Commentary

Shalrie Joseph on becoming a coach, the Bruce Arena effect, and MLS boosting the youth game

For a guy who spent his childhood playing soccer outside almost every day year-round in the warm Caribbean sun, Shalrie Joseph speaks fondly of the New England winters. The seven-time MLS all-star holds the most appearances for the Revs, including consecutive runs to the MLS Cup in 2005-2007.  

“I'm one of those guys that comes from a warm weather climate  ...  but I love the change of season and for me, snow is something I appreciate — I don't like shoveling and getting rid of it, but I like the change of season.”

When I ask him about the youth soccer's biggest challenge, though, he says it's about figuring out, "How do we get kids to play year round, every day, every week and getting in meaningful games."

Joseph moved to New York City with his family from Grenada in October 1992 at age 14 and snuck into basketball gyms with his friends to play soccer during his first cold winter months.

As for how his coaching career started? "I'd like to think I was always a coach, even in my playing career. I was doing individual and small group training — I always knew I wanted to be a coach."

After a two-year stint as the national team coach for Grenada, Joseph heard rumblings from Curt Onalfo, the Revs' technical director, that a revolution was underway in the northeast. He started as the U-15 boys academy coach and is now also an assistant coach for the first team.

"Even though we didn't reach the [MLS Cup] final ... the energy is very, very good around the building right now."


SOCCER AMERICA: How did you originally get involved in soccer? Do you have a first memory? 

SHALRIE JOSEPHJust playing as a youngster in Grenada. Me and some friends would always get together on pretty much every afternoon and morning during school time. For me, it was always that my friends played it, and my uncle, Cyrus Rudolph, played it at the highest level possible in the Caribbean for our national team. Ever since, I always wanted to play soccer at the highest level possible.

I learned a lot from him growing up; we'd watch the national team training, I'd be a ball boy and then we would get our small-sided sweat on the side when they were playing. Then the older players would join us — from a young age I always would play with older players and older men and that really helped me when it comes to the physical part of the game. That really helped me a lot.

SA: What is the soccer culture like for a kid growing up in Grenada? What was the culture shock like upon moving to New York?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: It was different. I saw a lot of culture from different Caribbean countries. We all got together at the same high school — the bad part about it was that I came in the winter so we couldn't play as much soccer as we wanted. In the Caribbean, we play at least five or six times a week, but coming up to New York we weren't exposed to any facilities. We didn't have places to play. So we found a basketball gym and we'd play as much as we can. But it was different, it was very different.

SA: Was there a change in the style of play as well?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: It was more freestyle. Not everybody had my level of play, my level of intelligence I would like to think. So it was mostly small-sided stuff — thank God for my coaches and the people in my life who allowed me to play the way I wanted to play.

SA: Did you have soccer-playing role models and favorite teams growing up?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: I loved Arsenal and Manchester United back then with Dwight York — knowing he was from Trinidad, a neighboring island. But my team growing up was Arsenal, with Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry — those guys were the ones I watched growing up. I've always been a soccer junkie so whenever it's on, as long as the competition is good I glue myself to a TV to watch and learn and pick up tidbits from all these teams and players.

SA: How about influential coaches in your life?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: One of the most influential and impactful was Dave Masur from St. John's University. (Editor's note: Masur is the fourth winningest Division I coach by victories in NCAA history.)

He taught me how to wake up early, go running, and train in the morning. We trained at 6 in the morning at St. John's University on top of a parking garage. He had a different style, he believes in the physical aspect of the game, that you had to be fit, that you had to be at a maximum fitness so you could impact the game on both sides of the ball.

He also helped me with my position. I thought I would always be a central midfielder, but he thought it would be beneficial for me, and St. John's at the time, that I play multiple positions.

I was able to play midfield if we needed a goal — at any point in the game he would put me up front — and then once we scored then he would drop me back at center back. I played multiple positions throughout my college career but it was very beneficial to get the exposure to be a versatile player and someone who could be counted on in the hard days when the game becomes tough — if we need a lead or need to defend a lead, I could push forward sometimes and get a goal.

SA: Top playing career memories?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: Getting to the MLS Cup. I was lucky enough to be a part of three teams that went to the MLS Cup with the Revolution. Those are the memories that have stuck with me, getting to those final games. Playing in the [2011] all-star game against Manchester United, going to Spain [in 2005] and playing against Real Madrid. It was one of Zinedine Zidane's last games so playing against the likes of those great players I'll definitely remember.

SA: Anything you picked up from playing against Zidane?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: How good he was. Each and every player, technically, was just spot on. Sound with their first touch, passing ability. But the way they're able to manipulate the ball and play as a team is one of the things I loved most. The atmosphere that the fans created for them — it's something that we struggle with in New England right now, in terms of fan support.

SA: How did you get your start in coaching?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: I'd like to think I was always a coach, even in my playing career. I had my own soccer club and academy, which is still going on now. One of my best friends is running it. When I was like 25 or 26, I thought it'd be a good idea to start thinking about what's next and how to help the next generation of kids get to the next level.

I was doing individual and small group training at the point — I always knew I wanted to be a coach. So I started coaching there and I finished my career, I was trying to find a destination.

After a playing career in which he logged more minutes for the New England Revolution than any player in history,  Joseph had a two-year stint as the national team coach of his native Grenada. In early 2020, Curt Onalfo, the Revs' technical director, gave him a call ...

SHALRIE JOSEPH: Me and Curt had a great conversation and he told me, "Why don't you come back to the Revs? We're doing a lot of changes and bringing in new personnel and new coaches."

