Robin Fraser is among the most vital figures in American soccer over the past three decades, initially as a first-class center back and then as a coach, and he's an MLS Coach of the Year candidate after guiding the Colorado Rapids -- on the rise since he stepped in a little more than two years ago -- to the Western Conference regular-season championship with a 17-7-10 record.
He and the Rapids head into their playoff opener on Thursday -- the first Thanksgiving Day game in Major League Soccer history -- against the Portland Timbers in the mile-high altitude at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado.
The Jamaica-born Fraser, who moved to Miami in adolescence, was among the premier players in the United States during the “pioneer” era that produced the Yanks' first World Cup teams since 1950. He made his first U.S. national team appearance in 1998 and went on to win 27 caps with the national team while starring first in the alphabet soup of pro leagues that bridged the NASL era with Major League Soccer -- most dynamically as centerpiece of the Colorado Foxes' excellent backline -- and then as one of MLS's smartest, most athletic and best-skilled leaders with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and Columbus Crew.
He won two MLS Defender of the Year awards, was a Best XI honoree five times in 10 seasons, and last year was among the selections for the league's list of the 25 greatest players in its first 25 seasons. He's also been among the most thoughtful and dynamic coaches in American soccer, getting his first chance in MLS as an assistant coach at Real Salt Lake, where he played a significant role in the 2009 MLS Cup triumph, and then as head coach in an extremely challenging situation with a fading Chivas USA franchise in 2011-12.
It was there that he first hooked up professionally with Greg Vanney, with whom he'd been developing a philosophy, a set of principles, on the game since they'd connected as Galaxy defenders in the league's inaugural season. He went on to coach two years with the New York Red Bulls, then joined Vanney at Toronto FC, reaching the 2016 MLS Cup title game -- a match the Reds dominated but lost on penalties after Stefan Frei's spectacular overtime save on a Jozy Altidore shot -- and winning the championship in 2017.
He returned to Denver in August 2019 to take charge of the Rapids, guiding what was a 7-14-6 side to five wins in their last seven matches, then leading them into the playoffs last year for the first time since 2016. Now Colorado has won its first regular-season conference title and as the No. 2 overall seed is the club most likely to capture the crown -- what would be the club's second -- if the record-setting New England Revolution can be stopped.
Fraser sat down with Soccer America as the postseason began for a 50-minute chat about growing up as a soccer-loving kid in Jamaica and Florida, his 18 years on professional fields, his time with the national team, his evolution as a coach, his thoughts on some famous coaches -- Pep Guardiola and Bruce Arena among them -- and how the Rapids have climbed back to prominence under his leadership.
SOCCER AMERICA: Congratulations on winning the west. I'm not sure that a lot of people thought the season was going to turn out like this. You've surprised many. Were you surprised?
ROBIN FRASER: Um ... no. I knew we had certain things that we wanted to work on, and if we did them well, we felt like we could be effective. And as the year went on, we found a number of different ways to win games. We had 18 different goalscorers this year and nobody in double figures. So we were doing it by committee, and it's kind of the way this whole team has been.
We just felt ourselves inching along throughout the year, becoming a little bit more solid and keeping ourselves in games and winning a few and tying a few. And we felt comfortable that we could be a team that could be competitive. And though no one talked about us, it's completely fine by us. We just felt like we were making small strides forward every week, and we thought we would hopefully be competitive down toward the end of the season. And fortunately, we were.
SOCCER AMERICA: You guys never lost successive games and put together that 12-game, two-month unbeaten streak that took you into fall. Those are really big things, certainly, but they're really product of what you're doing. What were the most important elements that came together for you?
ROBIN FRASER: I think the team's real understanding of what's being asked of them, and their willingness to execute. You know, the guys took on a lot of information throughout the year, and you could see they adapted well to everything that's being asked of them. And it's not like it was the defending or the attacking. It was really the overall effort and the overall understanding of what was being asked and willingness to do it. It was just put them in positions where their individual abilities would excel, whether in defending or attacking, and they just took it and ran with it.
SOCCER AMERICA: You are a team without superstars, like you describe. Everyone contributes. How does that breed the culture?
ROBIN FRASER: It's been really important for the culture because I've been on teams before where 14 guys, maybe 15, feel pretty involved. And then the rest feel like outcasts. And I do believe that everyone here feels invested and involved, because we have played a lot of guys. We have rotated guys quite a bit, and part of it is to keep us fresh, prevent injuries, keep us fresh within games. But part of it, too, is to make sure that everyone feels invested. They feel like they're respected and they're a part of the team.
