Log In

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot Password?

Sign Up

Password will be generated and sent to your email address.

Andy Thomson: LIfe as a Coach in America

Andy Thomson smiles wryly in the bright, piercing Miami sunshine, palm trees sway in a gentle breeze in the background. The 41-year-old Scottish coach is living the American Dream but he reflects that he has had to become fluent in three languages to savour it.

Football, medicine and science.

The three pillars upon which the boy from a council estate in Glasgow has built a coaching life less ordinary. Andy’s story reads like a educational self-help book for those who live and breathe teaching The Beautiful Game: “How A Coach From Abroad Can Make it in the States.”

No short-cuts, no flashy gimmicks, no smoke and mirrors, no reliance on an old boys’ network or his own self-deprecating nods to landing lucky breaks. The truth is Thomson’s journey is built on a clear personal vision, an unswerving work ethic and a steely in-built desire to become the best coach he could be.

Andy’s odyssey had a key stop like so many of his peers in the Scottish Academy system and he revealed:

“I was a Head Coach in the St Mirren Academy and worked with elite youth players like Scotland’s John McGinn who is now starring in the English Premiership at Aston Villa. I had worked in football development with the Scottish Football Association (SFA) so I had the background with my coaching licences at home.

“I knew, though, that I needed something else to give me a leg-up so while I was at St Mirren I did a Masters in Sports Science and Sports Medicine. Football was in one part of my life, my studies in the other but I had a long-term plan to bring them back together.”

Andy’s first role in America was eight years ago with the US Paralympic 7-a-side team. Fellow Scot Stuart Sharp paved the way for that challenge and Thomson jumped headlong into it. His meticulous preparation for an adventure across The Pond was key and he stressed:

“Half my career was as a football coach but for the three years prior to that I had also worked in physical preparation. That gave me a leg-up because I could do two roles in one. I could do football-specific fitness and I could also be on the technical staff.

“By the time I got to the US I had a broad spectrum of skills which appealed to Head Coaches. There’s football language, medical language and scientific language and if you are fluent in all three of those then you can help the messages be understood.”

Thomson’s work was being noticed by people who matter. These days, Geordie Tony Annan is Head Coach of the Men’s Program at the University of South Carolina. Back then the Englishman was piecing together a superb body of work in youth football in Georgia. Andy recalled:

“Tony, who went on to become the Academy Director at Atlanta United in the MLS, took me to Georgia from that Paralympic role. He liked what I was doing and that I started with the game and worked backwards when it came to fitness.

“That was the break-in job for me and I got a call from the USL franchise in San Antonio who are owned by the NBA franchise The Spurs. The call came from the president of the organisation who said they had done their research and my name had come up in those three separate areas.

“They said they would fly me in and I met with the president and the Head Coach. The role at San Antonio was to oversee the fitness people but also to get back on the grass coaching football again. When I got there I went back to being a coach again at a level I really enjoyed.”

A football coach stands in the technical area looking onto the pitch
Image: twitter.com (@AndyDThomson)

San Antonio FC: a new chapter


There are times in your coaching life when the mantra has to be keep going, keep growing. You know that you need to find a kindred spirit to stretch you and maintain the momentum. Andy found a coach like that in San Antonio FC Pro Academy Technical Director Nick Evans.

Another facet of Andy’s remit was to be Head Coach of the Under 18s side as well as assistant coach at first team level. Evans and Thomson embarked on a journey to strategically build the Academy from the ground up. Andy said:

“I found a colleague who was just gold, a grafter, a pure football guy, a family man, down to earth, competitive, driven. Organisationally, Nick thinks on another level and that’s been shown since as he is now Executive Director of Growth and Strategy at Florida Panthers in the NHL.”

San Antonio’s regime came to be recognised for their innovative work and they were voted the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) Development Academy Coaching Staff of the Year. It was a time of his career Andy will always cherish but he insisted:

“I would never overplay my role in this because the credit goes to Nick. He built the curriculum, I periodised it, then methodically applied it. The basis of our work was pure football. We didn’t want to reinvent the game. We wanted to take the game and systematically develop an educational framework behind the curriculum for coaches and players. Develop their football brains with referenced thinking.

“We would be in that office for hours and hours. We had whiteboards full of content but all with principle-based learning and sharing.”

The USL where Andy was operating feeds into Major League Soccer in America and it is a booming division which now also has its own 15 franchise development platform called USL One.

