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Andy Thomson: Inside the American Dream

Football Careers client Andy Thomson left his native Scotland nine years ago to live the American Dream in the beautiful game.

Andy has worked for top USL clubs San Antonio and Miami FC and returned from a fascinating year out with Australian A League side Central Coast Mariners to continue to grow as a coach in the States.

Now Director of Methodology of MLS Next Academy Kendall Soccer Coalition in Miami, we asked Andy to give our members his views on what it takes to make the leap to America in this exclusive blog.

By Andy Thomson

Make yourself a desired coaching commodity.

When I am asked the all-encompassing question from colleagues who want to take the leap into the ”soccer” world in the United States of America or Canada that’s my key piece of advice now. So what do I mean by that?

Well, let’s look at my own example when I first decided nine years ago that I wanted to take that brave step out of my comfort zone and leave Scotland to further develop myself as a coach. I was a youth coach at St Mirren, I’d worked with the likes of John McGinn in the Academy there and I loved it.

Yet there was a big Planet Football out there that I yearned to experience and I knew that I needed something else to give me a leg-up. So while I was at the Buddies I studied and I earned 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.

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

Standing out in the American soccer job market 


The third element of what I felt I needed came with studying the football conditioning methods of Dutchman Raymond Verheijen and the science of periodisation. So now I had my UEFA A, my degree and what I felt became my X Factor, which was my knowledge of periodisation.

I studied Raymond’s teachings intensely and by the end of my time I was rated as a ”world expert” in periodisation and that was another string to my bow. I understand his methods inside and out and there’s no question that helped me with the San Antonio in the USL appointment, for instance.

Working as an assistant coach in the USL – the feeder league to Major League Soccer in America – was a huge breakthrough for me. San Antonio FC are a top club owned by the NBA franchise The Spurs. These are serious sports people.

So it was a feather in my cap when they looked at me in their hiring process and I can guarantee it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been multi-faceted with more than just my coaching licence to offer them. So the truth is that as much as it may hurt to hear it, because of all the hard work that goes into earning it, your UEFA A Licence just isn’t enough now.

The Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas is an excellent example of this at the very top level. He doesn’t have the traditional background of having played at a high level. He got his first break at Porto because he lived in the same apartment block as the Head Coach Sir Bobby Robson.

Through initial roles in analysis and other avenues he educated himself to become Jose Mourinho’s number 2 and worked through the highly respected Scottish coaching pathway from his UEFA C all the way up to his Pro Licence.

Villas-Boas went on to boss Porto, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Zenit St Petersburg and most recently Marseille and is now amongst the favourites to take over Wolves and return to the English Premiership.

Not bad for someone still just 44, who did not come from the background that is cherished by so many.

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

What I have encountered with what you might call old-school thinking is that people like to keep you in a box. With me at first that would mean they would look and say: ‘Yeah, Andy Thomson, he’s a fitness guy.’

No, I am a football coach.

More perceptive people and more progressive thinkers will see the football coach as the bow and the football conditioning knowledge as a string on that bow. Not the bow itself. That’s really the essence of being a hybrid coaching commodity in my eyes.

If those are my thoughts to helping colleagues make the bold step to coaching in North America on the field what about off it?

Moving to North America from the UK


As my friends in Canada will attest, emigrating to become a full-time coach in North America can become a long and drawn-out process and it can cost a lot of money. You need patience and luck and I started out by getting a lawyer to work with me as I moved towards getting a visa and now my Green Card.

My mother had passed away just before I came out to the States and I decided to roll the dice and believe in myself. I worked so hard on my dream and I have had days where I wondered if I could end up on a plane home to Scotland.

I’ve had employers who have backed me up and insisted I was bringing an expertise to this country that they didn’t already possess.

I have had one year out here when I went to Australia to work as Head of Football Performance in the A League with Central Coast Mariners under Sir Alex Ferguson’s former Manchester United right-hand man Mike Phelan. During that time I kept paying my US taxes and I had to be back here for one day in that year.

I studied and understood the processes. Lawyers become your friends because you need them to get you through the mazes.

You have to be a package here, to be marketable and different and that would be my USP, my big unique selling point. I identify myself now as a communicator and I am able to share messages on the knowledge I have gained.

I am now Director of Methodology with Kendall Soccer Coalition in Miami.

I’ve been nine years in the States and I love it, I still feel blessed every day I wake up and go to work. You can’t put a price on that.

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