SOCCER AMERICA: When you took over two years ago, what were the things you saw that needed to evolve and the key steps in helping them to do so?
ROBIN FRASER: We wanted to develop an identity, and people talk about that all the time. All it is when you develop an identity, for me, is that you give them a foundation. And the foundation is either something that they believe in and work toward or it's something where when things aren't going well, you fall back on this foundation.
So it was important that they had a foundation of things that they needed to think about offensively and defensively and whether they would come to execute them well on the day or not. That remains to be seen, but the first part of it is making sure that they have something that they know is the thing that they do. And I think in establishing that identity, they've really relished it and taken it and run with it. They've just they've really taken it on and made it their own.
SOCCER AMERICA: How would you describe your identity?
ROBIN FRASER: An extremely hard-working team, a really unselfish team, a bunch of guys who do what the team needs them to do and, and a group that is thoughtful in how we attack and the things you're looking for and how we defend and the things we're looking to deny and take away.
SOCCER AMERICA: The Rapids over the years have had some very good years and some not so good. And oftentimes they'd have a good season followed by two or three years of struggles. What do you think are the biggest things that go into building something that lasts, that can be competitive year after year after year? And how has that guided as you've built this team and as you look to the future?
ROBIN FRASER: We talked about that in our first-ever meeting, Padraig [Smith, the Rapids' general manager and executive vice president] and I did, because we agreed that nobody cares about a flash in the pan. You want to be a team, an organization that is consistent year in, year out, has sustainable success. For me, that comes down to having the right types of players, the right mindset of players and, obviously, the right ability.
But then the other is having an identity. And I think the identity and culture can help you maintain success, consistency over the years. But I think it's hard to do that if you're scrambling, just trying to throw together a team to get a win here and there and you acquire players just because, “OK, this one might score a goal or two or that one might do this or this one might do that.” You want to have a comprehensive plan in terms of how you want to build the team, the culture, the identity, the types of players, the mentalities of players, the skill sets of players. And I think Padraig has done a really good job of putting together a team that ticks a lot of the boxes.
SOCCER AMERICA: Colorado has not traditionally been one of MLS's big spenders, has not gone out looking for big names and so forth. How does budget impact how you build?
ROBIN FRASER: Budget can impact positively or negatively, depending on how you use it. And to have a lot of money without a great plan in place, you can end up spending your money erroneously. And at that point, now you've spent a lot of money and you still don't have a team that gives you what you want. So it's very much about how you use that. It's not just having a budget or the size of your budget, it's how you use the budget that you have. And, for us, Padraig has been very meticulous in how he wants to put the team together in terms of types of players, contracts, that sort of thing. ... We've been able to acquire a number of very good players, even though the perception out there is that if you don't spend money, that you can't be successful. I do you think that money is obviously very, very helpful if you're trying to put together a team. But we've been able to put together a decent team without a huge amount of spending. It's something we all can take pride in.
Michael Barrios notched eight goals and six assists to lead the Rapids during the 2021 MLS regular season.
SOCCER AMERICA: What were the acquisitions that you thought were game-changing, adding something that was needed or greatly impacting chemistry?
ROBIN FRASER: Yeah, just look at the changes we made between last year and this year. Bringing in Mikey Barrios, he's been very, very good for us and a fantastic guy in terms of the culture, as well. Mark-Anthony Kaye in the middle of the year, same. Really good player, really good person, a team guy. The point of those two is those are pretty big acquisitions, and they have been extremely helpful to us. .. It's been very much about trying to find not just the right players, but the right people.
SOCCER AMERICA: Many believe, in Denver and elsewhere, that you guys have the best home-field advantage in MLS because of altitude. Do you think that's so?
ROBIN FRASER: That's in the eye of the beholder, right? What's the best? Someone might say their field is the best for whatever reasons, or their turf field deters enough people that they think there's is the best. So I'm sure everyone feels like in some way, shape or form, playing at home is really good for that. We certainly do, and we feel like we play well here and we're hard to deal with here. And teams have to deal with that with altitude when they come in.
SOCCER AMERICA: You've been an assistant coach at a few places. You've been head coach with two clubs. They're obviously very different jobs. How are they different in terms of the way that you work for the organization or you work for the team?