Andy relished the task in Texas, working for an ambitious club who recognised that every small margin, every sliver of an edge could drag them nearer to richer rivals. He said:

“At San Antonio we had international players from the likes of Jamaica, Turks and Caicos and Haiti and their level of professionalism was superb. We outperformed our budget and finished second in the USL with a budget that was 17th out of 34 franchises.

“One of the factors in that was having our best 11 available to play in almost every match. Every away match in the USL was like a European away game for a Scottish club.

“We went from a minor airport to a major hub like Dallas and then onwards to play the likes of Phoenix Rising, Seattle Sounders or Vancouver Whitecaps. You have a lot of factors to plan into your process, to look after your players and make sure they are available to train and play together.”

Andy had come a long way from that Glasgow childhood and those formative days as a coach in the St Mirren Academy. He was a respected figure in the USL, settled in San Antonio and plotting the next steps of his career progression. Then out of the blue…he was a man Down Under.


From America to Australia


“I was happily enjoying life in Texas when I got a phone call from Mike Phelan who had left Manchester United as assistant manager when Sir Alex Ferguson retired. He had taken up a role as Sporting Director of the Central Coast Mariners in Australia and he was interested in taking me there.

“I decided to go there as Head of Football Performance and the now Head Coach Nick Montgomery, who had been an excellent player at Sheffield United, was Assistant Coach with the first team and Head of Academy. We bonded so well. That’s a great club and I loved my season there.

“I was working with the likes of Ross McCormick and Michael McGlinchey – who Scottish Football Careers readers will remember well – and Aussie internationals like Tommy Orr who had been around the block. It was an eye-opener for that wee boy from a council estate in Glasgow!

“Ross was coming towards the end of his career, he had a tough year in Oz but it was a good level of football. We played 3-4-3 and we were a very fit team playing quick attacking football which I liked. We didn’t have a lot of international players but it was lucky for me to have those two Scots. Ross had played for Rangers and Michael, although he qualified as a New Zealand international, in my mind was a Scot who had played for Celtic.”

That season in Oz was a telling learning experience for Thomson. The bonds with Phelan and Montgomery remain but deep down Andy knew his long-term coaching future was wrapped up in a star-spangled banner.


Returning to the States


When you grow up as a Celtic fan the name Dalglish conjures up images of The King and his toothy goalscorer’s grin before he was Sir Kenny and revered at Liverpool as both player and manager. Kenny Dalglish was a Bhoys’ own hero before Thomson’s time but he has watched the grainy footage of a true legend who sparkled in the Hoops before he won his big move south.

Yep, Andy knows the history.

So perhaps it was fate that when the chance came to return to the States that it was to work alongside knight of the realm Dalglish’s son Paul at USL club Miami FC. Andy sets the scene:

“Miami FC are in the Eastern Conference of the USL and they operate totally separately from David Beckham’s Inter Miami in the MLS. The owner Ricardo Silva is an Italian billionaire: when AC Milan won the title in May he was pitchside with his phone hugging Paolo Maldini. He is a man of influence and we had Luca Antonelli who has played for and won the Scudetto with Milan and Speedy Williams who has 35 caps for Jamaica.

“We had Lamar Walker who at 22 has already seen a move to Club Brugge fall through because of COVID, he is an incredible talent. It was a very professional dressing-room and they were super-dedicated.”

Head Coach Paul and his right-hand man created an exciting team that suited the market they were operating in. Ever the student, Thomson learned that you have to listen to a fan base. Like Celtic’s Aussie boss Ange Postecoglou at Andy’s boyhood heroes you have to GET the club you work for. Andy reasoned:

“The people in Miami demand a certain flair, they don’t want to see you playing a mid-block and shuffling across the field. Our highlights were reaching the play-offs for the first time and on an individual level I was in charge as manager for three games and we won all three. Paul had COVID and I got a taste of taking the team which was superb for me.

“I was testing myself, building relationships and developing a rapport because they could see I was competent at that level and they felt I was making them better. The key piece with the players was that I knew them inside out before I even went there. I was able to jump on WyScout and I did 10-15 hours of analysis on every player before I arrived in the role.

“That meant I could talk to them about how they had played in a specific game from all the analysis I had done, that showed that I cared enough to research them. Then when I got on the grass I could point out the things that the Head Coach wanted from them.”

