Crew's coaching staff MLS version of UN

Dedication to the club supersedes cultural differences for Columbus

Robert Warzycha

Photo Credit: 
Melissa Majchrzak (Getty Images)

To appreciate the truly international scope of soccer, consider this:
Columbus Crew assistant coach Ricardo Iribarren spent his first Fourth
of July as a naturalized US citizen studying a sport invented by the
English while preparing for a match in Canada.

Vancouver is where the Argentine Iribarren (above, at right) was
staying for the American holiday, along with the Crew’s United
Nations-like staff prior to the match vs. the Whitecaps on July 6.

His head coach is Polish-born Robert Warzycha, the other assistant is
former US national team defender Mike Lapper, and Russian Vadim Kirillov
is the goalkeeper coach. Finally, New Zealander Duncan Oughton, the
assistant to the technical director, has been spending more time lately
coaching at practices in his first season since retiring as a player.

With so many diverse backgrounds, there are bound to be a range of ideas on topics from game strategy to where to eat.

“Sometimes it’s just explosive — put it that way,” Warzycha joked.
“Sometimes you have different opinions. Everybody has a say as long as
nobody gets offended.”

Varying perspectives are what make the coaching staff strong, said Kirillov.

“From our part of the world, we bring different flavor to the training
sessions, to the games,” Kirillov explained. “There’s a little bit
different viewing of the game. You try to bring something from your
soccer culture, then it’s boiling down to one decision then sticking
with that decision.”

Technical director Brian Bliss, another former US national team player,
is often in the middle of the multi-national discussions, but finds the
coaches’ ability to mesh gratifying.

“It actually works well,” he said. “Most of the guys have played for
the club — other than Vadim — so they know the general culture of the
club. So that supersedes any cultural or language differences.”

In fact, Bliss, Lapper and Warzycha were all Crew teammates with
Iribarren at different points. That familiarity helps prevent clashes of

“Like any coaching staff, we have arguments,” Lapper said. “We’ll see
things differently. As long as we are on the same page when we walk out
of that room, that’s the most important thing.”

Debated subjects sometimes involve international matches pitting one
coach’s homeland against another, said Iribarren, who became a US
citizen on Feb. 11.

“Maybe Robert, I and Vadim come from countries where soccer is No. 1,”
he said. “Maybe for Lapper and Duncan, soccer is not a big sport, so we
have a different point of view because since we were two-years-old we
were breathing soccer, watching soccer.”

They all agree on one thing — their meetings are conducted in English, accents be damned.

“The most fun is the translation of things,” Lapper said. “Everybody
speaks English, but they bring their own experiences from their culture.
It’s a good mix.”