ROBIN FRASER: There is no difference in how you work for the team or work for the organization. The only difference -- or the major difference, I suppose -- would be that as a head coach, you're kind of setting the direction. As the assistant coach, you're following the lead of the head coach in the direction that he's chosen. And then all your resources go into doing everything you can to support the coach's vision.
SOCCER AMERICA: What kind of what kind of feedback do you like from an assistant coach? How much discussion is there -- or perhaps argument over different things you might debate?
ROBIN FRASER: Well, we don't have a lot of arguments, because none of us are particularly argumentative. We have a lot of discussions. My staff is unbelievable. They're absolutely fantastic. They're supportive of the direction I've chosen, but they're also, I think, fully empowered to offer their opinions, even if they know it's going to be different than mine. I'll never have a go at them. That's why they're here. They're really, really good. And it would be so foolish of me to not take their advice. ... We have discussions about everything. We have very, very long discussions about things, because we have very detail-oriented people.
SOCCER AMERICA: How did your experience as an assistant coach at Real Salt Lake aid your evolution as a coach? What were the biggest things you gained that inform who you are now?
ROBIN FRASER: RSL was really great for me, my first professional coaching job. I coached kids for a long time, as you know, but it was an opportunity to test some of my ideas in the professional world. And Jason [Kreis, then RSL's head coach] was a young and inexperienced coach, so he leaned on me a bit, quite a bit, early on, and it gave me the perfect testing ground to try all the different ways that I thought you could try to get a team to work and think in particular ways -- offensively, defensively -- and that that experience was fantastic for me. Just having the ability to shape the team's approach, their mindset and be able to really give them some structure.
I will say that the final kind of pieces of the attacking thoughts really came together in Toronto. Greg [Vanney] is extremely, extremely progressive in how he looks at the game, and it was a great experience being with him and learning from him.
SOCCER AMERICA: We've talked at length the past several years about you and Greg and your relationship going back to 1996 and how you two developed your philosophies and so forth. What would be the Cliff's Notes version of your work together on that philosophy, those principles, its evolution and how it continues to evolve?
ROBIN FRASER: I think when we got together at Chivas, we had certain ideas of how we wanted to do things, and we would bounce a lot of stuff off each other, and I think that neither of us really had a complete attacking picture at the time. I would say we were close, but we weren't really, really 100 percent sure what we're looking for offensively, in particular. And we went through that experience together and learned some lessons there. And then we worked hard for a number of years [in separate situations], but always in touch.
And by the time we got back to Toronto, I feel like Greg's attacking ideas had really come together and were pretty comprehensive. So in spending that time with him and being able to to pick his brain and see how his brain worked on the attacking end was really good and eye-opening for me. I would say that we have similar philosophies.
We used to get asked this in Toronto all the time: “How is it that you guys are such close friends,” and, you know, “Do you challenge each other?” And we 100 percent used to challenge each other. And we still have things about us that are definitely different. But our overall philosophy of the game is is similar. Without a doubt, it's similar, but the details of how we go about things are slightly different.
SOCCER AMERICA: How how would you describe your philosophy about the game?
ROBIN FRASER: The biggest thing for me, and I've always enjoyed this, even as a player, is it is manipulation of numbers. The thing that I did best as a player was starting attacks and being able to get balls into positions where we have the opportunity to go forward. And it's all about manipulation of the numbers of the opponents and putting yourself in positions where you have numerical advantages. I would say that's the beginning part of the attacking philosophy.
And then defensively, for me, the game all comes down to numbers again. Meaning do we have enough numbers to start to defend? Do we have enough numbers to press? What is the numerical situation? Tell us. At that point, do we have the numbers to go and win the ball back? Or do we not have the numbers to go and win the ball back. And once the choice is made, if either situation presents itself.
So I love the thinking part of the game. I love the X's and O's and how they match up.
SOCCER AMERICA: Was that something you've always liked in soccer, going back to your youth? That intellectual approach to the game?
ROBIN FRASER: I remember a particular incident one day in a high school training, where my team was closing down the other team, and we were closing people down and recognized that based on the numbers and positioning of people, the ball had to go to a certain spot. And as I'm closing down, I'm saying it has to go there, it has to go there. And the coach actually stopped the training session and said, “It has to go there because of this, this, this and this. And if you're thinking and looking at the numbers and recognizing that, you would realize that's where the ball has to go.” So I feel like at a relatively young age. I was able to at least look at the game in terms of numbers, and the numbers tell you everything in terms of your offensive choices and your defensive choices. And so as a relatively young age, I started to think about that.
