Mike Jacobs Q&A: The new pathways to the pros

By Paul Kennedy

After nine years as the men's head coach at Evansville, Mike Jacobs left after the 2014 season to become vice president, league development, at the USL.

Jacobs, who previously was the top assistant at Duke and before that the head coach at Iona, is one of several coaches with backgrounds in the ACC to move to the USL. Jay Vidovich, the longtime Wake Forest head coach, left to become the head coach of the new Portland Timbers II. Carson Porter, who was an assistant coach at Wake, is now the head coach at Wilmington. Michael Dellorusso, a former Maryland assistant, is in his second year as head coach at Arizona United. And Jacobs' successor at Duke, Michael Jeffries, is the new head coach at Charlotte.

Jacobs, who is also serving this year as the president of the NSCAA, talks about the new opportunities for players and coaches in the USL and changes at the NSCAA.

SOCCER AMERICA: What went into your decision to leave your position as a head coach at a Division I program to move to the USL?

MIKE JACOBS: I always wanted to be involved in professional soccer. I grew up in New York in the '70s, growing up watching the Cosmos play, so I think I was always first drawn to soccer at the professional game, and it's always been something enticing to me. When I first got involved in coaching in college, that was the time of the boom in our country. In 1995, Duke beat Virginia in Bruce Arena's last game before 20,000 fans [in the NCAA Division I semifinals in Richmond, Va.].

Since 1996, when MLS first launched, there has been a shift culturally in our country in regards to the support and significance of the professional game from the college game. While I absolutely maintain and continue to be an advocate of the college game, there are just different pathways for players now to grow and develop. I decided to be involved in this new pathway with the USL and MLS to help players transition from their youth teams to their first teams.

SA: What does the influx of college coaches with backgrounds in the ACC into the USL say about the changes in American soccer?

MIKE JACOBS: Part of that was that there was a time you had the best young players in America not only playing in college, but playing in the ACC. And I think the reality is that as the landscape has changed, there's more opportunities for coaches to work with the best young players in our country at both the college and professional level. What this pathway with this relationship between MLS and the USL has done is to create more job opportunities for guys like myself and the other guys.

SA: For young players having to consider whether to go to college (or stay in college) or go pro and play in MLS or with a USL team, what do you tell them about what they need to consider about making this decision?

MIKE JACOBS: I don't see this as making a choice between playing professionally and going to college. The teams that are the most progressive in MLS and the USL have come up with plans that include stipends and grants for tuition at schools in proximity to where their teams play.

The maximum number of scholarships one school can give is 9.9. The reality is not all Division I teams have 9.9. It's not about being a pro vs. going to college, It's about wanting to be a pro so badly that you don't care how [your tuition is] paid for, by a college or pro team, and you're less worried about where your education comes from and more about you're getting an education while pursuing your dreams of being a pro player. While this might seem foreign in our country from a soccer standpoint, it has been happening for years in professional baseball. The exact same thing.

As far as advice to them,  the players who make it at any level are the ones who work outside their comfort zone. Your hear our national team coach refer to that all the time. I think playing outside your comfort zone is relative to the opportunities players get. The best players are willing to work in settings where they may not start out being the best players.

SA: Explain your position -- vice president, league development, at the USL.

MIKE JACOBS: I work on not only growing all properties within USL but also work as technical director. For our pro league, with our partnership with MLS, the goal is to improve our standard both on the field and off, on the field with the quality of coaches and creating this pathway for players, whether that's MLS players on loan to get first-team games or players who are not in MLS systems to be able to play at a high standard and make a living playing in a professional league.

Each club has a different mission. USL is not a developmental league. It's a stand-alone league beneath MLS. It has a developmental component from the standpoint that our MLS-owned and -operated teams choose to populate those teams with players from their youth academies, with Homegrown players whom they've signed to get more experience. It's a competitive league beneath MLS with each club having different visions or missions of how they want to maneuver and operate.

SA: In 2015, the USL will have eight teams operated by MLS clubs, 12 teams that have affiliation agreements with MLS clubs, and four stand-alone clubs. The USL will also have some clubs that have ambitions to move up to MLS and some clubs that are seemingly content to be where they are now. That's a lot of different situations. How will you work to ensure everyone is on the same page?

MIKE JACOBS: I've never been around a team that wasn't build with the intentions of winning games and championships. The LA Galaxy II went to the league semifinals last year, so whether your team is populated with developmental players for their first team or players who are the first team for a stand-alone USL club, the common denominator is that this is an opportunity for players to get meaningful matches at a professional level.

SA: The amateur PDL had 29 former players taken in the first two rounds of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft? What are some of the things you'd like the PDL to achieve?

MIKE JACOBS: Our goal with the PDL is to mirror the growth of the USL, our pro league, and mirror it from the standpoint of not necessarily professionalizing the players in the league because it is the top amateur league in the United State but professionalizing everything around the league. We always want to establish ourselves in a marketplace with that level of sophistication. It's a pro league with amateur players.

SA: As a college coach, what would you look for in terms of placing a player in the PDL?

MIKE JACOBS: The equity the club and its coach build up is really important. There is a lot of networking on both sides. A college coach will look for some place where he knows his players will get games, where they will get to play good games. It is not a coincidence that teams like Reading or Des Moines or Michigan are traditionally churning out pro prospects because they've created a culture of that. You look at Des Moines. They've just hired Mike Matkovic. He's coached in MLS and been the U.S. under-18 national team coach. He's got a network to find top prospects.

SA: Now turning to your NSCAA hat, what does the position of NSCAA president entail?

MIKE JACOBS: A large focus of my national platform was to be as inclusive as possible with our membership, to find more ways for members to get involved. I remember years ago going to the convention and wanting to have a large role in this organization. We created this past year our advocacy council, which now enables members from each constituent group to have a voice and to be involved, and it allows us to have a leadership tree where we can find and identify future leaders of our association.

The other big thing on my plate is we're conducting our search for our next CEO. Joe Cummings, who has done such a tremendous job in growing our association to new heights, is coming to the end of his tenure as CEO, so we have started our search to find his successor.

SA: In September 2014, the NSCAA moved its offices to Union Station in Kansas City. What does that move signify?

MIKE JACOBS: We needed somewhere that was larger, we needed to be somewhere that was in an urban area. The growth of the association was such that we needed to have a staff that could support an association this large.

SA: U.S. Soccer is ending equivalency for NSCAA courses in its licensing programs. What are the goals of the NSCAA for its coaching education program going forward?

MIKE JACOBS: The NSCAA's goals are to support the masses in our country who look for different ways to find coaching education. There is a large market, and there is plenty of room for multiple agencies to provide coaching education. We feel pretty strongly that the NSCAA can support the needs of coaches here in this country.
1 comment about "Mike Jacobs Q&A: The new pathways to the pros".
  1. John DiFiore, February 13, 2015 at 12:26 a.m.

    What does "ending equivalency" mean?? That USSF courses are better?

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