Eric Quill is the 2019 USL League One Coach of the Year.
SOCCER AMERICA: We just saw the USA exit the U-17 World Cup with losses to Senegal (4-1) and the Netherlands (4-0) and a 0-0 tie with Japan. Being familiar with that player pool, your thoughts?
ERIC QUILL: I thought they were a really talented group, and I thought Dave did a really good job of molding a mentality into them. If you look at their results from their cycle from U-15 to U-17, they won a lot of tournaments. Obviously, bodies mature, and how much importance you put on U-15 results and when they’re U-17s, I don’t know.
But I thought Dave did a really good job with them. He had them playing in sort of a free-spirited way with also an accountability. They worked extremely hard. They fought for each other. The training sessions were intense.
I’m surprised at the results at the U-17 World Cup. I thought they would have shown the American public more on the biggest stage in their careers so far.
SA: This was a group whose cycle came in the midst of upheaval in U.S. Soccer’s guidance of the youth national team program that resulted in all the YNT head coaches departing. After van den Bergh coached them at U-15s, they were coached as U-17s by John Hackworth, Shaun Tskakiris, van Bergh again, and finally Raphael Wicky, who took them to the World Cup …
ERIC QUILL: These players have been in a difficult situation.
It’s one thing to have a couple of different coaches, but to have four different coaches, that’s difficult for young kids. We all have our differences as coaches and how we demand things from players, how we design concepts within our philosophies. I think it’s really hard for them to be thrown in different directions, and I think we saw the effects of that at this World Cup.
SA: I want to return the state of the national team program, but let’s talk about your championship win with North Texas SC. That marks two national titles for you in a short period. What have you been doing right?
ERIC QUILL: I’m super competitive. I demand a lot from players, but I’m also very fair. The way I manage guys, I’m very hard on them but I spend a lot of time with them in a compassionate way. Getting to know who they are, and I’m very honest with them.
It’s almost like a dad-son relationship. You’re gonna laugh together. You’re gonna cry together. You’re gonna argue with each other. You’re gonna hug each other. My staff and I demand a lot from them, but they understand we’re trying to get them to the next level of their careers.
You hear the word mentality all the time. What does that mean? All these guys are super talented. It’s a strong mentality and the will power that allows them to jump to next level and be effective.
SA: How different has coaching the USL League One team been compared to coaching the Texans?
ERIC QUILL: It was similar in that they had to understand how to fight every single second that they’re on the training field and on the game field, and as coach not to allow that standard to drop, ever.
But we played two different styles. With the Texans, we didn’t have enough talent to dominate the ball, so we had to play a sit and counter game, with some special players we had.
Here, at FC Dallas, it’s a different style of play. We dominate the ball. Every single player at a every position is technical.
They’re two different styles that won, but nothing changes when it comes to mentality. Mentality is something I always look for in every player. I don’t allow that weakmindedness to ever take over without calling it what it is.
I think players appreciate that, however much it sometimes frustrates them when I call them out. They also know it’s coming from the right place. It’s honest and it comes out with the right tone and in the right way.
SA: Was it a challenge to coach a team with a different style of play?
ERIC QUILL: I coached against FC Dallas academy teams for years and knew how Luchi Gonzalez thinks and what he wants to bring to the first team. We’ve had a lot of discussions. I’ve coached against Luchi for five, six years and always admired how bold they are in their play.
That’s always how I love to play. I just didn’t have the luxury at my former club because I just didn’t have enough depth and technical ability to play the way I necessarily wanted to play. So, you had to adopt ways and a style to help you win with what you have.
It’s also been a good exercise for me to be able to coach two different styles of play. I think that grows you as a coach, especially in this world of professional sports.
You go on the road and maybe have to sit deeper, and be able to design that, and coach that throughout the week, and have players understand that. And in the pros, you can’t dominate every game in possession. Sometimes you come up against a monster and maybe you have to change your style a little bit.
I feel I’ve been fortunate to be pretty well-versed in different styles of play to feel confident about myself as a coach at this level.
Ronaldo Damus, a Haiti product who turned 20 late in the season, led North Texas SC in scoring with 16 goals. Second with 11 goals was U.S. U-17 Ricardo Pepi, who turned 16 in January. FC Dallas MLS Homegrown signings, in addition to Pepi, who saw action for Quill’s team included teenagers Dante Sealey (16), Bryan Reynolds (18), Edwin Cerrillo (19) and Thomas Roberts (18). U.S. U-17 Nico Carrera made his USL League One debut this season.
SA: During the 28-game season
you use a combination of players from FC Dallas’ different levels ...
ERIC QUILL: It’s a revolving door. Early in the week, some second-team guys are training with the first team for the first couple days. So we’re grabbing some academy guys when our guys go up. Pretty much on the last day we get the first team players who are going to play on our team. If we play Saturday, on Friday we get a day of preparation with the guys who are going to play on Saturday.
