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Found 2 results

  1. 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."
  2. Having graduated in the fall after studying molecular biology biochemistry at SFU, Blagojevic's plan was always to attend medical school, as he told us when we spoke to him back in December 2013. But as he also told us in that interview, playing professional football was always his "childhood dream" and one he was prepared to put a guaranteed career on hold to chase. Blagojevic's move to MLS comes after another stellar personal season with the Clan last year in NCAA Division 2. He decided to head back to SFU for his senior year and although the Clan may have struggled overall as a team compared to their previous heroics, Blagojevic was the standout star, averaging a goal a game in his 18 appearances. Those numbers placed him seventh overall in goals in North America and he was unanimously voted the Great Northwest Athletic Conference's (GNAC) Player of the Year and also took home the West Region Player of the Year award. "All the goals that I set out for myself at the beginning of the season, I accomplished," Blagojevic told us. "I was very happy from a personal standpoint that I was able to achieve that. I feel that I'm continually growing as a player, so I'm excited to see how much I can now grow being in a professional atmosphere." Despite the numbers and the plaudits, a professional career in football was still something of a pipe dream for the 23-year-old. It was always at the back of his mind, but at the forefront was going out with the Clan with a bang. Blagojevic had no idea that the Whitecaps were following his progress and were likely to draft him until today. "I didn't know if they were keeping tabs on me or if they had interest in me. I was just enjoying my time with SFU and all I set out to do was to end on a good note in my senior season with SFU. That was it. I never really thought that this would be possible, that there would be a professional chance for me, an opportunity for me in the future." Today's news that the 'Caps had selected him with their first pick in the third round came as a stunning surprise to the striker. So where was he when he got the news. "I was at home, sitting in my living room. I watched the first and second round live, just because I was interested in what was going on. I knew the third and fourth round was occurring on the internet through the live draft tracker, so I was just looking at that screen. I didn't know anything about any team or anything that I was being chosen. I just wanted to see what happens." You can understand why Blagojevic thus describes the whole experience as surreal, but also as one of the best days of his life so far. Med school is still in his long-term plans, but having a chance to make it a pro footballer was just too much of an opportunity for Blagojevic to pass up. "Right now, my first priority is soccer. In the future I can always try and attempt medical school so I guess long, long term, it is medical school for sure but at the moment my main priority is doing whatever I can to succeed at this level." Blagojevic's family have always been big supporters of Jovan throughout his career and his dad is a familiar face at games up the mountain at SFU. They're also fully supportive of him putting his medical career on hold at the moment to try and make it as a professional footballer and were obviously delighted at Jovan being drafted today. "They were all very happy for me. My dad was at work, my mum was upstairs and we were all talking in a group message and they were just all so happy. My mum gave me a big hug and then the next time I saw my dad, he gave me a big hug, my mum was crying. Everybody's just super super happy and ecstatic about everything that's occurring. "The advice that they gave me about medical school and soccer is exactly as I said. That there's always time for this. Right now this is my goal and my dream and I have to take every opportunity as it comes, so that's essentially what I'm doing." The striker has clearly been drafted primarily to feature in the 'Caps new USL PRO team (which will have a 50% Canadian roster requirement), but the chance is now there for him to impress and get into the first team reckoning as well. With MLS roster spots already at a premium, Robinson has previously said that he was more looking at these third and fourth round draft picks for the USL team. But he's also said that every player will get a chance to show they deserve a crack at the MLS squad and to be in the first team mix. "I guess we'll see. I'm not really sure what the future has but if he sees me that I'm more of a USL player, then that's what I am. If he gives me the opportunity for the MLS first team, then you better believe I'm going to take it and give the best I can to show him that he was correct in choosing me for that position. Whatever it is, I'm excited either way." Robinson's message to all of his young players has been clear. He'll give them the tools and the pathway, it's then up to each player individually to take it. Some will and some won't. Blagojevic is determined to fall into the former category but he knows there are aspects of his game that he will need to work on and also what needs to do as a rookie to get him there. "I just have to try and listen to his tactics and what he likes in players and what he sees in players and I just have to try and mould myself as a player to what he wants from his players. I feel that if I can do that as much as I can, hopefully I will get that opportunity." The Whitecaps mantra under Robinson is to give youth a chance and that talent is what matters, not age. Knowing that opportunity and those chances exist is already a key motivational tool for Blagojevic. "That's exciting. It's for sure something that you want to hear. It's very encouraging to hear that from your coach that he has faith in his young players. Hopefully I can prove that faith correct." For those that haven't seen him play yet (we'll put his highlight reel video at the end of this article), how would Jovan describe his style of play and what qualities will he be adding to the Whitecaps? "I feel that I'm very forward with my type of play. [Depending on the situation] I have one mission in mind when I get the ball - either beat my player, going down the line and cross it or go to goal after I've beat my player. I like to score goals. I'm a goalscorer. If I can do that for the Whitecaps, that would be a dream come true." When Jovan first went to study at SFU he wasn't even part of the soccer team, choosing to focus on his education for his first two years at university, before being convinced that he could juggle both. "My first two years I decided not to play, then I finally talked to my parents about whether I should join or not and how it was going to affect my school, but deciding to choose to play on the team was by far a great experience for me as a player, as a person." Blagojevic told us when we chatted just over a year ago. "It's definitely the best thing I've done for my career as a soccer player. It was the best decision for me to do, join the team. It's the closest I've got to that professional environment, which is nice, and I've always wanted that in my life as