Jeremy Hall on the joys of coaching Toronto FC's U-14s after making the tough transition from pro player

Jeremy Hall  started playing soccer essentially by accident. When he was 8 years old, his mom tried signing him and his younger brother up for a baseball team, but the registration was full. “My little brother was just like, 'Let's just play soccer,'" says Hall, the 33-year-old Tampa Bay native. “I remember that I was crying — I didn't want to play soccer, you know?” 

But play soccer he did, quickly falling in love with the sport. After excelling with local club Hillsborough County United, Hall joined U.S. Soccer's U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton, Florida, and was part of the USA's quarterfinal run at the 2005 U-17 World Cup, where he scored in a 1-1 tie with Ivory Coast. At the University of Maryland under Coach Sasho Cirvoski, Hall scored 26 goals and notched 14 assists in 66 games in three years. His MLS career (2009-2015) spanned the New York Red Bulls, Portland, FC Dallas, Toronto FC and New England. He finished his career as a captain of the Sacramento Republic in the USL before turning his sights on coaching youth ball. He currently serves as Toronto FC's U-14 academy head coach.

SOCCER AMERICA: How long have you been in Toronto?

JEREMY HALL: I got here in 2019. My wife — I met her when I played here [2012-2014] and spent my offseasons here. After the season in 2018, I ended up not re-signing and decided to get into the next phase of my career. I reached out to the people at TFC and started in May 2019 working with our juniors program,  6- to 14-year-olds. I was working summer camps.

SA: Now you're with the U-14s?

JEREMY HALL: I've been blessed, their personalities are all very fluid. They keep me hip with all the terms and the cool lingo going on these days. At this age, they listen to everything I say. Their brains aren't contaminated with any information. They still want to learn and get better. Anything you tell them they will do. I have a very good group.

SA: What made you want to get into coaching?

JEREMY HALL: I always knew I wanted to do it — I just could never see myself sitting in an office, that just sounds super boring. I wanted to give back and it was the next best thing after playing. It was a no-brainer for me — I always knew I wanted to do it. 

SA: Do you have career aspirations down the line? 

JEREMY HALL: I would love to work with older players — college level, be involved in a first team and experience that. Coming from competing every week and preparing for games and stuff like that — I would love to experience that at a first-team level if there was an opportunity. I loved that college-age player — those guys breaking into the first team or at the second team level with my experience. With my experience, I can relate to those guys. Hopefully, one day I'll get the opportunity to coach that level.

SA: What is it like to work with U-14s at the academy level?

JEREMY HALL: For us in Toronto, the U-14s is the first year of the academy. I love my role because I actually get to pick my players. That's the fun part for me. It's all about behaviors and showing these guys the right way to train every day and what it takes to make it to the next level. 

SA: Talk about what homegrown regions you guys are tapping into at TFC. 

JEREMY HALL: Ours is a tough one — Toronto is unique because it's so diverse. There are so many good players — mostly, it's the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) that we're getting our players from. It's kind of tricky with where our academy is. I would say there are some guys traveling an hour and a half to come into training every day, which is hard when you think about school and all that stuff. I don't know man, it's something where, maybe if we had a residency program we could have a wider zone. But right now the majority of our players are from the GTA.

SA: How did you get into soccer? 

JEREMY HALL: Actually I was just listening to Eddie Pope and we have similar stories. When I was 8 years old, my mom went to sign me and my younger brother up for baseball. I was a big baseball fan. When we got there the registration was all full. My little brother was just like, 'Let's just play soccer.' I remember that I was crying — I didn't want to play soccer, you know? I ended up playing in a rec league called the Stars. I ended up loving it — I just loved running around, the next year I got into a competitive team and those are my best friends to this day. We had a really good team. I just loved competing with my friends. Although I played other sports on the side, soccer was my main sport. I fell in love with it at 8 years old.

SA: These days starting at 8 years old might be considered to be starting late.

JEREMY HALL: It's tough, I'm sure there's a bunch of research on that stuff. It's a tough one — even guys on my team, some of them play other sports and I know they try to sway them and say, "You need to focus on one sport." But this is just my personal belief, maybe because I did it that way: the more sports you play as a kid, the better. Your body is able to work in different ways. I don't know if I would agree with getting them that young but it just depends on the culture. I'm on the fence — play it until you enjoy it, until you realize the path you want to do. I don't think any environment is going to make you a pro or not. It comes down to the person and their will to get there.

SA: Any players you looked up to in your youth?

JEREMY HALL: I grew up in Tampa Bay and watched a lot of Tampa Bay Mutiny. Have you heard of Roy Lassiter? His son, Ariel, now plays in MLS.  I played against him and told him, "Your dad was my favorite player growing up!" He was a center forward, he scored goals, was just a stud — getting balls from Carlos Valderamma. Roy Lassiter was my guy. Soccer — these guys are lucky these days because they can watch it on TV, right? We didn't have all that stuff. We went to the games at Raymond James stadium.

SA: How about some influential coaches in your life?

JEREMY HALL: I've learned from all my coaches — Tony Padilla and Javier Lopez were my coaches from U-11 up until U-16 at Hillsborough County United. Those guys were big. When I went to college, Sasho (Civorski) had a big influence. How he made an individual relationship with me and cared about us on and off the field. As a pro, I was kind of a journeyman, I had a few stops in different places. All those coaches definitely had a role in me as a person and how I approach my own coaching style.

