Backline: Kaz Tambi guides top U.S. girls

As a teenager, Kazbek Tambi constantly checked the New York Cosmos' schedule. When a road game on natural grass came next, Tambi knew Pele, Beckenbauer and Chinaglia were coming to town.

That would prompt Tambi to hop on his bike and ride 20 minutes from Ridgewood to Bergen Community College in Paramus, where the star-studded Cosmos went to escape the artificial turf of Giants Stadium.

"I could figure out when they'd be practicing on grass for three or four days," says Tambi, who is now the U.S. girls U-17 national team coach. "Then I'd go see my heroes.

"Sometimes it meant missing some school, but as soon as the training was over, I would shoot right back to school and typically get back by noon. Fortunately my parents only looked at the grades on my report card and not the disparity in the number of absences between my morning and afternoon classes."

Those grades were good enough that Tambi went on to Colombia University, where he won four Ivy league crowns, reached the final four and captained the team. Upon graduating with an economics degree, Tambi was drafted by the New York Cosmos.

Players whom he was once thrilled to watch now trained alongside Tambi. The Italian scoring phenom Chinaglia was still with the team that included two-time World Cup finalist Johan Neeskens of the Netherlands and Paraguayan star Roberto Cabanas.

Tambi's parents, immigrants from Russia, had never seen much of Kaz on the soccer field, but they did make it to Giants Stadium.

"They were immigrants struggling to make ends with blue-collar jobs and they didn't get many chances to come out and see me play," said Tambi, a sweeper. "The funny thing is, my mom started giving me advice on how to improve."

Tambi, who was born in Paterson, N.J., was also selected to the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. When a last-minute decision was made to use professional players, many of the amateurs were cut and replaced by indoor pros. Tambi made the team but didn't see action.

But the NASL folded after Tambi's first season with the Cosmos. He played for the ASL's New Jersey Eagles in the ASL and the Minnesota Strikers of the indoor MISL.

But indoor ball didn't suit Tambi, so he got a law degree at Seton Hall. In 1999, he became the Seton Hall men's assistant coach to Manfred Schellscheidt, the man who had brought Tambi into the 1984 Olympic team.

Tambi practiced law in the first part of the day and afterward he coached. His also coached youth ball at Arsenal World Class, a top New Jersey girls program. He eventually gave up practicing law for full-time soccer, becoming Seton Hall's women's coach in 2007.

In 2005, Tambi was named coach of the U.S. U-16 girls national team and he will guide the U-17 girls in the first FIFA U-17 Girls World Cup.

Tambi is confident he's found the nation's top young players for the team.

"Unlike the boys side," he says, "at this level I don't think you have as much hidden talent."

Tambi is impressed with quality of his players and sees significant progress in the last decade in female talent. But in his overall assessment of the female game nationwide, he does see room for improvement.

"The physical end is squared away," he says. "Athletically, that's no concern. But, even though they have a better technical foundation than a decade ago, more improvement in the technical end should be the emphasis.

"The second issue is we don't see large quantities of soccer brains. That's a product of a local youth soccer environment where there's too much focus on competing in leagues and traveling from tournament to tournament while missing the important elements."

Tambi says he's charged with the mutual goals of doing well at the world championship and developing players for the full national team.

The U-17 Girls World Cup kicks off in New Zealand on Oct. 28.

The USA, which qualified under Tambi by outscoring its opponents 29-2 in five games, is a favorite at the championship along with Germany and North Korea.

(This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.) 

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