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Q&A: Catch Up With Men's Soccer Head Coach Chad Riley

Aug. 6, 2018

The upcoming 2018 soccer season is upon us, as the Notre Dame men’s team starts practice this week. With the arrival of the new year comes a new head coach in Chad Riley, a former Irish standout in the early 2000s. Fighting Irish Media caught up with Riley for a Q&A before the start of the season.

What is your ideal formation?

“I think it’s always going to be based on the personnel. The first thing a coach does in soccer is get a team comfortable without the ball, so a lot of that will dictate defensive shape. We are generally a team that will play four at the back and then a variation of midfields, which then entails how many strikers you play with. Over the last few years at Dartmouth it has been some version of a 4-3-3.”

How would you characterize the style you would like your teams to have?

“I think we want to be energetic. We are always going to have 18- to 22-year-old players so they should have a lot of energy.

“We want to be purposeful. Whatever we are doing we need to understand why we are doing that tactic. While it is great to control the game with the ball we want to always have a purpose behind our play with the ball so it is not just passes to rack up passing statistics. It is how are we able to create quality chances.

“I also want our team to be passionate. Having passion will be a big part of how we play. It is a game so we should have some passion in playing it and it makes it fun to watch. Energetic, purposeful and passion are the words we use with how our team will compete.”

What is your greatest memory from your career as a player?

“I remember one time talking with Bobby [Clark] after a practice and that is when I knew I would be a coach. I really enjoyed practice. I enjoyed the games, obviously, but I remember just getting to work with the team of good players every day and pushing you that way.

“As far as a single moment goes I would say our first championship which was the BIG EAST Tournament in 2003 during my senior year with Bobby was something that we worked very hard from my freshman year to my senior year. A lot of the teams now in the ACC were in the Big East so it was a big win for our program and us. I will always remember that solidifying all of the hard work that we did.”

What made you want to become a coach?

“The 2018 World Cup and having it during camp this summer brought back a lot of memories of 1994 when the US hosted it. I was 12 or 13 years and I recorded every game. I think that is where I really fell in love with the game.

“I always knew I wanted to coach and wanted to play as long as I could but then when I started coaching I didn’t understand how much I would enjoy a lot of the things that I didn’t associate with coaching: the relationships and the part of trying to help someone be better. I knew I liked talking soccer and tactics but the part I didn’t think about were the mentorship aspects and the relationships you build with a team. I also really enjoy seeing the relationships the team gets to build with one another.

“I think I was wired a bit differently in that I knew I wanted to be involved in coaching. I have liked talking about soccer since the 1994 World Cup. That World Cup was unique because before it you didn’t get to see as much soccer in the U.S. You could watch a few games but not as many as during and after it. I was fortunate to grow up in Houston so we got a lot of first division games for Mexico to watch.”

Who are your favorite professional players to watch, both past and present?

“The two players that come to mind right away for the present are Paul Pogba and Kevin De Bruyne. I have a soft spot for very good passers and they are two of the best passers that I have ever seen, especially currently. If I go back a little bit further I was a big Dennis Bergkamp fan. Another player who I admired was an Argentinian named Juan Sebastián Verón. I used to love watching him play. I also loved [Zinedine] Zidane. He could pass, he could dribble and just do it all.”

Is there a certain stat that you like to look at after a game to assess your team’s performance?

“The cool thing about soccer is, depending on the tactic and strategy of your team, you might have different stats that are important to look at. Like rebounds in basketball, I think second balls are very important because if each team has the ball 50 percent of the time it means the ball is turning over pretty quickly, so how you handle those moments is always something we track both after games and over the course of the season. When there is no possession at a given moment, how many times did we gain possession? That is key to me.

“Another thing I obviously look at is shots on goal and quality chances created. On the other side of that it is how many shots on goal and quality chances did you give up.”

How has the analytical side of soccer changed over the last five to 10 years?

“I think it has been good for the game. It makes everything more consistent as far as the information that we get from the media. It has been more fun to follow as a fan.

“Overall I think we are becoming more analytical because we are able to use physiological data with all the tracking of players all over the field. We can use that information to make more educated decisions as coaches. We are also able to start crunching numbers from larger sets of data on things like what leads to a goal. It shows what teams should be working on. For example, set pieces seemed to be more important over this summer’s World Cup. Everyone has always known they are important but 30 percent of goals were scored on set pieces.

“Soccer has always been a game of opinions and it will still be that way because it is played all over the world and has been around for over a hundred years so I think it has gone through more evolutions than a lot of other sports. I think what we are starting to see is a complete package of teams using information they have and using it to the benefit of their team, whatever style that may be.

“I think it helps the players learn things quicker because it is in the media with a little bit more consistent language with the commentary. Everybody is more versed in the nuances with the tactics.

With the US not in the World Cup this summer, which teams did you most enjoy watching?

“I really enjoyed all four teams that made the semifinals [France, Croatia, Belgium and England]. I also enjoyed Panama and Senegal. I thought some teams that didn’t qualify for the knockout stages like Peru were very good. It was one of the best World Cups that I have ever really seen in my time that I can remember. I don’t think I watched a bad team.”

Will the US win a men’s World Cup in the next 25 years?

“I think so. I haven’t read one article yet about France not making the World Cup in 1994 and winning the 1998 World Cup. Basically, they used that time and disappointment to refocus. It built a platform for an unbelievable amount of success since then. I don’t necessarily think we will win the World Cup in 2022 but it is soccer so anything can happen.”

How has fandom in the US progressed over the years and where do you think it is heading?

“I think we are past the tipping point. Atlanta and all the new Major League Soccer teams have been great examples of that. I was talking to a United Soccer League coach the other day and that league is blowing up. When I graduated there were 10-12 MLS teams and 10-12 A-League teams, which were not really professional. You didn’t make a living wage out of college in the MLS except for a few guys. Now you are somewhere between 50 and 60 professional clubs and is just exploding. People have understood it is such a fun game to follow and is a community-driven game too. You can play it and not just watch it. I am really excited about the future of the game.”