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 personalities.
“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.”