The USL is a division worth examining, there are hidden gems of talent with intriguing back stories. Miami’s roster was no different when Andy was there. He explained:

“We had a player called Ariel Martinez, who they have tagged The Cuban Messi, he was unbelievable. He was 29 when he defected to the States, if he had got to the States when he was 22 he would be an MLS star right now. We had speed in the inside-forward positions and he was our false 9 and he could keep a beach ball off you in a phone box! So I had fun working with players like him, they were flying in training.

“When Paul left the club, the CEO phoned me a month later and I didn’t know how it would go. We had got through the year doing well and had big wins against the likes of Tampa Bay Rowdies where my fellow Scot Neill Collins is doing a great job as Head Coach. I was told that Anthony Pulis was getting the Head Coach job and he wanted to bring his own staff. I understood, that’s football.”

It was time to take stock for a coach who as well as his UEFA A Licence has gone through the United States Soccer Federation pathway from F through D, E, C and B. Offers began to roll in, from San Antonio, Florida Celtic, South Carolina and one in Arizona.


Andy Thomson, Scottish football coach
Image: twitter.com (@AndyDThomson)

Moving on in Miami


Yet Andy loves the Miami area and an exciting new direction was about to present itself. He revealed:

“The role I am in now became available with Kendall Soccer Coalition as Director of Methodology in an MLS Next Academy. Whenever I had brought teams down here to Kendall in previous jobs they played a brand of football I enjoyed so I knew of them. I was fortunate because they knew people I had worked with previously so we got to the bones of a really good conversation on the job really quickly.”

Thomson laughs out loud when I ask him what exactly a Director of Methodology is for?

He loves our shared Scottish sense of humour and fully understands the cynicism with some coaching colleagues on the new titles that abound when you are charged with guiding a club these days. Then he gets serious on the matter and says: “So what is a methodology role?

“Well, for me you have a teaching framework behind a curriculum and a coach behaviour model too. That’s the direction I want to go in, to help the coaches. In the pro game everything is dictated not by the process but by the outcome.

“Look, I agree it’s a nice job title but to me it boils down to looking at a process to develop players. The Technical Director has his job, so I take the existing game model and put in a teaching framework behind that to help the coaches make the players better.”

And behind that is what you feel Thomson sees as a truly key piece, influencing and  mentoring the coaches under his guidance. A life spent in the game has seen Andy play for, coach with and work underneath a wide range of coaching styles. And he admitted:

“The Coach Behaviour Model is so important for me, we plan how the players should behave but never the coaches yet we can have such an influence. That needs to be strategic, it can’t be robotic but you have to look at it closely now. Teaching styles, how do the kids learn? What’s the spectrum of learning for that coach? If you just have a hammer in your toolkit then everything looks like a nail.

“So I look at the individuals and what kind of asset they are and assess how we can develop their skill sets. It’s complex but inside a training session we have to have a competitive game, it all needs to simulate match situations. So I look at that and how they behave in the tactical phases, are they direct or do they ask questions?

“We have a methodology here based on games, we keep it simple and we try to keep the essence of football there always.”


The importance of culture in coaching


As we grow older and gain more experience as coaches, it seems our fascination with the Xs and Os dwindles just a little bit as we have all had the privilege of witnessing so many on-field sessions. At our daily work, on coaching courses, on our social media feeds when we sit down to our breakfast and glance at our phones. Idea after idea.

We still soak it all in but more and more, I find with the coaches I interview for Football Careers there is one area of a club’s growth that fascinates them to the point of obsession. Culture.

Andy agrees and he insisted:

“Culture is everything in this role, I had a good reputation coming here and I told them a story.

“Vauxhall produced a car called the Nova that was hugely successful and they found a way to produce it cheaper in another country. So they moved production there where parts and labour were cheaper without finding out that Nova there meant No-GO.

“It didn’t sell because they didn’t pay enough attention to language and culture. It was a failure so I said to the club to remember that and that I would be observing for the first four months in this job. What did the coaches feel the culture was and what did they feel they needed?

“I define culture as what is said coach to player, coach to coach, player to player, all of those interactions. That’s what makes a club professional, what do we actually do?”

Kendall Soccer Coalition’s coaches may never know that their Director of Methodology was once the trusted coaching voice Scotland hero John McGinn listened to for advice. I’m almost certain Andy will never tell them he is fluent in three languages: football, medicine and science. Thomson is not one to blow his own trumpet but he will get a tune out of the coaches on his watch.

And he will do that by being both warm and demanding. He pointed out:

“The one thing coaches do well here is they get out of the way, they don’t make themselves heard for the sake of it. We have highly competent coaches and it is about how I help them.

