College Standout Player Eric Bucchere on Coaching at the College and MLS Academy Levels
Menlo College head coach Eric Bucchere, who spent five years as assistant coach at UC San Diego and San Diego Surf Soccer Club, has joined the San Jose Earthquakes Development Academy staff.
Since 2006, former college soccer standout Eric Bucchere has been sharing his experience and on-field knowledge with younger players as a coach. During his time patrolling the midfield for the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, the four-year letterman helped the team to a 69-12-3 record, three NCAA tournament berths, two NCAA DIII Western Regional Championships and a 2004 NCAA DIII National Championship appearance. After his graduation in 2005 he returned as the head assistant coach from 2006-2008, helping guide the team to a 36-7 overall record and two NCAA DIII playoff appearances.
In 2008 Bucchere made the move south to San Diego where he spent five seasons as head assistant coach at UC San Diego (UCSD) and also coached youth soccer at San Diego Surf Soccer Club. AT UCSD, Bucchere helped the Tritons to develop one of the stingiest defenses in NCAA DII soccer, including a No. 1 ranking in 2012 with a CCAA conference goals-against average of 0.44 and a 0.71 shutout percentage with 12 clean sheets in 17 matches. The season included scoreless runs of 448:05, 503:37 and 409:16.
Bucchere’s coaching success drew attention from Northern California, and in 2013 he was named the new head coach of Menlo College in Silicon Valley. In his first season he directed the Menlo Oaks to a 10-4-3 overall record. Then in December of 2013 he was tabbed by the Major League Soccer (MLS) San Jose Earthquakes to take over as assistant coach for their U.S. Soccer Development Academy U15/16 and U17/18 teams.
Currently the U15/16 team is sitting at the top of the West Conference with a record of 11-4-1 and 34 points, while the U17/18 team sits in fifth place with a 7-5-4 record. In an interesting turn of events, the U15/16 head coach is Stephen Wondolowski, the brother of Quakes star Chris Wondolowski, who also happens to be Bucchere’s assistant coach at Menlo College.
Recently SoccerNation Editor-in-Chief Diane Scavuzzo spoke with Bucchere about his success on the sidelines.
Diane Scavuzzo: How is life as a Head College Coach?
Eric Bucchere: Life is good! Menlo College is awesome place to be a student athlete, and a great place to work. The offseason is going well, and we’re looking forward to more success next season. This is my ninth year coaching college soccer, and I am still learning and growing every day! Overall, being a head coach has been a fantastic experience.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you like best about coaching – what inspires you?
Eric Bucchere: Creating an environment where young players can be themselves and grow as players and people is what brings me the most joy in coaching. Watching players enjoy the game and improve is incredibly rewarding for me, and it’s what keeps me inspired to continue to improve and grow as a coach.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are the differences between being an assistant coach and a head coach?
Eric Bucchere: As an assistant coach, I could turn the brain off for a bit and have a bit more balance. As a head coach it is non-stop – I never switch off, and I’m constantly thinking of ways to improve our program. I’m still learning how to let things go and take a step back. The way the college season is set up, it is a short and hectic season.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do your players relate to you differently now that you are a head coach?
Eric Bucchere: You lose a bit of “cool” factor as the head coach. You can still have a great relationship with your players, but there is a boundary.
Diane Scavuzzo: You recently became part of the San Jose Earthquakes Academy. When did you join them and what attracted you?
Eric Bucchere: I joined the Academy staff at the San Jose Earthquakes in December of 2013. The Earthquakes are the only MLS team in Northern California, so when the opportunity arose to join the Academy staff it was an easy decision for me. Working for a professional organization has been a career goal of mine, and I feel lucky to part of a storied franchise like the Quakes.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the difference between coaching the players at the San Jose Earthquake’s MLS Development Academy and your players at Menlo College?
Eric Bucchere: It’s similar! There are excellent young players in the Earthquakes academy system, and excellent players at Menlo College.
Diane Scavuzzo: Are there differences in the way the game is played at the two levels?
Eric Bucchere: I think that every college program is different, and every academy program is different. In the academy however, the United States Soccer Federation asks all teams to place an emphasis on a possession-based attack, building from the back whenever possible, with the goal being to develop future national team players that are capable of playing a certain way.
The college game isn’t widely known as being filled with possession-based soccer, but there are certainly college programs that make an effort to play that way. The academy setup is definitely more conducive to a possession-based style of soccer, with a limit of five substitutions a game. With limited subs, the game is definitely more open over 90 minutes, as opposed to the college game where subs are nearly unlimited and the game can often struggle for a rhythm.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do Academy teams compare with other youth soccer teams in their training and the level of competition?
Eric Bucchere: That depends. I recruit players from non-academy teams all the time, and some teams are coached well and are full of talent. I would say that overall, academy teams train a bit more often, and have fewer matches that are less competitive. The overall parity of the academy is excellent, which I think is less common among non-academy competitions.
Diane Scavuzzo: Recently your U15/16 and U17/18 teams traveled to San Diego for a pair of matches against Nomads and San Diego Surf. How did that go?
Eric Bucchere: It was great to be back in San Diego and to be around so many familiar faces. The best part of the weekend for me was seeing so many of my former players, and seeing how much they’ve improved in just one year.
I remember thinking to myself at one point during the games against Surf SC that I’ve coached every player on the field and bench for both teams. It was pretty neat! Also, Isaac Miselewicz, who currently plays for the Surf U17/18 team, just signed his Letter of Intent to play at Menlo College in 2014, so that was a bit interesting to root for him and against him at the same time.
Overall, it definitely still felt a little like home in San Diego, and I could definitely see myself back there someday.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is there a difference between MLS Academy teams and non-MLS Academy teams?
Eric Bucchere: I think that the main goal of the academy is to develop players, and players can develop and improve in any situation. MLS clubs have a bit more specific goal, which is to develop players that will eventually play for their first team in the MLS. So there is an extra piece of the puzzle there. But that’s not to say that non-MLS academies can’t develop professionals, they certainly can.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the most crucial or important piece of advice you could share with the player who dreams of going pro?
Eric Bucchere: I have a few thoughts I can share. First, take care of your body, because as you mature it becomes more difficult to stay healthy, and being fit and injury free could be the difference in getting your first big break in the professional ranks.
Next, find time to work on your game every day. Your touch can always get better, and so can your understanding of the game. At some point in your life you will look back on your younger self and be amazed at how much you didn’t know. It’s the same in soccer, so keep an open mind and learn from your teammates and coaches every day.
Lastly, commit to your education. For most young players, playing in college is the next best step to becoming a professional. In this year’s 2014 MLS SuperDraft, 75 of the 76 picks were college players. If you’re lucky enough to become a professional athlete one day, at some point your playing career will end. Having a college education will help prepare you for success in your second career once your playing days are done.
Diane Scavuzzo: Finally, what is your goal as a coach?
Eric Bucchere: My goals are different for different situations, but overall I’d say that my goal as a coach is to help develop men of character who have a passion for the game and for life.