Creating Carlsbad United was “The Right Thing to Do” for Michael Duggan and Steve Cowell
The story behind the merger of these two youth soccer clubs – how two very different DOCs found their common ground – sharing a vision of forward thinking – and put aside their egos to built a united club.
On December 11, 2013, Carlsbad Lightning and Carlsbad Wave announced a merger of the two clubs to create the new Carlsbad United F.C. (CUFC). The combination of the two clubs brought together over 4300 recreational and competitive players and nearly 100 competitive teams. It also meant the merging of two talented and dedicated technical staffs to create a seamlessly integrated whole. None of this would have been possible without the efforts and dedication of the Directors of Coaching of the two original clubs: Lightning’s Michael Duggan and Wave’s Steve Cowell.
Too often, club DOCs see other clubs as rivals to be defeated on the pitch and out-maneuvered off. While both Cowell and Duggan were dedicated to their respective clubs, each saw that the current state of youth soccer in the Carlsbad and North San Diego County Coastal region could be improved. Even though Lightning and Wave attracted players from across the county, they saw that many were merely switching between the two clubs. This non-continuity was ultimately detrimental to players, teams and clubs alike, and was a major factor in the merger.
“It was the right thing to do for the soccer community of Carlsbad and North County San Diego,” explains Cowell. “Combining all the resources available to us helps us achieve soccer excellence at the local, regional, and national levels, and provides a home for every player in Carlsbad to play soccer regardless of their level of play”
“The advantage of the merger is that we now have a clear pathway for development with the same curriculum for all players,” says Duggan. “We spent a lot of energy fighting each other before realizing we had the same goal – player development.”
It takes two selfless individuals who are able to put aside any ego or desire for control to unite two strong clubs. Frequently mergers involve one large club swallowing up a weaker club, but that was not the case with the Lightning-Wave merger. Rather, it was a joining of equals led by dedicated coaches.
Both Cowell and Duggan have been in the game all their lives, with similar backgrounds. Duggan played with Skelmersdale United and Tranmere Rovers as a youth player in England, while Cowell had trials as a youth with Chester City FC and Manchester City FC. Those experiences shaped them as players as well as coaches and gave them an underlying bond to work from.
The pair first met for lunch in 2012 and then again in early 2013 to get to know each other. They started to kick around the idea of uniting the two clubs at the 2013 National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Annual Convention in Indianapolis. They emerged from that experience with heightened respect for each other and the decision that a merger would benefit players from both clubs. They continued to analyze the advantages for nearly a year before finally bringing it before their respective Boards of Directors.
One of the great advantages of the merger was that now there is a right team for every player in the club. No longer will players – or parents – feel the need to switch between clubs in order to get more playing time at the proper level. Because each player develops at a different pace – physically, emotionally and mentally – the club can match that player with the best team at that stage. In effect, the unification has created a bigger club with a smaller focus – helping each player to maximize his or her development.
“We wanted to get out of the cycle that both clubs were in,” says Duggan. “By uniting clubs we have created a better environment for player development. The new Carlsbad United offers a smoother pathway for players to move up or down among teams in order to maximize playing time. This is crucial for players to improve.”
While both Duggan and Cowell are experienced and forward-thinking coaches, their personalities could not be more different. Duggan likes to call Cowell “laid-back,” while Cowell calls Duggan “bold.” Their styles complement each other as well as their roles in the new club. Duggan, ever focused on asking “what’s next,” is the clubs Director of Operations, charged with helping to grow the club overall. As he frequently says, “In youth soccer, if you’re standing still, then you are moving backwards.”
As Technical Director, Cowell has taken on the role of focusing on the growth and development of the club’s coaching staff. His more easy-going style helps him to strike a balance between educating coaches and directing them. One factor that sets Carlsbad United apart from many other clubs is the longevity of coaches from both founding organizations. When long-time coach Andrew Lissner recently retired, it was after two decades at Carlsbad Lightning – an incredible record.
“Coaches need to have freedom to express themselves within the realm of their session,” Cowell explains. “The most rewarding thing for me as a DOC is when I am out there working with the staff on the field or in the classroom. I love sharing thoughts, opinions and ideas and the feeling of camaraderie between coaches.”
Duggan, who always worked closely with his staff at Carlsbad Lightning, says, “Coaches should set individual player goals that are reachable and help keep a player motivated. As I like to say, you can’t eat an elephant in one bite.”
Although some may see the new Carlsbad United as an attempt to take over North County, Duggan and Cowell are not concerned with competing with other clubs. They are confident that what they offer players is the best overall experience and opportunity for development. Merging Wave and Lighting was never a business decision but a player-centered one.
Perhaps Duggan sums it up best with his advice to players: “Never feel sorry for yourself for what you don’t have; always strive for what you want.”
In Carlsbad United FC, Michael Duggan and Steve Cowell are striving to provide every player with the support, opportunities and training to reach the top of his or her game.