Sometimes we have seven first-team guys on our gameday roster, sometimes we have zero. Obviously when there are fewer first-team guys we take more academy guys. We only have 11 signed second-team players.
SA: Is it problematic when players get relegated to the bench because first-team players come down?
ERIC QUILL: Early on, it was a little difficult to manage the roster. Some of these guys are fighting tooth and nail to get in the game on Saturday, then all of a sudden the first-team guys come down and you’re pushed to the side.
I think our staff did a really good job managing players and developing a culture where they understand, if you don’t like it, you need to get to the first team. The only way to get yourself to the first team is to bust your ass out there every day and earn that contract.
I said, I don’t expect you to like it, but you have to respect the process we have in place here. And they respected it.
Eric Quill played on the 1994 U.S. Youth Soccer U-16 national championship-winning Houston Texans team coached by legendary youth coach Roy Rees. During Quill’s nine-year MLS career, his coaches included Bob Gansler and Bob Bradley. After his playing career, he guided Texans SC Houston to the 2017 Development Academy U-17/18 national championship title. He played for various U.S. youth national teams and was part of the first MLS Project-40 class after playing one season at Clemson. In MLS, he played for Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Dallas and the MetroStars.
SA: How much integration is there with the DA teams?
ERIC QUILL: The first team, second team, DA U-19s and U-17s all train in the morning side by side. So there’s a lot of integration between the U-19, U-17 and second team, for sure. And obviously there’s a lot integration between second team and the first team.
I’m always watching the 19s and the 17s, because I’m looking at players we’ve identified as projections to come into our second team whether that be in three months, six months to a year.
We want to constantly bring those guys in, especially early in the week. So we usually utilize Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday to bring those guys up to work in the second-team environment, to work on their IDP [Individual Development Programs], to try and help develop them for the next age group. And they’ll go back Thursday and Friday in preparation for their academy game on the weekend.
SA: The players at your practices vary quite a bit …
ERIC QUILL: You have to be really flexible in this role because what you had planned for a training session can be altered in a split second. A first-team coach coming over and saying we need three guys for a training session right now. Boom, they go.
We welcome that. We want guys to be with the first team as much as possible. You design training sessions and are prepared for moving pieces. A player going out, a player coming in.
SA: I imagine your work will ultimately be judged on how many of the North Texas SC players succeed in the first team, in MLS. But how important is winning the title?
ERIC QUILL: Developing winners is part of development. This is the stage where if you’re going to win an MLS championship one day you need win a championship in USL. I don’t separate development from winning. At U-14 and U-15, yeah, we can separate them.
But once they’re foreseeable pros, we have to start thinking about winning, developing winning habits and winning qualities in the everyday environment
And [FC Dallas president] Dan [Hunt] definitely loves championships. Winning was always part of the conversation for developing guys for the next level. It goes hand in hand. When you develop winners, you’re going to find guys who jump to the next level.
SA: What's your staff like?
ERIC QUILL: My assistant is Brazilian Michel Pereira, who played three seasons for FC Dallas and for some big clubs in Brazil. Another assistant is U-15 academy coach Alex Aldaz. The U-15s train in the afternoon so he helps in morning and when the schedule allows is on the bench with us for games. Or goalkeeper coach is Nestor Merlo, who works with the academy players as well. We a sports performance guy, Ardavan Vahidtari, young, aspiring, who’s awesome. And the usual equipment man, medical man.
SA: Our national team program on the men’s side seems to be in dire straits. Two years after a failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, we saw a dismal performance against Canada. The youth national team program, which recently looked quite promising, is no longer fully operational and the USA gave one of its worst U-17 World Cup performances ever. Is there anything optimistic you can say?
ERIC QUILL: The youth is probably better than people know or understand.
We need to hear what the Federation’s future plans are. Transparency is something we all need and deserve as fans of U.S. soccer. Even if it’s something we don’t agree with, there’s a respect for transparency, and at least allowing questions to be answered.
We’ve got to improve the processes as to how we’re going to function at a national level. Who we want to be, how we’re going to build it. What processes are going to be in place to build it. And we’ve got to have a lot of people buy into it.
SA: So what you see on the soccer fields in the USA makes you optimistic about American talent?
ERIC QUILL: Yes. There’s not a lack of talent in this country.
The Development Academy I think has been great. It’s been able to isolate a lot of the talent in one area, but to think that we’re not missing talent is naïve as well. What are we doing to not miss talent? How are we working with organizations that have talent?
I feel like there a lot of different entities that are splintering. At some point, they’ve got to work together if we want to have a great national team. There’s talent in a lot of areas. We need to respect each other’s organizations to figure out what we can do to get the talent into the door of the national team.