Interview by Mike Woitalla
After a seven-year professional playing career, Luchi
Gonzalez launched a career in education -- he served as Dean
of Students and algebra teacher at Miami’s Gulliver Academy --
and youth coaching. A full-time coach at FC Dallas’ academy
since 2012, the 2001 Hermann Trophy winner at SMU guided FC Dallas to
the 2015 U.S. Soccer Development Academy U-15/16 title. His FC Dallas
team, which took USSDA Central Conference “Best Style
Play” honors, outscored its six postseason opponents, 20-0.
GONZALEZ: I am the teacher-coach I am today because of all
the prior coaches who have been in my life. My personality is set, but
my attitude about game knowledge, planning, training culture -- coach
behavior and training setup -- continues to evolve based on past and
current coaches who have influenced me. We cannot be set in our ways
and think we know it all.
Today’s youth players …
LG: The current generation of youth players do not
respond to “do this because I said so.” Any youth player
has access to incredible amounts of information (internet, social
media, etc.). They need meaning behind the concepts of the game and
how it relates to their roles. It’s our duty as a coach to give
purpose behind the things we do, and how they impact the game.
Luchi Gonzalez flanked by Hector Montalvo (left)
and Branden Terwege.
It’s important that we have enough game knowledge to set up
training so that players can discover concepts that they will need to
know how to apply in the game. This is accomplished with patience,
asking them questions, guiding them, making the training objectives
relevant to the game.
It’s important that when we communicate with our players (as
a group or individually) that we tell them what they need to
hear, not what they want to hear. Honesty is vital for the
players to grow. The tone and the ability to be constructive and
positive go hand in hand with this notion, but done properly, the
truth is what lets the player have the opportunity to improve and get
better. When things are too fluffy, sugar-coated, not honest enough,
then I think you accomplish the opposite -- a confused player or group
of players who think they are doing all the right things who are in
Planning Practice …
LG: As coaches, we should always have a plan for the
training. It is usually written or digitally input into a training
planner. It is more important that coaches are willing and able to
veer from the plan. I think too many coaches get stuck in trying to
execute the plan exactly the way it was first set out to be. This is a
huge mistake. The plan is a guide to achieve an objective. During a
session, coaches need to be able to make adjustments to numbers,
space, times and intervals, game rules -- all based on observation of
their players. To me, a coach can never blame his players for not
finding success in an exercise. It is the coaches' responsibility to
adjust the exercise so that they find success, based on the player
resources and level they are capable of.
Challenging Players …
LG: At the same time, the coach must also not think
that the exercise is successful if his players are executing with
ease, because then they are not being challenged enough. The coach
must always play with the balance of what his players are capable of
technically, tactically and mentally challenging the training
environment is. Coaching truly is an art, it's constantly modifying
the original piece of work, to enhance or improve the effectiveness of
the planned training.
FC Dallas, U-16 Boys Head Coach
Hometown: Miami, Fla.
Playing Experience: U.S. U-17 national team
(1997 U-17 World Cup), SMU, San Jose Earthquakes, Bodens BK (Sweden),
Sporting Cristal (Peru), Colorado Rapids, Miami FC, Minnesota
Coaching Experience: Felix Varela H.S.
(The Hammocks, Fla.), Gulliver Academy (Miami, Fla.), Kendall SC
Trainings should always be competitive. A competitive culture
conditions your players to develop leadership, emotional control,
personality, alertness, desire, pride. All intangibles when trying to
develop pro players. I have observed trainings that have great
technical and tactical components, but they never touched on the
emotional control that is so important for a player. I believe that
every technical exercise, whether passing patterns or finishing,
should progress into some type of competition.
Warm-ups, possession games ... can all have competition components
as well. I think we have to be careful with this concept with ages
below U-10, but from U-10, competing in training will increase
motivation, tempo, intensity, quickness of acting and thinking, give
urgency. It's fun to watch the players find ways to out-perform,
out-smart each other from Monday to Friday, then all come together and
do it as a team on the weekend.