It's funny, Scott, you know I've been coaching since basically since I started playing professionally. I came to find that coaching made me a better player, because it truly made me think about things that I just did naturally, because then you have to think about it and articulate why and the reasons for it. And so you go into kind of deeper thinking about how you think about the game.
And what's funny is I remember things that I did with my first under-14 girls teams that I still do with professional teams today. Just certain things. Obviously, the quality is different. This is different. That's different. But the principles haven't necessarily changed. So there's certainly been a set of principles that have guided me to how I want to coach and how I see the game. And while many, many things change as the levels get higher, the players get better. And this evolution over 30 years, that's all somewhat grown. But at the underneath it all, there are certain principles that I abided by in 1991 and I still do today.
SOCCER AMERICA: What were the biggest lessons you learned from your tenure at Chivas USA? You certainly experienced things that are different than one would experience in the league today, because of how that organization was set up and some of the peculiarities of Chivas USA at that time. How did going through that experience make you a better coach?
ROBIN FRASER: I think if you're willing to open your eyes, every situation is a learning situation, meaning Chivas was very, very difficult for me because of how the conditions went, my inexperience, the club's kind of position and where they were. Meaning were they looking to get out of the league, were they still fully committed to being in the league? It was just a really odd time.
But the things that I learned from that: some management things, dealing with some things above me, and also in terms of the play. Different ways to look at different scenarios. And how do you get the best of this group based on this? how do you get the best put of this group based on this? Stay true to your principles, even in tough times. There were so many little lessons that I learned that made me so much better, even as an assistant coach. And then now that I'm back in this position, there are definitely things I learned from my tenure at Chivas that have made me a better coach.
SOCCER AMERICA: How do you win today and how is it different than winning in the past, going back to your playing days or when you were in charge at Chivas? Have the ingredients to compete in this league as it has evolved changed?
ROBIN FRASER: I think the coaching is better in the league now, and with the investments now moving toward younger players, the game is faster than when I played. There is more high-speed running, more sprinting. I talked to Jim Liston [the director of high performance under Vanney at Toronto FC and now the LA Galaxy, who held a similar post with Chivas] about how good we were, how much we ran, he said, “Yeah, these guys do so much more high-speed running now than you did back then.” So that's certainly one of the big changes.
But I do think the tactical aspect of the league has changed for the better. I think there are a lot of different coaches that go about it in different ways, and we were just saying this: Every game here is really interesting because coaching styles vary so much within the league, whereas in other countries -- in some other countries -- all the teams can play kind of similarly. And the number of challenges we face week to week may not be the same as in some of the other leagues.
SOCCER AMERICA: The challenges you do face in this league, both the exterior -- in terms of the different conditions you find with weather, altitude, field conditions and so forth -- but also that you're facing a different style of play every week. I don't think that anywhere else in the world they face as many challenges as you do here, nor are they in a situation where on any given week, whether home or away, the weakest team can beat the strongest team. I believe MLS remains hugely underrated.
ROBIN FRASER: I would agree. I would agree, certainly from a competitive standpoint within the league. You could still say, you know, obviously the English Premier League and some of the other leagues are bigger and better leagues, but you do find that there's more parity here and that there are no easy games.
You can play the worst team in the league and it still gives me the same headaches to prepare for them because they have good players, they have ways that they can hurt you. In some cases, the coaching is really good, the teams are really well structured. And, like you said, every week you could win, every week you could lose, and there's no shoo-in.
I would say when I when I played with the Galaxy, there were certain games we certainly knew we were going to win. And we went into the game fully confident because the other team just was never going to beat us. And these days, I think the coaches are too good, the preparations too good, and teams are spending money on really good players. So in situations where the coaching and the preparation may not be perfect, they still have players who can make plays on any given day.
I definitely think that the league is getting better from that standpoint. The average players are better than the average players 25 years ago. I think the elite players 25 years ago would still be elite players today, but we're certainly moving in a direction that the league is definitely going forward. A lot of it, I think, is about some of the tactical things being brought in by different coaches.
