It’s only been a short period of time since Alan Koch took the helm of FC Cincinnati as its new head coach. Since that time, I’ve been fortunate to have spoken with him on several occasions, including after preseason games #2 and #3. What was even more notable was observing Koch at two of the team training sessions at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
It’s obviously very early in his term, but I have to say I’m impressed. It is easy to understand why FC Cincinnati hired him, and why they felt he had what it would take to lead the team to a championship.
Alan Koch was born is South Africa. During his professional soccer career, he played for teams in South Africa, Germany and Ireland as well as the South African national team. In 2001, medical experts recommended he retire from playing soccer due to a heart condition, and his playing career ended.
In 2003, Koch began his coaching career at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas and coached continuously for the next 13 year, eventually landing in Vancouver as head coach of the Whitecaps FC 2 team. During his coaching career, he developed a reputation for finding young players and helping them reach their full potential. In 2016, he took his team to the semi-finals of the Western playoffs of the USL. What makes this even more impressive is that he did this on a shoestring budget with seven teenagers on the roster.
Coach Koch carries a pedigree of coaching licenses that would fill a business card, including an NSCAA Premier Diploma with distinction, a Canadian “B” license, various South African licenses, and a UEFA “B” licence. He is currently pursuing both his UEFA “A” license and Canadian “A” license.
I was able to speak at length with Alan Koch about the preseason and what its purpose was for him. For Koch, this is a chance to experiment and try things. He wants all of the players to get minutes, and he wants to see different combinations of players. His goal is to give the players opportunities to develop and prove themselves.
Coach Koch commented to me that it doesn’t help the team to focus on a starting 11 during preseason only to have an injury mean that the team starts the season with a player who is not match fit or able to follow the game plan. Throughout the season, he will be managing player fatigue and fitness to be prepared for injuries and to have the team strong and ready for the playoffs at the end of the season.
Some teams approach the preseason just like the regular season, and they try to generate impressive results. They play a starting 11 and make minimal subs and go for a win every game. For Koch, this is missing the point and wasting an opportunity. Maybe those teams already have it all figured out and have nothing to try or to learn. Coach Koch believes there is always room to learn and grow.
Watching the FC Cincinnati technical staff at training is impressive. All the parts seem to work like a well oiled machine. Staff show up early and start setting up the field with equipment for warm ups, drills, small sided games, etc. They remove equipment that is no longer needed as each segment of the training session completes. They add equipment to the setup that is needed in the next segment. There is a plan, and they know exactly what is expected and what to do. They are the first ones to the field and the last ones to leave.
When the players arrive, I can tell that the training is well organized with a clear flow. Coach Koch begins by addressing the team. They gather around him and form a circle. His voice is soft yet everyone listens. The talk lasts about 10 minutes. After the pre-training talk, the athletic trainers take the team through stretches. Assistant Coach Nate Kish takes the team through warm ups and drills. The players laugh and joke and support each other. And all the while, Coach Koch is watching and studying the players. He gives compliments and makes corrections as a quiet observer, and the team is always aware of his presence.
As the training progresses, each segment builds in size, complexity and intensity. As the training moves into more game like situations, Coach Koch takes over the session. The quiet man is no longer quiet. His voice is easily heard across the field. At this point, it is apparent that Coach Koch is a true teacher of the game. He never shies from stopping things to take advantage of a teaching moment. “What other options did he have?” “Where could he have moved to open up space and create options?” Not so much stopping that the players lose their energy. Enough that he helps them understand the tactics and decisions that will make them better players. When he talks, he holds the players’ attention. It is obvious that they respect him and the knowledge he is sharing.
As they break into a full 11v11 scrimmage, tempers begin to rise with the heat. The competition within the team is fierce and the joking and laughing is over. At one point, Coach Koch feels that the frustration is getting too high and he stops everyone to address intensity versus emotion. Even the psychology of the game is something he can help the players deal with. Throughout the training, he ignores clear fouls and calls random non-fouls or PKs. The players are getting used to dealing with terrible calls. This will probably come in handy during the regular season…..
As training wraps up, the team gathers again and circles around their coach. He spends another 10 minutes talking with them, giving his observations. One last chance to give them guidance and direction. As the teams leaves the field, they wear smiles once again and joke and goof around with each other.
FC Cincinnati has MLS aspirations and believes that part of achieving that goal is to succeed on the pitch as well as in the stands. To do that, they need a leader who can take a group of players and make each individual better. Those players need to understand what their role is so they can work together efficiently as a team. Alan Koch fills those requirements and is a man with the potential to take the team to the Cup final. He has strong communication skills and is a natural teacher. We are in good hands.