“I have one coach whose English isn’t the best yet but his constraints based games are superb. He gives them one condition, he draws the game on a whiteboard and they play. Now we need to work on the level of detail he can give to that players on some aspects but that’s still miles better for me than the stereotypical coach who wants to freeze it every two minutes.

“At the end of a session, a week or a cycle I want to know where they have invested their time. I feel we can do so much better than simply thinking the result on a Saturday masks what we did during the week.”


Andy’s thoughts on Football Careers


“Football Careers has an incredible team of professionals to support you in every aspect of your career. They care, they are attentive, they want to help. Each specialist in their area is superb at what they do.

“For many coaches, it is impossible to take the thousands of hours required to individually develop the skills that Football Careers provide to you. I’ve been able to add top-quality human beings to my network through Football Careers staff and their contacts.

“The service I have received is second to none, it’s as simple as that. I loved the professional look of my CV. The experience of doing a blog for the website and being involved in this feature interview is next level. Everyone I have dealt with at Football Careers from those updating your CV to the web content staff is the ultimate professional.”

Keep up to date with the latest news
from Football Careers

including recent placements, in-depth interviews with our clients, career advice segments, guest columns, and more. Our members can access exclusive content centred around working in the world of football, created by the people who know it best.

    Since utilising my CV I have had interviews at a number of English Premier League and SPFL clubs before accepting a role in the USA. It is definitely a service which I will continue to use.

    Graeme Henderson

    I can’t thank Football Careers enough for the professional CV they created for me: the attention to detail is outstanding and the design is eye-catching. I really appreciate all of the support and guidance their team has given me over the years.

    Robbie Fowler

    The team members at Football Careers are very approachable and they have excellent knowledge of the football industry. I received a highly professional service from them and I now have a detailed, eye-catching CV that any employer would be attracted to.

    Kevin Nicholson

    We couldn’t be more happy with the success of our banner advert. Over a sustained period, the ad has garnered over 2,500 click-throughs which has provided us with a continuous stream of hot leads and sales. I would recommend to anyone looking increase awareness for their business or generate tangible leads for the sale of their products or services.

    John Viola: Director, 451 Football Consultancy

    Football Careers helped me successfully apply for my first full-time coaching job. They provide a fantastic, professional service with a great final product. The team are a pleasure to deal with and I couldn’t be happier with the service provided.

    Luke Chadwick

    Working with Football Careers has opened up new opportunities for me. I am delighted with the quality of their service and the results that I received. The work produced by the team has been consistently excellent and I strongly recommend their services to any ambitious coaches.

    Jose Gomez

    Football Careers worked tirelessly to create a top-quality CV and accompanying philosophy document that perfectly capture my ideas on how to run a football club. They have been a joy to work with from the very beginning and their outstanding final products have already proven to be a very useful career tool.

    Derek Adams

    Football Careers’ membership features have been a great help to me over the years. The job board is fantastic. It’s quick and easy to use, and there is a wide range of jobs available that are based all over the world. Being an Elite Hosted member gives me unlimited access to the job board, so I can apply for as many roles as I like.

    Jordan Tait

    I would highly recommend Football Careers. Following a consultation, I was provided with a new professional CV and LinkedIn profile as well as very useful interview coaching. Given the highly competitive job market in the sports industry, the support they offer is invaluable.

    Barry Horgan

    Football Careers knew every detail about the role I was interested in and gave me comprehensive advice on how to prepare for a successful interview. The team was attentive and took time to answer all my questions. The knowledge they’ve shared with me has helped me secure a new role and it will be invaluable in my future career.

    Selmen Sassi

    I would like to thank Football Careers for their professional preparation of my CV and PowerPoint presentation. Without their input, I wouldn’t have found the recent job opportunities that have come my way. I would highly recommend Football Careers to anyone involved in football.

    Frank Sinclair

    Football Careers puts our job adverts in front of a huge network of football professionals through their job board, email alerts, and social media. The calibre of applicants I have received through Football Careers is second to none.

    Andy Thomson

    I highly recommend becoming a member of Football Careers. You’ll receive the benefits and opportunities you seek in football. The services offer good value for money and above all, give you the access and tools you need to apply for high-level positions globally.

    Niall Connolly

    Become A Member

    Create an account and access a limited number of the latest sports vacancies. Apply for up to five directly from your profile.

    Or, become a full member and gain additional benefits including access to all listings on the Job Board, your own candidate page and access to all news articles and expert career advice for a small monthly fee.