SOCCER AMERICA: You go back as a professional player to that kind of no-man's-land era between the NASL and MLS, and you had some great years during that time. If in 1991 or 1992, let's say, someone had said, “Let me show you what things are like in 2021,” would you have believed them?
ROBIN FRASER: It's hard to say no, because I've obviously gone through the slow process of 30 years of this, but I have to think that when I first came to the [APSL's Colorado] Foxes in 1990 and was getting $1,000 a month plus an apartment for six months, I would say I could not imagine a time where players are making $8 million a year playing soccer in this country. I couldn't imagine a time when there were, and I'm just taking a guess, 20 to 23 soccer-specific stadiums. Could never have imagined that.
And to see where we are now, I feel like we're in a really good place at a time where the league is continuing to move forward. The next two World Cups will obviously help. But I think that we are we are really kind of making our way to the upper echelons of pro sports in this country, which for a long time we weren't even close. So it's nice to see and it's really, really incredible to have been a part of it, up from 30 years ago to now.
SOCCER AMERICA: Those Foxes teams were fantastic. Those who weren't there don't realize how good were some of those APSL teams. The San Francisco Bay Blackhawks, the L.A. Salsa, Montreal Impact. And playing with the Foxes was your first time living in Colorado. Do you consider Denver your real home? I know Florida is where you're from -- well, Jamaica first -- but you've spent way more time away from Florida than in Florida as an adult.
ROBIN FRASER: That's so funny that you say that. I was thinking about that recently. You know, I lived in Jamaica for 12 years. I only lived in Florida for maybe another 11 years. And outside of that, I've traveled around. I think I've probably lived more in Colorado than I have anywhere else as an adult. So for me, this will always have a feeling of home, and I enjoy being here. I I loved my time with the Foxes. You know, first time out of Miami as a 23-year-old college graduate, leaving the community and everything that I've known my whole life, it was definitely kind of daunting to come here. And then once I came here, I realized, well, there's some really great places outside Miami, and I just fell in love with it here. I've loved it ever since?
SOCCER AMERICA: And now to do what you're doing with the Rapids, it's a homecoming.
ROBIN FRASER: It really is fun for me, and I'm glad that now that I'm here, I'm glad that I came back -- and I played with Rapids for three years -- because I certainly had my experiences with the Foxes and I had lived here for six years before MLS started. So then to come back for three years felt like, OK, this is great. I've lived 10 years of my adult life here and then all the various things I've been doing to have the opportunity to come back here. You know, I've watched Denver grow and evolve into this bigger city. We used to say Denver is the best kept small secret in the U.S., and given the population's flow over the last 30 years, I think the secret's out. But one of my favorite places to be. It always has been since I first landed here in 1990. And to be a part of the Rapids and to help them become a better team, and the goal is really to become a consistent player when it comes to the year-end stuff in the league.
SOCCER AMERICA: When you think back on your playing career, what are the biggest things that come to mind?
ROBIN FRASER: Probably the time with the Galaxy. The new league, exciting times, the way we started [with 12 straight wins] and the quality of the team really for the five years that I was there, just so many good players and so many good experiences and so many good friendships out of it. So if I was to say there's one time that really sticks out, it would probably be the Galaxy.
And then outside of that, I look at the experience of the Foxes as just an unbelievable way to spend my 20s with some really great people, really great friends who remain friends today. I don't really think of us as pioneers. We didn't think of ourselves as pioneers at the time. We just love playing and we love being together, and we loved our lives on and off the field, and it was such a fun time. But when I look at where the league has gone, it was incredible.
The young kids these days -- I sound like one of those old guys -- young kids these days have no idea how hard it was back then, but we just did it because we loved to play and those memories will always stay with me.
SOCCER AMERICA: That first year with the Galaxy, I'm not sure I've seen a better backline in MLS. Certainly the conditions are different now, but you and Dan Calichman in the middle was, for me, the best center-back pairing in this league. And Mark Semioli had a fantastic year on the right. And then a little bit of revolving door on the left, with Greg growing as a rookie and Arash Noamouz seeing a lot of time, a few others. And then Danny Peña in front of you.
ROBIN FRASER: I've thought about this a bit. How many guys from the Foxes went on to be coaches? So many. How many guys from the Galaxy have gone on to be coaches? And [former New York Red Bulls/Toronto FC head coach] Chris Armas. He was there that first year. Danny actually was there the second year.
