Commentary

Dan DeGeer on the Earthquakes' young talent surge, their daily approach, and his French coaching lessons

Dan DeGeer  is the interim head coach of Earthquakes II, which competes in MLS Next Pro. A Quakes youth academy coach since 2017, DeGeer was moved into that position in April when first team head coach Matias Almeyda was let go and Quakes  II coach Alex Covelo became interim head coach. In addition to his position with Quakes II, DeGeer remains in charge of the Quakes’ U-17 team. He had previously coached the Quakes' U-15s. DeGeer, who ran a U-15 U.S. national team camp in January, is now also an assistant coach of the U-17 U.S. national team.

DeGeer grew up in Oregon and played for Westside Metros, where after playing college ball at the University of San Francisco he started his coaching career in 2009. His playing career also included the U.S. national futsal team.

Four San Jose Earthquake players are U-17 national team regulars, and the Quakes also had the most U.S. youth national team players across all levels in in recent months. Currently, homegrown signings Cade Cowell and Niko Tsakiris are with the U.S. team aiming to qualify for the 2023 U-20 World Cup and 2024 Olympic tournament.

SOCCER AMERICA: How’s life acclimating to coaching the Quakes II?

DAN DeGEER: Depending on the players coming down from the first team or up from the academy, you need to adjust who you're playing. It's a little tricky because it's a new squad every week. It's a great group of players — very motivated and ambitious. We have contracted players, academy players, and guys coming down from the first team.

SA: Will you get instructions from head coach Alex Covelo about who to play for the Quakes II games? Do first-teamers push out potential academy kids looking for playing time?

DAN DeGEER: Yeah, it's definitely a collaboration. Of course, first team guys will get priority. It's definitely going to be in connection with Alex and the sports performance team about the appropriate amount of minutes for each player who comes down. Maybe it's a guy who hasn't gotten games in a while so he can go 90. Maybe they might need a player in a couple days so it's just 45.

SA: Were you surprised when Almeyda left and you got moved into this new role?

DAN DeGEER: Yeah, it all happened pretty quickly. There were a lot of rumors going on for a while; personally, I was happy for Alex, and Luciano Fusco and Chris Wondolowski and Steve Ralston to get the interim assistant coach roles. It shows the commitment to the staff that we have at the club. [General manager] Chris Leitch asked if I could take on the Quakes II role on an interim basis. I'm still the head coach of the U-17s, and I've been coaching that group for a long time.

SA: Will Alex Covelo stay as the Earthquakes head coach?

DAN DeGEER: My hope is that he stays and that he gets that job. We're all rooting for him. I do know that Chris [Leitch] has interviewed other candidates.

Dan DeGeer and Earthquakes' U.S. U-17 national team players (L-to-R): Cruz Medina, Oscar Verhoeven, Edwyn Mendoza and Fidel Barajas.

SA: The Quakes academy had the most players at national team camps this April. What is the recipe you guys are using to be this successful?

DAN DeGEER: I think it's a combination of our scouting. First, we need to find the talent in the Bay Area. Then it's our training methodology. Also our sports performance team has an important role to play in the development. A good amount of these guys have been with us for five years, such as Ethan Kohler. His first call-up was at the U-19 camp.

With the 2006s, Cruz Medina, Oscar Verhoeven and Edwyn Mendoza were at regional camps since they were 14, and they've just shown very well. As the assistant coach of the U-17 national team, I've been able to see it first hand. They are doing very well in that environment.

SA: Is it tricky at all for you, in terms of conflicts of interest, coaching your own club players in a national team environment?

DAN DeGEER: It's not really a conflict of interest. I'm pretty upfront with U-17 head coach Gonzalo Segares and the whole staff of U.S. Soccer. When I'm there, my job is to be an assistant coach for the national team. Of course, I'm a Quakes coach and I can give my opinions on the Quakes players. But I am very fair and it's a collaboration amongst the staff to make those decisions.

The training regimen in San Jose

SA: Let's go back to the training methodology at the Quakes. What does that look like on the ground for the Quakes Academy?

DAN DeGEER: We've had a training methodology and game curriculum we've been using for four or five years. That's been led by Alex Covelo, the director of methodology. A lot of us coaches take that very seriously and implement it every day.

Every day has a theme. Every day has a focus. We're always teaching age-specific game objectives. We have a lot of variability in our training.

Monday is all about what happened on the weekend. What we did well, where we struggled and how can we fix it through tactical situations or discovery games.

Tuesdays are what we call "press and stress," which is all about duels. Small numbers and tight spaces. Very intense days where we push the players.

Wednesday is about dictating the pace of the game. Running off the shoulders, attacking blindsides — things that are really important to the Quakes academy game model.

Thursday is called Protective Strikes — all about striking the goal or protecting the goal. That variability helps us in the player development model.

SA: And it's fine-tuned for each age group?