Your start in coaching …
LG: I coached while I was still playing with the
Colorado Rapids [2005-06], a U-11 boys team – running sessions
as a guest coach. With the Minnesota Thunder, I would help with their
Transition from playing pro to coaching
When you’re a player that’s the
only perspective you have. When you start coaching kids, everything
comes from out of passion, being vocal, a lot of animation. Which can
be great to spawn learning in young kids. But I think when you become
more experienced in coaching you see the way kids learn is different.
It’s creating environments where they can discover and that
they’re not micromanaged. Where they’re still challenged
and there’s still a motivational piece, there’s still
support and guidance -- but that the young athletes are empowered to
make their own decisions and think for themselves.
LG: A key
word. We’re evolving our curriculum at FC Dallas. We always
reflect on how we play every year and try and modify how we want to do
things. And the word that comes up is balance. We want to develop
balanced players who can adapt so we can dictate a game knowing how to
hurt teams in several ways. It can be vertical play with quick
combinations going forward, short and long passes. Or it can be with a
patient buildup. It’s not doing one all the time. It’s
knowing how to do both and when in a game.
a good relationship with parents is important, because we mutually
develop the kids. The parents at home and the coaches on the field and
off the field when we travel. But for me having a good relationship is
having honesty, not necessarily a friendship. You need to have
transparency, good communication, but you also have to have boundaries
so they’re respecting the environment so the coach is guiding
FC Dallas’ Latin-style of play …
LG: We’re in a central region. We’re
near the border of Latin America. I think we’ve got a true
melting pot of different styles of players. We’ve got the Latino
players. We’ve got athletes. We’ve got the structured,
disciplined players. We’ve got the playmakers, the creative,
free-flowing, flexible players.
Oscar Pareja …
He’s the pioneer who put our academy on the map in a short
period of time and now he’s the first-team coach. You see the
consistency between our academy and the first team because he
doesn’t look at a player and judge him on age, ethnicity or
background. He knows what kind of soccer he thinks is effective for
this culture and development decisions are made based how we want to
play. Whether it’s a Latin player, African-American or Anglo,
[Pareja] finds a way to put everyone on the same level. He wants a
center back to be technical and have some improvisation in his game.
He wants a forward who can hold the ball and defend as well. He wants
wingers who can be outside backs. He wants outside backs who can
do we begin to evaluate a center back and differentiate him from an
outside back, and when do you not, and just call him a defender? When
do you just call him a player? We began to ask ourselves that. We
think a U-12 player and below needs to be a soccer player. He’s
not a defender. He’s not a forward. He’s not a winger.
He’s not holding mid. He’s a soccer player.
For field players, we evaluate them as a player, technically,
tactically, physically and mentally. Physically -- what’s the
coordination level, how do they control their body? Mentally -- are
they competitive, are they resilient? Technically and tactically --
what is their first-touch like? What is their body orientation? How
are their dribbling skills? How is their shooting? Short- and
We don’t get into position-specific until U-14. Now
we’re differentiating a forward from a midfielder to a winger
With the U-16s I will pick a training at least once every two weeks
and go 11 vs. 11 where you’re not allowed to play your usual
position. It’s free-flowing. It’s fun. We do the same with
smaller numbers. Give them a principle and a concept to work on
– but don’t put them in their specific positions. We get
them out of their comfort zone so they can learn from different
positions, learn what that perspective is.
Your idols as a kid …
LG: Somehow my father had illegal cable and we got
the Argentine channel, so all my idols were River Plate and Boca
Juniors players. … Claudio Caniggia, Gabriel
Batistuta, obviously Diego Maradona. I also
liked Enzo Francescoli. I always idolized the
creative players. As a coach, I ask my players to idolize creative
players as well, like Alexis Sanchez and
Lionel Messi. Look at these runs, look these movements.
Visualize yourself doing these things, because you can.
But I also ask them to look at defenders. I’ll bring a clip
of Fabio Cannavaro. His timing of tackles. His
anticipation. It’s an art. Or Paolo Maldini
with his management of the backline, his distribution. Andrea
Pirlo as a holding midfielder with his long- and short-range
passing. I try and get my players to not just idolize the Messis --
also but the guys who are relative to their roles.