SOCCER AMERICA: That's right, that's right. And then they had to trade Chris to Chicago before the third season.
ROBIN FRASER: And the point of that really is one of the reasons that group was so good is that there were such intelligent players. And it's one thing to be super talented and, you know, another thing maybe to be super athletic. But when you get four defenders together who are all extremely intelligent, intelligent and confident and have the ability to communicate, then you have something pretty special. And really, that was the case with all the guys you just mentioned. And it was a real pleasure to play with them, and I felt like what we did together was pretty special.
SOCCER AMERICA: If that team were playing in MLS today, how would they do?
ROBIN FRASER: That's such a loaded question, it's impossible to answer. Only because the league has changed, the game has changed. It's in a constant state of evolution, but I think where it is today, it's different than where it was. It's really hard to say. I'd love to say we would be just as good in this league, but it's really hard to say.
SOCCER AMERICA: I think you've received recognition for you playing career in MLS and are considered as one of this league's greatest defenders, a most fair assessment. I also think you got a short shrift with the national team. Just 27 caps, never played a World Cup, and you deserved more. Your thoughts?
ROBIN FRASER: It's all in the past. I certainly think that I could have done more. But at the end of the day, it's a game where you're at the mercy of coaches who make choices. And I would love to say that I could have and should have played more -- kicking and screaming on that -- but none of it makes sense because all you can do is go and play as well as you can. And then it's up to a coach to say if he wants to utilize your services or not.
I will say that I really enjoyed my time with the national team. I really enjoyed my time with the national team under Bruce [Arena]. I thought he created a fantastic environment where really guys could grow and flourish. And you talk about people that you take things from along the way, and I've certainly taken things from all the coaches that have been with, the thing that I noticed about Bruce was the way he handled the team and the way he was able to fill the team with confidence in themselves. He was very, very good at that. For that, I really enjoyed my time with him, with the national team.
SOCCER AMERICA: Players gain from every coach they work with, even those who do things that they don't like. Which coaches have had the greatest influence on you?
ROBIN FRASER: In the world, I think Pep [Guardiola] has changed the game, and really, really interesting to watch. More recently, Thomas Tuchel. I think his team's really interesting the way they play. Both guys, first-class coaches, but I do think Pep has changed the game. He changed the game 10 years ago, and for the better. It's constantly challenging people to make themselves better.
Domestically, Bruce Arena is one of the influences I certainly acknowledge because he, as I said, what I noticed from him -- because I was with him with the national team, so I was with him just a week or two at a time -- is he changed his cadence throughout the week. And if you were paying attention, you could tell where he knew how to keep it light when he needed to keep it light. He knew how to to step up the pressure when he needed to get closer to the game and he'd need to narrow our guys' focus. And I really admired the way that he handled those training camps and the way the national team was at the time. He was a big one.
And then the other big influence on me as a coach is Greg. The years we've spent together and the amount of things that we've talked about. It's been pretty incredible to bob stuff off him for years and years and years. I can't say enough about how his soccer mind works. It's always, always going. I don't even know how he sleeps, he's always thinking soccer. But it's been a tremendous experience to be around him. And, like I said, one of the biggest influences I've had is just our conversations over 25 years.
SOCCER AMERICA: Yeah, I can see that. Things didn't turn out the way Greg wanted them to this year, but the Galaxy are a completely different organization with him in charge of the technical side.
ROBIN FRASER: I know they're going to be excellent because I just know how his mind works and the things that he's looking for and the funds he'll push to have good players. I think their biggest thing, maybe they had so many players who just were new to the league, so they could do nothing and show up next year, and they'll be better.
Scott French interview series ...
Jim Curtin on his coaching rise from toddlers to pros, what makes Philly special, and Chicago locker room lessons
Freddy Juarez on his unique path to the Real Salt Lake helm, growing up in Las Cruces, and the Buzz Lagos influence
Bruce Arena on building winners, his coaching role models, and the honor of national team duty
Peter Vermes' journey through American soccer's evolution and his pursuit of excellence
Caleb Porter on how MLS challenges coaches like no other league in the world
Steve Cherundolo on fame in Germany, World Cups, and coming home
Brian Schmetzer on Seattle soccer culture, his family and his mentors
Paul Krumpe on college soccer issues and Olympic & World Cup experiences
Ralph Perez on his 46-year coaching journey
Josh Wolff on launching Austin FC with former teammate Claudio Reyna
Landon Donovan on lessons gained as a rookie coach in a uniquely difficult year
Dominic Kinnear on two decades of coaching in MLS and the path that led him
SOCCER AMERICA: Moving to Florida from Jamaica as a child, what impact did that have on you in terms of soccer?
