After his stint in England, Osorio became head coach of Colombia's Millionarios, in MLS coached the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls, whom he guided to an MLS Cup runner-up finish, and won a Colombian league title with Once Caldas.
His stints with Mexico's Puebla and Brazil's Sao Paulo sandwiched six titles, league and cup, with Colombia's Atletico Nacional. A year after Osorio took the helm, Mexico beat the USA on U.S. soil in World Cup qualifying for the first time since 1972 as El Tri cruised to booking a spot at this summer's World Cup.
Juan Carlos Osorio on ...
His early soccer experience. I grew up in the small Colombia city of Santa Rosa del Cabal, where as a kid you have three choices. You are a bicycle rider. Or you play soccer. And the other one is hang around the town drinking and partying. A small town like that -- it was about 50,000 when I grew up -- you don't have much to do. And I decided to play soccer. And soccer became my life.
Parents' response to soccer. At first, they were disappointed because they wanted me to be a doctor or a dentist. I went to university in Colombia for two semesters to become a dentist and then one day I just quit and said I want to play futbol.
Coming to America. I came as an international student in 1984, to Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa. Then I went Southern Connecticut College, where I played for Bob Dikranian and Ray Reid [assistant coach].
Adjusting to college soccer. It was tough. It was different. But it was my first taste of direct futbol. Not many passes. Not many long sequences of good passes. It was more, hit long balls and compete for second balls. And set pieces. ... I played central midfield.
The Chicago Bulls influence. I went to Chicago for a month or so. I had a chance to watch the Chicago Bulls practice. I thought, this is fantastic. Everything they train is based on the game itself. It shocked me because in those days -- and I was still playing -- a lot of teams trained in isolated ways. Even now.
If they need endurance, they go running in the forest. If they want to become stronger, they go to the gym. But the problem with the forest and the gym is that there is no decision-making. Running is good. The gym is good. But the training on the field has to be the most important part of training.
American influence on your coaching career. At Southern Connecticut, we did a lot of sports research, learning about the role of the brain. ... I watched how the hockey teams train, the basketball teams play, even American football. I learned a lot from different sports and considered what I could apply to soccer.
One thing that had a great impact on me was how Americans approach the games. They're very honest about it. I learned in my early days in America that you give your 100 percent. And athletically you compete at your best. You respect the opponents. No cheating. For you to become strong mentally you have to do the other things that make you a better athlete. Eat properly. Sleeping enough hours. Being disciplined. My time in the United States definitely marked my life forever.
Coaching education. I got my first license in the USA. The instructor was Mr. Arnie Ramirez. Arnold was very good. At that point he was the very successful coach of Long Island University. It was taught half English, half Spanish -- Spanglish. In 1997, I went to Holland and I took the Dutch certificate. And I also did my English FA license in 2004 and I got my UEFA A license. I have kept learning and getting more and more information about the game and preparation.
Always taking notes. My father worked at an American company, Parke-Davis, which manufactured medicine. And I remember learning from my dad in my early days how to write reports. How the best way to keep track of anything is by writing down the plan, the execution, and how you move through the plan. I learned a lot of things from my dad and even then there was this emphasis on an American way of doing things.
Manchester City. In those days, a lot of English teams played very direct soccer. I was there 2001 to 2006 -- and in the last 12 years many important coaches, continental managers they call them, came to the English game. But 10, 15 years ago, most of the teams were very direct and I got the chance not only to learn what what direct football is but how to counteract it, and also to respect that type of football, and how to prepare my teams to play against it. That's been fantastic, because with Mexico we'll get tested against teams that play direct.
Coaching in Brazil. Very skillful players. They all like to play a free role. It was a challenge to have a team play within a structure, as opposed to having 11 great players play at their will.
Back to Colombia. When I left Colombia and even when I came back, there was a lot of emphasis on tiki-taka -- way too many passes before penetrating. My biggest challenge was trying to combine both -- athleticism, the direct play of the countries where I had been coaching, meaning the U.S. and England, and combine that with the skills of the individual players and trying to make them understand that with talent alone, it's impossible to win big trophies.
Photos courtesy of SUM.
Mexico. I quickly learned the Mexican players are skillful, very technical, very aggressive, but I thought that, like any other country in the world, there were things to improve.
The 18-year Mexican-American El Tri player Jonathan Gonzalez. He's doing well. He's part of the group of young, upcoming Mexican players who have a good presence and hopefully will have a fantastic future with Mexican futbol.
The 'Hispanic Issue' in U.S. Soccer. Soccer is a global sport and for that reason alone, whoever is in charge of the Federation should look to combine different ethnic groups and give a chance to everybody. We know there has to be good talent. It takes top coaches to combine different styles of players and you have to start doing that combination at an early age.
Why Colombia has such skillful players. Because we play in the street. It's like American basketball players. They play at night. At midnight! In the Bronx, in Queens, in many many places. Just by playing you get plenty of experience and you develop good players. Learning to play the game by playing the game itself.
Advice for coaches of 6-, 7-, 8- 9-year-olds. The best training is to play. Just play.
The next chapter of his career. The most important thing right now is the World Cup. I hope, I pray to the Lord that we have a good World Cup, and then I would decide what to do.
I am Colombian, so one day I would like to coach my own national team. But I am also very grateful to the United States and admire this country. I studied here in America. I worked in MLS. My first job in professional soccer was in the U.S. Plus, the fact that my two boys were born in Queens. … The national team job in the United States is as appealing to me as it should be to any other manager because this is a great country.
And finally, if we do a good World Cup, the chances to continue with Mexico will hopefully be there. We'll decide what to do and what's best for everybody. Because there is a group of young players who I would like to see how they develop. I enjoy developing players, consolidating players, and if you can do that, you can do it in any nation that has good training facilities and is willing to spend some money on youth development.