a soccer player." Now Blagojevic has the opportunity to take it that one stage further and to be in an actual professional training and development environment, and he's excited as to what that will mean for his game. "It's going to obviously help me grow as a player, which I'm really excited about. I'm really excited to see what the future has for me. I want to continue to get better and I want to work as hard as I can to try to get the most that I can out of this opportunity. The fact that now I'm actually living in a pro environment and not what it was before, although SFU had a similar feeling, now it's actually happening for real. It's exciting and I just think it will help me grow as a player." We've been watching Blagojevic play for a few years now. We've seen him as a winger, as an out and out striker and even as a midfielder. The Whitecaps are certainly getting a versatile player, and Jovan is comfortable in any forward and attacking role that the Caps will see fit to give him. "I guess I prefer being a winger. I've grown to be most comfortable in that position. I can play other positions, but I don't feel I'm as strong at them as I am as a winger, but whatever position Carl Robinson has in mind for me, I'll do my best at making the most out of it and do the best that I can at it." The 'Caps have still to name their new coach for the USL PRO side, although an announcement is expected later this week. One name in the mix is current SFU Clan head coach Alan Koch. Blagojevic has spent the last four season under Koch's tutelage and credits the South African with fine tuning his skills and making him the player he is today. "His coaching has got me to become the goalscoring threat that I am. I'm very forward with the way I play and I've definitely built that attribute because of him. He's always focussed with going forward toward the goal and that's helped me become who I am." Koch has been working as a scout of the college ranks with the Whitecaps and acted as part of the 'Caps management team at training over the summer months. He knows Blagojevic's game inside and out and the qualities and attributes that he can bring to the squad. Koch will have had strong input in Vancouver's decision to draft the striker. He's delighted to see Blagojevic now get his chance in the pro game and is confident he has what it takes to succeed. "Jovan is a competitor and he is willing to work hard and absorb information," Koch told AFTN. "I think it is his willingness to address his limitations that has made him the player he is today. He has a winners mentality and is a natural goalscorer. He has not reached his peak yet and in the Whitecaps professional environment I think he will continue to get better and better." While drafting Blagojevic is great news for player and coach alike, it is also good for the soccer program itself at SFU and will only bring more added attention to what is already one of the best set ups in the country. "I am very happy for Jovan to be our first MLS draftee,". Koch continued. "SFU has had lots of players drafted [uSL and A-League], but not into Major League Soccer. Sporting KC had a lot of interest in Chris Bargholz and Alex Kleefeldt last year, but unfortunately nothing came out of that interest. Jovan's selection will only add to the exposure that our team continues to receive, and hopefully make it easier for the next player to get drafted in the near future.' That's a view also echoed by Blagojevic. "SFU's built me into the player that I am, so I'm very respectful of that program," Jovan told us. "It would be great for them to be able to bring in extra talent or to have them have extra spotlight now would be exciting for them and it would be exciting for me as an alumni now." Born in Belgrade, Serbia in 1991 and moving to Canada two years later, Blagojevic grew up in Burnaby and Coquitlam and played his youth football with Burnaby Selects before moving on to the Coquitlam Metro-Ford Wolves U18 side. BC boys on the Whitecaps roster are something of a rarity these days. Following a string of top players coming out of the province and the Whitecaps sides years ago, Richmond's Caleb Clarke is the only other BC homegrown on the Caps senior roster right now. So what does it mean to Jovan to have the chance to play for his hometown club? "It's amazing," Blagojevic admitted. "To even see my name pop up on that draft and then to see it pop up for Vancouver is crazy. To be able to stay at home with my family and to be with my girlfriend as well, it's quite something that I don't have to leave. It definitely helps. "Playing for Vancouver is awesome. It's something that you dream about. It's a fairytale coming true essentially." School, work and his footballing career with SFU and Metro-Ford have somewhat curtailed Jovan's opportunities to go and see the Whitecaps play live. He's only been able to get to a couple of 'Caps MLS games so far but regularly watches at home when he can. Having the chance to play for his local club, also brings with it, it's own little bit of pressure of course. Family and friends will be there and they will all want success. Not that Jovan feels under any extra or undue pressure as a result. "I'd feel the same way if I went anywhere. What I'm feeling, I'd feel anywhere I'd go. It's an amazing opportunity to have. The fact that it's local, yeah it's pretty cool. It's definitely nice, but it doesn't add much extra pressure on me that I'm one of the only local boys on the team." Blagojevic comes to the Caps in an unusual situation for a local lad. He didn't come through the Whitecaps' Residency program. As someone outwith the 'Caps system how does he view the experience of coming through the youth ranks locally but not with the Whitecaps and does he see himself as someone who can give hope to other players in that situation? "I don't know if exactly I feel that way but if it is that I'm giving other local kids that extra encouragement then that's great. I love to support local soccer. That's all I've had as a Coquitlam boy and a Burnaby boy. It was a nice experience playing my youth soccer and my men's soccer with local teams here." There is no doubt that there is still a very hard and tough road ahead if Blagojevic is to make it in the professional game, whether with the Whitecaps or someone else. As draft picks are always told, you've not made it, your journey actually starts now. Having watched him develop these past few years at SFU, there is no doubt in my mind that he has many of the skills needed to make it in the game but taking that next step up the ladder is always tricky. He'll be given all the tools and pathways to get there though and it's up to him now to keep developing and take them. The first step starts this weekend. Blagojevic will now join up with the 'Caps for the start of preseason training camp. The current players report back for their medicals on Saturday before the first on the field session on Monday, and Jovan is already pumped up and raring to go with his new team. "As for what's next training wise, I'm not sure yet. I was told that they'll give me a call to let me know what the gameplan is, so I'll be looking forward to that phone call." Here's is Jovan Blagojevic's highlight reel video:
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