ROBIN FRASER: I liked soccer anyway as a young kid, but when my dad took me to the national arena to watch, I think it was, three games of the 1974 World Cup, something went off in me that that has never changed. A light switch was flipped and it's never been turned back. I came out of that just loving soccer. The whole aura of the World Cup just drew me in, and all I've wanted to do was soccer ever since. And it's so rabidly followed in Jamaica, it was really fun. We kicked things around at recess at school. Any chance we could, we were playing soccer or kicking something that was relatively round. In those days, it was certainly the thing that was most important to me.
And what I found is when I came to the U.S., certainly in Miami, I wouldn't say it was a soccer hotbed at all. But I was there to help see youth soccer grow during that time, and some of the experiences I had were so different than some of the experiences guys out in places that were soccer hotbeds had. But it was still a growing and learning process as the level got better and better in Miami.
But it all started with the passion that was borne of being in Jamaica and being around soccer all the time and seeing how passionately it is following and how intense the fans are. I mean, elementary school soccer, I think we probably had a couple of thousand people lining the field, that's how rabidly it was followed, and ever since then, it was a school experience of playing soccer, playing in that atmosphere and people cheering, you know, pressure to win and disappointment of losses and all the things that go with it. I experienced that at a very young age and certainly, that was the bug that got into me and is still at me.
SOCCER AMERICA: You've lived in the U.S. most of your life. This is obviously home. You are an American. In what ways would you say you are Jamaican?
ROBIN FRASER: You know what, I fully acknowledge and I'm thankful for the opportunities I've had because of being in this country, and I've loved living here. It's shaped me, even soccer-wise it has shaped me, because as a young person, I don't have any influences as a young soccer person. I just love soccer. But coming through and growing here, club soccer and then college soccer [at Florida International in 1985-88] and national team -- Bob Gansler, Lothar Osiander -- just the experiences that I've had here between coaches at the levels that I played at have made me who I am today in terms of soccer.
Like I said, the passion started in Jamaica, but who I turned into has been molded in this country, for sure. So I'm really, really happy for all of that. But every time anything good happens for Jamaica, I'm happy. I smile. Whether that's Olympics, running; whether that's changes within the country that are better for the country -- always have an eye on where you're from. Never forget where you're from. And extremely, extremely proud to be Jamaican. And that'll never leave me. But at the same time, I'm obviously very happy and proud to be an American and to have had my development go the way it did in this country.
SOCCER AMERICA: Do you get back to Jamaica?
ROBIN FRASER: I haven't been since 2004. The last time before 2004 was for a World Cup qualifier in 2000 for the U.S. I'm going with my daughters in a month. That will be fun.
Thank you. Very interesting insights into the character that has succeeded where many have failed. His focus on the numbers in transitions and as triggers, and his thoughts on the nexis of his coaching career, how he began to see the forest through the trees, in High School, were interesting. Keep it going!
Scott, I have followed each article you have written on former and current players and coaches and this one on Robin outdid the others previously written. His honest answers and of course unique history within the sport was a great read. I am biase but Robin is one of the most evolved player / coaches that I have witnessed with many ups and downs - True student, like Greg always learning. I have watched Robin in a youth setting and professional setting and while things are different they are very much the same. Rooting for him and his team!!!
Really nice and thorough interview with Coach Robin Fraser. As a season ticket holder and follower of the Rapids, I watched him come in and pick up a team that was reeling. He's taken various players under his wing and it's remarkable the growth that is apparent with players like Acosta, Bassett, Shinyashiki, Trusty, Rosenberry, Lewis, Vines (since moved to Royal Antwerp). Having been here "before" and "after" the coach's arrival, the difference has been dramatic, of course, culiminating in this year's Western Division regular season championship.
Great article Scott. Robin was a class act as a player; very talented and very solid! As a coach, he is more of the same, really hitting his stride, and achieving special results with the Rapids. Perhaps a Fraser / Curtin MLS Cup Final . . .
TYPO in Article, 1st Game with USMNT was 1988, not 1998 ....