance. If you want to be part of it and you think you have the ability, show up. "Come show us what you've got. Opportunities like this don't present themselves all the time, so it's nice to have that opportunity here in Vancouver and it'll be great to see some of the local guys show up and people travel from across the country to see what they can do. I'm excited to assess them. We'll give honest feedback and hopefully we can make something out of somebody." So as Koch gets set to take the next step on his football management journey, how does he look back what the Clan achieved under his guidance? How does he see his legacy at SFU? "That's a tough question. I'm a proud alumni. I got my undergrad degree there, I played there, I had a great playing career, I was an assistant coach there, I was a head coach there. I have a bit of SFU in my blood. To be honest, it's quite tough to stand and see that [pointing at the UBC Thunderbirds logo]. Is it a Thunder Duck or what is it, standing over there! "No, I'm a proud SFU alumni and it's sad to leave to be honest. I had a moment before I pressed the send button with my resignation letter. But we've achieved a lot. I'm very proud of the work that we did and I wish them nothing but the best."
"In all honesty, when it came to Alan, we didn't necessarily pursue him because we assumed he's in a good job, he's got security, would he want to take that chance and jump into the professional ranks where that same type of security isn't necessarily there? "But as a result of the work that he did on our college recruiting, he got to know our guys and we got to know him and it was a natural evolution. We were always looking at other candidates, but as time went on, it became clear that Alan was interested in the job and we were interested in him." Koch is well respected in the BC soccer community and has developed a very productive scouting network during his coaching career. His Conference winning Clan sides of recent seasons have had a heavy BC content, with a splattering of fine overseas thrown in. The constant in all of his recruitment is an eye for young talent and the Whitecaps will be hoping for the same from their new coach with the WFC2 team, and Lenarduzzi is confident that Koch will help not just the 'Caps but also the Canadian national team program. "It's a perfect partnership," Lenarduzzi added. "He knows the market. He understands Canadian soccer and what we need to do in terms of ensuring that not only are the club sides successful but that our national team program has a chance to succeed. "He's going to be tasked in bridging the gap between the potential of those players and how far they can go, and ideally equipping them with the knowledge that will allow a number of those young players to actually graduate through to our MLS team. "Right now we have eight homegrown players on our roster and our objective is to continue to add to that. Ideally we get to the point, and I think we're early in the process, where those homegrown players are not only on the roster but contributing significant minutes to our MLS side, like Russell Teibert has done." Koch is a student of the game. Like Carl Robinson, he lives and breathes football. The pair are very similar in many ways, not least of all in their coaching philosophy and the way they like to play the game. From the time that Koch spent with the Whitecaps this past year, it was soon very evident that he and Robbo were on the same page in terms of the kind of player both wanted to see at the Whitecaps and that made Koch the obvious choice for WFC2. "That actually started prior to the scouting because when we hired him, our coaching staff had a long sit down with him, just to get the feel for what he looked for in a player and the similarities were certainly there from the outset," Lenarduzzi said. "As it went further in the process, it became clearer and clear that he could be a guy that came in and do what our senior coaches were looking for in transitioning those young players through to the MLS squad. "We couldn't have scripted it this way, simply because, again, we didn't think that Alan would be interested in the job, but it was actually a long interview, in that it started with the college recruiting. There was no expectations on either side but as we were going through the process, both sides were thinking that this could be something, in Alan's case "I'd like to do", and in our case, we're thinking maybe he could be the guy that could be our first Whitecaps FC 2 head coach." The Whitecaps USL PRO season will kick off at the end of March. There might be no schedule or roster available to get fans excited just yet, but Lenarduzzi is hopeful, and confident, that fans will turn out in numbers to support the club's future. "We hope that we can put 3000 people out here. It's been a problem for us because we've had nothing to talk about up to now. We announced we were in two months ago. Now we have a head coach and we'll soon have players. "We want to create an environment at UBC, a mini environment to the one we have at BC Place, so it'll be up to us. We can't just assume that we can put a team out and there will be people that will turn up. We need to do what we've done with our senior squad and encourage people to come out and see the players of the future." As to what kind of Whitecaps team with the fans see on the pitch this season, Lenarduzzi feels that whilst development of the younger players will always be the prime concern, putting a winning and competitive team on the pitch is also important. "As far as winning goes, and it's easy for me to say that it's not important if we push two or three players into our MLS squad that that's the metric that's going to determine how successful we are, but we're in a game where winning is important. Winning actually dictates frame of mind. "We want to get results, obviously, and we want to be competitive. That's probably what we're looking to strive towards. Be competitive but understand that the priority of this squad is for those senior players to get minutes but more importantly for those young players to get the kind of experience to have a better chance of making our MLS squad. Not just make our MLS squad but to get minutes in our MLS team."