I remember John Spencer — I had him out in Portland. That was the first coach who was very honest with me. That's all you want out of a coach, right? Sometimes you'll follow directions from a coach and your situation might not change. They just tell you what you want to hear. John Spencer was the first one to say, 'Jeremy, you're playing like shit, this is why you're not playing.' Or, 'Jeremy, you've been the best player, this is why you're playing.' It's something that I've always wanted to give my players now that I'm in that position. Not bullshit or beat around the bush, because as a player they just want to get better. I see why coaches have their favorites because it's just natural you have your favorites for whatever reason. Honesty is the biggest thing for me and John Spencer totally laid that on me.

SA: Some top playing career memories?

JEREMY HALL: I'll never forget my first MLS game — I was with the Red Bulls and we were in Seattle — their first year in the league, 2009. I remember walking out onto the field next to Mike Petke. He looks at me and goes, "You will remember this for the rest of your life." As soon as we stepped on the field I could hear the fans start to boo us and I just got goosebumps, like, "Wow, this is unreal." Seattle has an unbelievable fanbase and it was just all so loud and electric. That game, Arlo, I actually started on the bench and we went down 2-0. I think Freddy Montero scored and [set up a goal] about 20 minutes in. My coach looks at me and says, start warming up. I shit my pants — 20 minutes into the first half down 2-0? What do you mean? I end up going in shortly after that. My first two passes were straight to Seattle in counterattacks and thought to myself, "What am I doing?" I'll never forget that moment. 

Being a part of the Timbers' inaugural season was unreal. Being in the city and seeing how much they love the team. During our home opener it was pouring rain all day. When the players get to the stadium they usually get there an hour and a half before the game. There were lines just to get into the stadium! By the time we were warming up, the supporters were all singing and it was packed. Those are my top two moments.

SA: What was the transition like, retiring as pro player to coaching the youth?

JEREMY HALL: It was ****ing hard, man. At the time I wasn't ready to give it up. I'm still not — I'm still a player at heart. I was in Sacramento for three years — 2016 to 2018. I was the captain, playing every game, the fan base there was incredible. I hope they go to MLS because it's such an amazing city and fanbase. After the season, I had my meetings and they said that my option was on too much money and they had to restructure things. We just didn't get to that number — there are no hard feelings there, I understand the business. 

But in my head, I didn't want to chase playing at that point. I wanted to finish my schooling and start getting my coaching licenses at that point. Once I didn't agree with Sac, a few teams reached out and I didn't really want to just play at another team for another year or two. I ended up coming to the conclusion that I wanted to coach. I was young and just wanted to get into it and have this great coaching career. 

When I was here in Toronto in 2019, I'm coaching these guys, working these camps and I see the first team training. I think, "I should be out there. This is so hard. What am I doing?" 2019 was the hardest — but now I've gotten over it. It's not about me anymore, it's about helping these kids and my own coaching journey. It's about working hard every day and seeing these guys succeed, walk out into these stadiums because that feeling is just so amazing. I love to give back and see these guys fulfill a dream.

Jeremy Hall's favorite soccer books
'I love the autobiographies'
Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning by Guillem Balague
Sir Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography

SA: Advice to coaches who are just getting their start?

JEREMY HALL: It's gotta be fun and it's gotta be about the players. For me it's not about drawing up the perfect session — at the end of the day, the kids just want to go out and play. You can get your coaching points during the session. The biggest thing for me is let the kids play, let 'em have fun.

SA: Talk about the coaching at TFC academy. How much of it trickles down from the first team?

JEREMY HALL: It's been a little bit different than it's been in the past with our new coach, Bob Bradley, coming in. The club had Greg Vanney for a long time and there was a red line from the academy up to the first team. Greg was here for seven years and he had his thing on how he wanted things to be structured. Last year they brought in Chris Armas and then he left. So, there's a bit of a transition moment going on right now. We've had a few meetings with Bob and it's pretty exciting to see what he wants to do with the club. 

Our academy director, Anthony Capotosto, has done an unbelievable job with coaching education. We meet weekly in the room, we talk tactics, we talk about our teams, we talk about ways we can get better and bring in guest speakers that are affiliated and unaffiliated with soccer. 

We’ve had a schoolteacher in and he's brought in a police officer one time. Just different people who can talk about team-building, leadership, right? We're always trying to learn, the coaches here have been great and we all try to help each other out. On field, preparing for games, preparing for sessions, the learning environment has been amazing, so I really feel blessed to be a part of it.

SA: Anything else you'd like to address?

JEREMY HALL: Like I said, it's about the kids. Everyone has their personal goals that they want to climb up. With my pathway from starting at the grassroots level and just getting my U-14 team, it's been a blessing. I'm learning everyday and am enjoying the ride. Hopefully we can see some of these kids reach their dreams.

Photo (action): Howard C. Smith/ISI
3 comments about "Jeremy Hall on the joys of coaching Toronto FC's U-14s after making the tough transition from pro player".
  1. James Geluso, March 9, 2022 at 12:01 p.m.

    I really enjoyed this interview. It's probably my favorite Confidential interview in a while, just because of all the aspects of soccer Hall has been through.

  2. humble 1, March 9, 2022 at 2:42 p.m.

    Well done. Nice to read about players that go into coaching for the right reasons. Keep it going and best of luck for Jeremy!  

  3. uffe gustafsson, March 9, 2022 at 8:05 p.m.

    Totally agree with above comments.
    really nice article and very truthful comments all about players having a good time, that builds team spirit and that's as important as skills.

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