In a special edition of “Coach’s Corner”, SoccerNation.com’s Nate Abaurrea sat down with Albion Pros Head Coach Ziggy Korytoski. The two shared an hour-long conversation that focused mainly on Albion’s highly anticipated all-San Diego clash with North County Battalion. However, the chat also went all the way to the hills of Guatemala, examined the pay-to-play system, touched on class warfare around the world, and a few other topics that can certainly ruffle a few feathers in the circles of American soccer. Here’s a taste of the Friday night chat.
Nate Abaurrea: “How you feeling, coach?”
Ziggy Korytoski: “This whole week has basically been one big coaches meeting. I’m feeling good.”
NA: “Two NPSL matches, two wins for Albion Pros, and you guys haven’t conceded a single goal. How’s the team feeling?”
ZK: “Fantastic. From day one, everybody bought into the vision of this team, and the culture of this organization. It’s a good group, and the success has been both on and off the field.”
NA: “On the field, what’s been the biggest strengths of your side, thus far?”
ZK: “We’ve been really well organized at the back, and that in turn propels our attack. The guys have all bought into their defensive duties, 100%. I love seeing that. And in goal, we’re as good as anyone in the NPSL, and I mean on a national level.”
NA: “Tell us a little about Jean Antoine, your highly touted goalkeeper.”
ZK: “He’s a 22-year-old from Haiti. He is relatively new to the San Diego soccer scene, but he’s already got fans like he’s a hometown hero. He hasn’t allowed a goal in our two matches, and in addition to being a phenomenal communicator, his athleticism is as good as any goalkeeper I’ve ever coached.”
NA: “What does this match against the Battalion on Saturday night mean to you, and what does it mean to Albion as a whole?”
ZK: “The whole thing is great. There are two teams battling for the top position in the table while also vying for the hearts and minds of San Diego. Some people want to call it a ‘derby’. Some people want to call it ‘The Craft Beer Cup’. Whatever name you want to go with, it’s real. This is here. With all the hard work that both clubs have put in since their inceptions and entrances into the league, this game is being looked at as a ‘where do we stand’ type encounter. It’s a chance to make a statement, a chance for us to say ‘look what we’ve built in the last five months’. Our ambitions are high. We’ve got a vision for what this thing could be. The Battalion are in the same boat. This match is exciting for all San Diegans. The game is growing in our community in all the proper ways right now. We are fighting for position on and off the field. That is good for everyone involved.”
NA: “How does this Albion Pros team relate to Albion S.C. and the club’s system, and how important is the ‘homegrown players’ aspect of your team?”
ZK: “We don’t base Albion Pros purely on ‘homegrown players’. We have built a professional soccer culture. We just happen to be blessed to have some of those homegrown guys who have a true allegiance to this organization. We’ve got such a diverse squad. Our customary starting back-line, just as an example, consists of guys that hail from Poland, Honduras, Holland, and the United States, all positioned in front of our wonderful Haitian goalkeeper. Watching that blend together with the homegrown guys is just brilliant to see.”
NA: “You’ve got a pretty worldly sense of the game yourself. You’ve managed everywhere from Saipan to the Guatemalan top flight. What’s the juxtaposition like for you, having coached in third world countries and now being so close to an American youth soccer club culture like Albion?”
ZK: “Coaching in Guatemala was one of the most important periods in my life. I’m grateful for the perspective that I have as a result of my time there. For every one player that makes it to the top, escapes poverty and helps their family, there’s a dozen who don’t. You don’t get to see what that’s like unless you’re there. When you see desperation lead to violence, drugs, tragedy, and families being torn apart, you become grateful for what you have. When I coached Antigua GFC, we used to do fitness in the mountains and hills of Guatemala. One time, I saw a little girl who could not have been older than eight or nine, carrying her six month old sister on her back. She was looking after her sister for days at a time because her parents were off working. I’ll never forget that moment.
Nobody’s life is perfect, but it’s a fact that every one of these youth players at Albion has a roof over their head, a safety blanket of the first world. We must always be conscious of this, and show our gratitude for the lives we lead.”
NA: “There are some who look at the American youth soccer system, and say that no player development among upper-middle-class adolescents will ever match the desire to escape the ghetto. What do you think of that statement, and how does it relate to the pay-to-play model in this country?”
ZK: “It’s a great question, and not an easy one to answer. Those players that I was close to in Guatemala were playing for survival and for pride. They wore their hearts on their sleeves and would literally give blood to help their team win. That’s not something you can teach.
