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Koch's Success, Ambition Fits FC Cincinnati

By MICHAEL McCOLL - Contributor, 02/18/17, 2:02PM EST


Former Whitecaps FC 2 Head Coach has strong pro and college resume

Photo courtesy Bob Frid / Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2

When Alan Koch left Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 in December to take up a Director of Scouting and Analytics and Assistant Coach role with FC Cincinnati, it certainly raised a few eyebrows, especially for followers of the Canadian club.

Why would a coach give up a head coaching job to become a No. 2 at the same level, albeit as an assistant with a key secondary job for the club? Simply put, it came down to ambition and potential.

Fast forward two months and Koch was announced as the new FC Cincinnati head coach on Friday evening, following the departure of John Harkes. The South African-born Canadian coach now finds himself as the main man at one of the most ambitious clubs in the USL after a highly successful inaugural season, both on and off the pitch.

Koch arrived in Cincinnati with a strong coaching resume from both the college and the pro game.

Taking over as head coach of the British Columbia-based Simon Fraser University men’s soccer program in 2008, Koch made history with the first Canadian side to be admitted to NCAA play, taking the Clan to two NCAA Division II Final Four appearances and winning a slew of Coach of the Year accolades along the way.

With an eye for finding top local talent, along with a strong network of contacts throughout North America and Europe, Koch's teams played attractive, attacking football, banging in record-breaking amounts of goals along the way.

It was no surprise then that when the Whitecaps decided to launch their own USL side in 2015, Koch was the man they wanted at the helm.

Appointed just weeks before the season got underway, it was a tough first year for both Koch and his young WFC2 side. A squad was hurriedly put together, team chemistry had to be built on the road, and the Whitecaps themselves had a steep learning curve around just what they wanted their team to be and how it was to operate.

Finishing second-last of the Western Conference that first season, with only eight wins, was a predictable outcome, but Koch's side played some exciting soccer along the way, while being let down by an inexperienced and struggling defense.

"I got into this job quite late and didn't really have much time to prepare for the first season and I think it showed," Koch told during last year's playoffs. "Our first game [that first] season, our group of players, our team, we weren't ready to play. We got better as the season went along. We managed to win a few games, but I think we finished where we deserved to finish."

Koch took it as a valuable learning experience, and the hard work for the club’s second season started as soon as the first wrapped up, with an intense November training camp to identify which players would stick around and identify new recruits.

With his identity finally able to be stamped onto the team, Koch transformed WFC2 from playoff outsiders to USL Championship contenders, taking his young Whitecaps side on a 10-game unbeaten start to the season and eventually on to the Western Conference Final of the 2016 USL Cup Playoffs before the Swope Park Rangers proved to be one mountain too far to climb.

"It's been a significant step in the right direction," Koch reflected on his side's playoff run. "The guys jell together. They've come together as a group. We have a great chemistry within our daily environment. When we come to work there is a great, positive environment that we've created and I give the players credit. They've embraced it and grown... We're heading in the right direction."

That direction will now continue in Vancouver this season without Koch in charge, but he's left a strong core of young talent pushing to move up to the next level, and his work with the Whitecaps clearly impressed FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Jeff Berding, who made a successful play to attract Koch to Ohio.

"We feel his ability to develop young talent and his experience in the areas of scouting, analytics as well as with an MLS youth academy are key to the long-term advancement of the club," said Berding when Koch was added to the club's technical staff back in December. "His familiarity with the USL and his background as a head coach in our league brings a level of expertise that will help us in continuing to bring professional soccer at the highest level to Cincinnati."

Photo courtesy Bob Frid / Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2

After achieving results with a mixture of players under the auspices of an MLS organization, the upcoming season will be Koch's first experience of having both a budget to bring in some top players, along with working with a talented group of young players.

So too will come the pressure of the side needing to perform week-in and week-out in the pursuit of silverware. When you're at an ambitious club like FC Cincinnati, expectations of success come with the job, but Berding is confident Koch is the man to see that happen.

"Alan leads by example, is a strong communicator and has established very clear expectations for himself and the players," Berding said in a statement on Friday night. "We feel his disciplined approach will be key for a successful season."

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