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Tom Soen leads the Birmingham Legion with extensive American football experience 06/20/2022


Tom Soen
head coach of the USL Championship Birmingham Legion since its launch in 2019, began his coaching career as an assistant coach Bob Bradley with the Chicago Fire, the last club of a playing career that included MLS, APSL, Major Indoor Soccer League, Canadian Soccer League and CISL. While playing for the Fire, Soen won the 1998 MLS Cup and US Open Cup in 1998 and 2000.

Soen, a 56-year-old college ball player in Western Illinois, was DC United’s assistant coach when the team won the MLS title in 2004 and head coach in the 2007 Fan Shield and 2008 Open Bowl. USA. Soen was an assistant coach for the New England Revolution before taking charge of the Birmingham Legion.

FOOTBALL AMERICA: Your football roots have a lot to do with the fact that your parents were immigrants. Both came from Germany?

TOM SOEN: Mom and dad did not meet in Europe. My dad came through Romania – his family moved from Germany to what was then Russia, because Russia was giving away land to people for free. When the war started, Russia wanted them to fight, and they said, “No, we’re leaving.” So the war drove them out of Romania, then to Czechoslovakia, then to Austria, and finally to Germany. They heard about the United States and wanted to see what was going on here – they jumped on a boat and got here.

My mother has a similar past – she was in Poland, then in Germany. The border was constantly changing depending on who was in power. At that time it was Germany. They felt the pressure of the war and fled to the United States.

They met at the Chicago football club – Chicago Kickers. This is the club where I grew up. Guys like it Brian McBride played a little there. It was a great club. All my childhood I had only one club.

SA: Was it the kind of club that had a social element?

TOM SOENA: Yes, great time. You’ll go for the day and spend the weekend. I played, my brother played, my dad played, my sister played. We went to the club after the games with cooked food and so on.

SA: Do you have the first memory of the game?

TOM SOEN: It’s the Kickers. We didn’t have age groups back then. They had dwarfs, dwarfs and teenagers. If you fell into a certain age group, you played either as babies, or as dwarfs, or as teenagers. I’ve always been a 5 year old playing with 12 year olds. Holy cow, I was out of my league.

SA: Tell us about the football culture you grew up in.

TOM SOEN: Not only my father came, but also many of his cousins. Many of them founded a football club. I would call them uncles, but they were probably removed three or four times. All my uncles were coaches and all my cousins ​​were teammates. It was kind of the backbone of our team. Many Americans have joined us.

SA: Could you single out a certain style of play or philosophy that made you stand out from that time?

TOM SOEN: Something that I remember was the culture of the game in this club. If your shoes weren’t polished, you were running. If your ball wasn’t inflated or you left the field dirty, you’ve heard about it. It was all the little things outside of the game that taught you how to be a good person and have the right attitude towards life.

I always thought they played like that. It was all about confusing – not so much in the results, but in the quality of the game. This has resonated with me throughout my life.

SA: You spent a lot of time playing professional ball…

TOM SOEN: It’s been a big part of my life – when I left school, NASL had just closed. I played for the Wichita Wings for seven years.

SA: Moving from indoor to open?

TOM SOEN: There was some talent. All former NASL guys. My learning curve was very high – back then there had to be three Americans on the teams, and I was lucky to be one of those Americans. But you played with a team from Europe. The experience there was phenomenal – I grew up very quickly. I liked it – laser shows, music, the ball is always in the game.

It is much more anaerobic. It’s very aerobic outside. It’s completely different: indoors is on for two, off for two, on for two, etc. You’re trying to play 90 minutes after the indoor season and you’re playing a different sport.

SA: Late in your career you played under Bob Bradley at the Chicago Fire and then became his assistant. What was it like to play under him? Did he kind of inspire you to want to coach?

TOM SOEN: I think I’ve already put on this hat. In youth, all attention is focused on yourself. Later in your career you start mentoring the young guys and you start looking at the day to day picture. One thing about Bob is that he is very thorough. He spent endless hours watching videos. But he also had a good understanding of what the game was about and how to convey that message and his vision in a way that all the guys could understand, whether you were from Poland or America.

SA: What stood out from that?

TOM SOENA: His communication was fantastic. He told you how it was, not what you wanted to hear. In my day, there were a lot of coaches who told you what you wanted to hear to make you feel better. I didn’t appreciate it – tell me how it is, you understand? He was special for this. He had that with a lot of guys – he was very honest with them, and I think you can appreciate that as an athlete.

SA: What coaches have you learned the most from in your playing career?

TOM SOEN: I can go back to my Kicker guys. Harry Kwidzinski – I was connected with his somehow I forgot exactly how – but it was tactical things, the way you play the game, things that resonate with you as a child, because this is the most important time for learning. I never went to football camp, that’s all.

Dave Dear was once the coach of FC Dallas. I played for him in Colorado. He had an incredible vision of what the team should look like. [including the importance] have their own leaders. It was amazing to see him build an ultra-competitive team. We ran through these leagues – APSL, NPSL, it was a new league every year. One thing that went along with it was that he created a team that complemented each other very well. To this day, I always think about the need for additions in every team.

SA: You were an assistant coach at DC United when 14-year-old Freddy Adu signed with the team. At the time, what did you think of him? Did you think he would succeed?

TOM SOEN: Firstly, I think that Freddie got into incredible circumstances. Whether it was Nike or the league likening him to the next Pele – they really did – he was a little kid, and no one can replace these shoes.

He went to all the away games and the stadiums were filled to see Freddie. The pressure of the game was also high. I give credit to head coach Peter Novak because he played with Freddie probably before he was ready. He felt that the fans are paying to see Freddie play, so we have to get him on the field. We did it quite regularly and won the championship by doing it.

He had to learn the command concept of defense. But he understood. He started to work very well. But I felt sorry for him, because his agents told him: “You have to score goals! You need helpers! You need points! It wasn’t what the team was looking for – we just wanted him to be connected to the team. The year we won, he did some very special things.

SA: You’ve been with Legion for four years now – of course there was a break due to Covid – how would you rate the growth of the project there?

TOM SOEN: We all make changes to what we want to do. When Jay Hips took the job [president/general manager] here – we used to train together and always talked about how we would manage the club. We had very similar ideas about what our club would look like. When I came here, the board really allowed Jay and I to do so much to build the club – whether it’s the player culture, working with the front office, I think Jay has found his niche being our president. He also gets a football side because he was the head coach. There are many grandmasters who have not sat in the locker room and have not received such dynamics.

SA: What do you say to people who say that Alabama is not a football state?

TOM SOEN: It’s very simple – if you look where football is going, man, everyone is playing here. Children abound. We get a lot of talent here. They just don’t know it yet.

SA: You play in a new stadium in the city center, Protective Stadium with 47,100 seats. What’s the next step for the Legion?

TOM SOEN: We are building a training complex here, it is big. In terms of the state of the club, based on where we’ve been, I think we’re doing pretty well. When someone leaves the club, he can’t say anything bad. One area we’re trying to fix is ​​infrastructure. Covid kind of got in the way of that. Ideally our own football stadium would be great. But the gaming experience at the Protective Stadium is pretty amazing – worthy of MLS.

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