Phil Wheddon came to the USA from England in 1990 the way many young British players do: To see the nation while working at youth soccer camps.
"That six-month holiday turned into nearly 20 years," says the 38-year-old who has served the USA as goalkeeper coach at both men's and women's World Cups. Last August, for the second time, he celebrated an Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women.
"He's an incredible," says goalkeeper Hope Solo, the hero of the U.S. women's 1-0 triumph over Brazil in the 2008 gold-medal game. "Of course, he's a great trainer. He's so accurate with the ball. He's got a great right foot, great left foot. There's no question about how good a training we get from him.
"But there's more to it. Most importantly, what he's really helped me with is understanding the position, reading the game and being in the right mental state. For me, that's where he really helps us. He really helped me grow into myself and have confidence in myself."
Wheddon grew up Basingstoke, 50 miles southwest of London, dreaming of being a professional soccer player. During a P.E. class, when he was 10, Wheddon was playing goalkeeper and got his hand on a well-hit shot. He managed to tip it onto the crossbar, from where it bounced back to the striker for an easy tap-in.
"The ball ended up in the back of the net," Wheddon remembers, "but the P.E. teacher said there's some potential there. He asked me if I wanted to be goalkeeper on the school team. For a 10-year-old, that's a pretty big deal."
In his late teens, Wheddon went on several trials with pro clubs, and he spent time with Swindon Town. Wheddon says goalkeeper coaching has come a long way since he was a young hopeful in England – "when they had an ex-pro strike balls at you."
"Smalls things make a big difference," he says. "We've now broken things down to minute details – like the angle at which toes are pointed – and identified the finer points of the game."
While trying to break into the pros, Wheddon also earned a Business Finance degree and a minor in Coaching at Crewe and Alsager College. Upon graduation, he ventured to the USA.
Working camps led to an opportunity to coach high school soccer in Connecticut. After that doors kept opening. He returned to college in the USA and played a year at Southern Connecticut under then Coach Ray Reid. Afteward, he became men's and women's keeper coach at East Stroudsburg University and received a degree in Physical Education and Sports Management.
He returned to Southern Connecticut, as keeper coach for both teams, and the men's squad, under Coach Tom Lang, won back-to-back Division II national titles.
While getting his U.S. Soccer A license, staff coach Peter Mellor, a veteran keeper of English pro soccer, recruited him as an instructor. Wheddon also had stints as U.S. women's keeper coach that turned into a full-time position under Coach April Heinrichs, whom he assisted at the 2003 Women's World Cup and during the team's 2004 gold-medal run. At the 2006 men's World Cup, he served under Coach Bruce Arena.
Wheddon was the only coach retained from the 2007 Women's World Cup staff by Pia Sundhage when she took over from Greg Ryan. After last summer's Olympic triumph, Wheddon became head coach of Syracuse's women's team, but he continues to coach the U.S. women.
"For me, he has the perfect personality," says Solo. "His training's tough but he doesn't have that tough personality. He creates a trusting environment. He's very open and honest. So you don't take it personal when he does come on hard. It's a very trusting environment.
"Everyone knows I've made my share of mistakes, but he always supports me and helps me cope with my setbacks. That's really, really important for a goalkeeper."
(This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue ofSoccer Americamagazine.)