I would love to see American soccer tap into our own poverty stricken areas, and make soccer the escape for thousands of under-privileged kids in this country. But just because someone grows up with wealth doesn’t mean they can’t have a desire to reach the top. Look at Kaka, Pique, Pirlo… They are some of the legends of this generation, and all of them had relatively privileged upbringings, but that did nothing to hinder their ambition.
I think a key word here is commitment. I’m not a staunch supporter of the pay-to-play model, but I’m also not firmly against it in any way. If I pay money and invest into something, you can be sure that I am going to be fully committed. There are thousands of kids who play for top clubs in this country who are as committed to their soccer as anyone else in the world. We can develop players in America. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Ariel Lassiter, an Albion product now with the Galaxy, is a fine example, and a player I’m so excited to see make that next jump.
It’s the entitlement that is wrong. Just because your parents paid for something doesn’t mean you’re entitled to playing time or various other privileges. That is definitely a problem with the pay-to-play system, players feeling like they’re entitled to things that they didn’t necessarily earn. It’s up to the individual players and coaches to eliminate that attitude in American soccer. ‘Do your job! Otherwise we’ll find someone else who can do it better.’ That type of philosophy breeds commitment, and that’s what we need most in this country if we are to advance our standing in the world’s game.”
NA: “One more question before we jump back to the big match, the San Diego Derby, the Craft Beer Cup, the Battalbion Classico, or whatever the heck we’re calling it. What was going through your mind when you saw Guatemala defeat the United States 2-0 in World Cup Qualifying last month in Guatemala City? There had to be some conflicting emotions.”
ZK: (Laughs) “Yeah. Conflicting might be an understatement.
Look, I will always root for the United States, both the men and the women, whether it’s against Guatemala or any other country. But that particular match had me feeling all kinds of things. Starting in the center of the midfield that night for Guatemala was Rodrigo Saravia. He now plays with Columbus Crew in MLS, getting drafted after a great college career at Florida Gulf Coast. I signed Rodrigo when he was 14 years old, and brought him into the first team at Antigua a couple of years later. The first time we capped him, our staff battled all day to make sure he would be released from school for the match. Seeing how far he’s come almost brings a tear to my eye, especially knowing his background and everything he’s gone through. I’ll never be happy to see the U.S. lose a game, but I also wasn’t angry that night. I was so happy for Rodrigo.”
NA: “Seamlessly transitioning back to San Diego, who are some of the players on the Albion side to look out for on Saturday night?”
ZK: “Luke Staats is our captain and our leader on the field. He will be vital.
I know you and (Battalion Head Coach) Ryan Guy spoke about Matt Clare. We’re so lucky to have him, especially so soon after finishing his indoor season with the Sockers. He brings a great on-field presence, and provides moments that are nothing short of spectacular. There’s no ego involved with Matt. He’s a consummate professional. Whether it’s indoor or outdoor, he does what coaches tell him to do. He never second guesses you. He just does his job. He’ll be a huge factor in our attack.”
NA: “Anybody on the Battalion side you’re focusing on?”
ZK: “They’ve got a ton of guys with flair, and they love to get the ball wide. Esteban Reyes is a player I’ve seen quite a bit of, and he’s a game changer. I’ve got a lot of respect for that young man, and for the way he plays the game. As much as I’d love to shut him down, focusing too much on one guy will leave others open. We’ve got to play a complete game, and keep up that defensive organization I spoke of earlier.”
NA: “Lastly, what are your three keys to Albion success on Saturday night?”
ZK: “1. Organization
Have I mentioned that word yet?
2. Transition & Tempo
We need to move quickly. I want to see us break with intensity, and turn defense into instant attack. I want to see us dictate the tempo of the game.
3. Keep it Compact
We need to hold possession, and keep the game central. They’ve got dangerous weapons out wide. We can’t let guys like Reyes or Eric Lopez get isolated. The more central we keep the game, the more our chances of winning improve. But just keeping the ball in the middle of the park doesn’t mean we’re good to go. Their central players are quality as well. There needs to be an added desire on our end, a willingness to try harder and fight for everything in that midfield.”
NA: “Thanks for your time, Ziggy. Best of luck tomorrow.”
ZK: “My pleasure, Nate. It’s a privilege to be a part of a game like this one. I can’t wait to see the fans of both teams at the stadium tomorrow. It’s gonna be a great night for the soccer community of San Diego.”
NC Battalion v Albion Pros kicks off at 7:00 PST at Del Norte High School. The match will be streamed live online at NCBattalion.com for those who cannot attend in person.