In our latest Soccer Nation Sitdown, Nate Abaurrea was joined by Albion Pros Head Coach and San Diego State Assistant Ziggy Korytoski. While the full conversation made its way around much of the western hemisphere, Part 1 is firmly footed right here in San Diego. Ziggy discusses his various roles with Albion SC, from being the newly appointed South Bay Director of Coaching to managing the club’s professional outfit. We also find out what brought Ziggy to San Diego in the first place, and how he feels about life in America’s Finest City.
Nate Abaurrea: Thanks for stopping in, coach. How are things with you?
Ziggy Korytoski: Thanks for having me, Nate. Things are great. It’s been quite the busy year here in 2016. Between Albion and the Aztecs, youth teams and adults, it’s been non-stop fun and excitement. I’m excited to see what next year’s gonna bring, but we still got a long way to go with this one, and a lot of important things to get dialed in.
NA: Tell us what’s new with your role at Albion SC, specifically your new title of South Bay Director of Coaching.
ZK: Things have been restructured a bit in the southern reaches of San Diego County as far as Albion is concerned, and there have been some fantastic developments. I have indeed taken on the role you mentioned, as we try to bring the Albion way to the South Bay. The strides we are making are tremendous, and I look specifically to some of our work in Chula Vista and National City, both home to some of the area’s finest soccer talent . We want to provide a service of immense value to these communities in the South Bay, the same way we already do in other parts of this region.
NA: It was recently announced that you will be returning as the head coach of Albion Pros for the 2017 season. It was also announced that the team will again compete in the NPSL in 2017, trying to follow up an incredible run to the national quarter-finals in the team’s debut campaign. How are things looking from your point of view?
ZK: Exciting! We’ve got a good handle on things right now. We’ve got a successful soccer operation at a professional level, backed by the foundation of a well-run youth club. We’ve evaluated the good and bad from the opening season, and it was mostly good. We want to refine the brand a bit, and I can tell you there are some exciting things on the horizon, things that will be announced soon. We are working to have more and more of a connection and interaction between the Albion Academy and the professional club. We want to professionalize the whole environment, putting younger guys into that environment to help them grow.
You look back to last season and you see what our players are sacrificing and what they are giving to this club. We often had training five days a week, early in the morning, with matches on Saturday nights. The players reaped the rewards of that work, and now we want more. We want an even stronger team with even better players.
We also want to add to the gameday experience, and that goes back to professionalizing the environment of Albion. We want to be that model that U.S. Soccer is looking for, a true connection between the academy, professional players, and the fans.
NA: On a broader level, what does Albion mean to you?
ZK: Albion means a lot to me. It’s truly an honor and a privilege to be coaching the youth and to be the man blessed with the task of guiding this professional project. The Pros situation is very similar to the project I was handed when I went to Guatemala to manage Antigua GFC. The people at that club were adamant about furthering a connection between the professional first team and the youth squads.
Not every player makes it to the top. But we can still help every player who walks through those doors. Whether they have clear aspirations to play professionally or in college, or if they’re just fighting for playing time, we can help them, both on the soccer field and in life. There is a sense of family at this club, and everything we do takes full commitment.
NA: Whether it’s in regard to the Pros or the vast array of youth teams, there seems to be this added motivation for other clubs to beat Albion. There’s often a palpable resentment from other sides in San Diego towards Albion. To a neutral eye, it makes for wonderful, compelling drama. As an Albion coach, how does it make you feel?
ZK: I think it all goes to show that we’re doing things the right way. We’ve often got a target on our backs, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve got healthy rivalries with other clubs. The bigger we get, the more those rivalries will grow. The soccer community of San Diego will be stimulated, and it will all become more and more transparent.
I have the utmost respect for a number of teams in this community, and I support everyone’s right to do things their way. Me, I’m red-white-&-blue. Not only am I coaching, but I’ve put my only son in the Albion system. From top to bottom, I believe in the Albion way.
NA: It must be slightly surreal to feel that level of passion after living in San Diego for just fourteen months. Your arrival in the city was relatively recent. How did you originally come to San Diego, and what do you love most about this place?
ZK: My job had ended in Guatemala, and my wife (who is from Tokyo), my kids, and I lived in Boston for a little while. An opportunity arose to join the Men’s Soccer staff at San Diego State University, being an assistant coach with head man Lev Kirshner. It was a great chance to get back into the college game, something I missed since leaving the staff at Cal Poly. As soon as I got here, I knew I was in the right place.
Once we got rolling, I found Albion as an option for my son. I heard about the pro team that was brewing, and ended up having a detailed chat with Albion SC Executive Director Noah Gins. I saw that the sky was the limit for this pro team, and jumped at the opportunity to be a part of it. It’s an enormous responsibility, but one that brings excitement to my life every waking hour.
I got here in early September of 2015, and immediately met so many great people in and outside of the day to day soccer grind. I landed great jobs, and am so grateful for that.
This climate we have here is a blessing, and it’s made for soccer. And the quality of life in this city is unmatched in my experiences around the globe. It’s not too big. It’s not too small. They call it America’s Finest City for a reason.
It feels like I’ve been here a lot longer than fourteen months, and that’s a testament to this fine community that has welcomed me and my family with open arms. Whether it’s been with SDSU or Albion, with fellow coaches in the area or just people in general, I’ve enjoyed every second of this San Diego journey, and I can’t wait for the next chapters to be written.
(Part 2 of Nate Abaurrea’s interview with Ziggy Korytoski can be found here. It’s sure to be a wildly enjoyable read, with stories of leading Antigua GFC to playoff glory amidst tear-gas and assault rifles in the rain-forests of Guatemala, memories of flying tortillas and eleven thousand spectators at Cal Poly v. UCSB matches in San Luis Obispo, Ziggy’s European coaching aspirations, and much more.)