Brownell Teams with Collegiate Coaching Legend at MLS Combine
By Purnell T. Cropper
Rick Brownell, head coach of Arcadia’s women’s soccer team and a well-regarded figure in youth soccer, nearly missed out on a dream gig. When he received an unexpected e-mail in mid-December asking him to coach at the 2011 Major League Soccer Combine in Florida―an invite-only showcase for collegiate and international players entering the MLS SuperDraft―he thought it was a mistake and deleted the message. After all, he hadn’t coached a men’s team in years. A week later a rep from Adidas called. Brownell, the 2009 Mid-Atlantic Region Coach of the Year, was on the verge of becoming one of the first coaches to turn down the opportunity in the event’s five-year history. He quickly cleared up the misunderstanding and in January took his talents to Broward County.
At the three-day combine, players split into four teams and competed in a round-robin. Brownell assisted Ken Lolla, now legendary for building national powerhouses at the Universities of Akron and Louisville.
The two coaches led the AdiZero squad, which included Michael Farfan, a crafty midfielder from the University of North Carolina, recently drafted by the Philadelphia Union. There was little practice time to allow players and coaches to acquaint themselves with each other’s styles and tendancies, something to which any Sunday league or intramural player can relate, except for the whole vying-for-a-pro-contract bit. “We would meet by the pool, talk about tactics and who played what position. It was all sort of freestyle―meanwhile you have [the players’ futures] in your hands,” says Brownell.
Listen to Brownell talk about the qualities he looks for in a soccer player.
Lolla and Brownell strove to present players in the best manner possible for the MLS coaches. “Although everyone played at least half of each game, our evaluation was more or less on-the-fly,” Brownell says. “If someone was playing well, we would continue to play them and start them the next game. If not, tactically we had to put players in the position where our team would do better so that [the individual] would show better for the MLS scouts and coaches.” The tweaks paid off for AdiZero, which finished 1-1-1. “We were able to make some changes that were significant and saw a big change from day one to day three, improving all the way through. We adjusted how we played our center-mids and moved one of our outside midfielders to outside back. Next thing you know, we were dominating the field of play.”
Brownell got a kick out of getting to know the AdiZero players, all of whom he described as respectful and professional, and said the surprisingly relaxed atmosphere made for a great trip. “[Michael Farfan] is a super-nice guy. He’s got a YouTube highlight video out where he’s nutmegging players and spinning defenders. My 11-year-old son just flipped out when he saw that.” Brownell, who begins his ninth year at Arcadia in the fall, also enjoyed the company of elite coaches. “Hearing Ken Lolla talk about how he teaches life lessons inside of the sport that we love was incredible. We had a couple long meals together discussing how we’re handling our student-athletes, the lessons we’re trying to show. That’s invaluable―to share similar stories with someone of that caliber.”