I understood what was going on, I saw the changes and the philosophy that they wanted to implement on the academy level. Once he offered me a job, I took the U-15 coaching job and now I'm the U-17 coach and I'm also an assistant as one of the first-team coaches.

SA: Talk about the new-look Revs and the changes they made to go from the bottom of MLS standings just a few years ago to an MLS Supporters' Shield trophy?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: It's very simple to me: freedom of expression. To this day, I believe that when Bruce [Arena] and Curt were all on board with how I wanted to coach my players and the way I wanted to coach the kids. They allowed me a lot of freedom to do what I thought was best to this day. The biggest thing is making sure the players understand the winning mentality that they want to develop from the academy to the second team and then the first team. Making sure we're profiling the players the right way in every position. Being able to play more possession style soccer than anything else.

That's what I talked to Curt and Bruce about, but mostly Curt at that time — he wanted more technical and attack-oriented soccer players. I felt like that was one of my strengths — attacking soccer. He was able to give me tidbits here and there. From there, it was just implementing the way I wanted to have my team play based on the way I was as a player.

SA: Most positive developments you've seen recently in American youth soccer?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: The exposure. Having competitions and tournaments for all of these kids to play. Having MLS Next come in, the Generation adidas Cup, having tournaments, having more games against MLS teams really helped our kids and helped myself. All these kids are competing at a high level. It was easy the way MLS set it up, and then it was just making sure we find the best kids at Revolution and offer them an opportunity and fulfill their dreams from a young age.

SA: How was the MLS Next Fest showcase?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: Honestly, I didn't realize the magnitude of the event. For me, it was experiencing something for the first time. Seeing so many college coaches and ex-pros who I played against or played with in the all-star games on different coaching staffs coaching was definitely eye-opening for me and definitely a great experience — seeing all these coaches there, looking to find the next best player or give someone an opportunity to play for the club.

It was great for everyone involved, I think the exposure for them — they're elite players playing against elite clubs, so it was very good as a club as we try to move forward. It'll only make our standards and organization better. The league itself, MLS Next, will be better in the next year or two, growing, getting better, but the competition we faced from each club was very good.

SA: Most important challenges in the American youth game?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: Playing soccer year-round. That's the biggest part right now. We're only getting a month off — I'm only getting two weeks off because the first team comes in early but I think the important thing for a kid is playing soccer year-round whether it be in a competitive environment or not. The biggest challenge is how do we get kids to play year-round, every day, every week, and getting in meaningful games.

SA: What makes you optimistic about American youth development?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: I think [MLS] is doing a great job. They're providing games, they're providing an environment to see all the kids — and with MLS Next Pro you have a pathway not just from the academy but to the second team and then to the first team. I love the way they're trying to bridge those gaps and give the players in the academy a pathway to get to the first team. MLS has realized it wants to be one of the top leagues in the world at some point so it must copy and follow a lot of European leagues' pattern of having second teams. I love what MLS is doing and I look forward to seeing them continuing to grow and provide competitive games and tournaments.

SA: Do you have advice for young coaches who are just getting their start?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: My advice would be to grind. For me, my day is wake up, do a bike ride either at home or at the stadium and then get into work maybe at 6:30 or 7, and then I won't leave until 8:30. For me, it's a grind: are you willing to put in the grind and the work it takes to become a great coach one day? That's the biggest thing for me. And then surround yourself with people who can help you advance and make you think about the game on a constant basis whether it be in an academy or somewhere else and push you to become who you can become.

Shalrie Joseph with New England Revolution staff (L to R) Curt Onalfo, Dave Van den Bergh and Richie Williams.

SA: Talk about what you’ve learned from Bruce Arena as a coach?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: Man management. There's none other — the man management skill he possesses is exceptional. The way he's able to communicate with not just his players but the staff — the way he entitles the staff to make decisions and changes. Those are the things he's taught not just myself but others like Richie Williams and Dave Van den Bergh — he entitles them and gives them a sense of power to make sure that we're doing our job but also have our own train of thought and style.

SA: People often talk about Bruce Arena's man management. With a perspective of an ex-pro, how does he maximize a player's potential?

SHALRIE JOSEPH: I wish I knew exactly how he does that. He has an innate skill of being able to figure out things and it comes from years of experience from coaching at the highest level, whether it be at the national team or at the Revs. He has an excellent ability to see things that no one else does and he gives you freedom.

As the days go by, he knows what each player needs and knows what coaches need, whether he brings in a psychologist or he brings in a fitness coach. We've been successful this year because of him — there's no other reason other than him making the changes whether they be personnel or bringing in exceptional players. He has the ability to find the exceptional players for the team.

He always puts the team first, which is something, as an ex-pro, I understand even more now. Individuals are great to have, but at the end of the day it's all about the team and that's what his message has always been from day one. The team comes first.

SA: It's an impressive rise for the Revolution.

SHALRIE JOSEPH: It's all credit to Bruce and the personnel he brought in and what he's selling. Then having everyone buying into what he's doing or what he's selling, it's very, very good around the building right now. The organization is positive even though we didn't win the cup or get to the finals, but the energy around the organization has been great.

I'm grateful for the position I'm in. I'm forever grateful to Curt and Bruce for giving me this opportunity and I'm happy where the Revs are. Hopefully, next year will be our year for the MLS Cup but I love where the organization is heading and the changes that they made in the past two years. I'm really excited to see where the Revolution go from here. I'm looking forward to the turn of the new year because it's already holidays and before you know it we're back at work.

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