DAN DEGREER: With the 13s and 14s, it's going to be smaller group cooperation — more generic and focusing on technical and tactical details. When they get to the 15s and 16s, they can execute it depending in regards to the system they're playing.

SA: I want to hear about coaching Cruz Medina. Do you remember the first time you saw him play? Or the first time you coached him?

DAN DeGEER: Yeah, he used to come train with us. As a 13-year-old. He was playing with the SF Glens. His coach at the time, Steven Sosa, was coaching at the Quakes and the Glens. Medina was one of the top players in the club. Sosa helped bridge that gap — Medina would come train with us, come to a tournament with us and we slowly transitioned him over.

I was his coach at the U-14 level. I really got to know him. You could see his talent with his feet. He played a lot of futsal growing up — his older brother is a good player and his dad is a coach. This game is in his blood.

He's different from other attacking midfielders in terms of how he attacks space in front of him, makes runs in behind and accelerates with the ball.

At the 15s and 16s, he’s blossomed even further. He's really developed in his positional understanding — how to receive passes in between the lines, to be in specific gaps that can really hurt the opponent when he receives the ball facing forward. He's improved in his pressing and recovery efforts, too.

He came in with a really good base and I think the Quakes have helped him grow even further.

SA: What's his ceiling?

DAN DeGEER: It's up to him. He's very hungry. Highly motivated — he really wants to be a top professional player. I was with him the day he signed his first professional contract. It was a very special moment for me as one of his coaches who's helped him along the way, it was a proud moment for me to see him do that.

He plays a lot with the IIs now. He's 15 years old playing against guys who are 20, 21 on contract looking to get onto the first team. That's challenging for him.

Luciano Fusco (left) and Dan DeGeer.

SA: The Bay Area is a big and rich soccer community with many immigrant communities. How have you connected with those smaller clubs around the Bay Area to find those gems and get them into the pipeline?

DAN DeGEER: We started an initiative called the partners in development program. Maybe about five years ago, Paul Holocher [now Houston Dynamo academy director] was big in leading the process, and he just started reaching out to contacts at local clubs. He was open to anyone. Certain clubs took on more — we had monthly meetings at the stadium and talked about player development. We met with directors of clubs and talked about where we wanted to take this program.

That foundation has led to all of us coaches having relationships with all of these clubs in the area. Those clubs know that they have a path to a pro club. Sometimes we can run clinics at those clubs or schedule scrimmages with them. They'll call us and say, 'Hey, we have this player who's really special, you should take a look at him.' Then we'll bring him to training, evaluate him and give him feedback on where he is.

That relationship process is really important because without that it's impossible for us to get players. We don't have a youth club — we rely on our partner clubs.

SA: A large immigrant community also means is that there are many players with dual-citizenship. The best ones get courted by both national sides. In your opinion, does an MLS academy have a responsibility in guiding a player to one national team or another?

DAN DeGEER: I think they have a responsibility to let the player choose. The player should do what's best for him. The family should be involved in that discussion and the club should be supporting him either way.

SA: Is that a hard stance at all as a U.S. national team coach?

DAN DEGREER: Yeah, that’s important, but it doesn't take priority over what the player wants and what's in his heart. I've been impressed just from speaking with [U.S. men's national team general manager]  Brian McBride — if a player wants to experience a camp with Mexico, they're in full support. They don't try to hold the player back. I think the players really appreciate that.

SA: Fidel Barajas is another one of your starlets. He featured for Mexico in the fall but most recently played for the U.S. U-17s in the spring. Could you walk me through what that process was like for him, if you can speak on it?

DAN DeGEER: He's enjoyed his time at both camps. He did a Mexico camp, then did a few U.S. camps in a row. He went to Argentina and Portugal with the U-17s. Mexico had called him in for a camp and I asked him, 'What do you want to do? Do you want to go?' And he said, 'I don't know, I've been traveling a lot.' But they were going to Japan and he wanted to give it a shot. So we were in full support and told him to enjoy it. U.S. Soccer was in full support of that too. I think he's open to both.

[Editor's note: 2005-born goalkeeper Emi Ochoa has also represented both the USA and Mexico.]

SA: The Earthquakes are a tricky team to break into as a youngster. The first team is struggling on the field and Almeyda’s departure this spring puts things in flux. Would you say the philosophy of developing youngsters at the Quakes is for them to have an impact on the first team, or as a way to sell them to other teams and make money for the organization?

DAN DeGEER: First and foremost, we recognize that there's a lot of talent in our academy. We would love to help them along this pathway. But we know it's not going to happen overnight. That jump, to getting minutes on the first team against other MLS teams, is a big jump. We're being patient with these guys and we want to find them moments to give them opportunities. We're high on them in their future, but it's not easy to outperform guys like [Jamiro] Monteiro or Chofis [Javier Eduardo López] when you're only 15 or 16 years old.

The club definitely has a high priority in taking care of them and getting them opportunities.

SA: You're currently in a course for the Elite Formation Coach License, run by the French federation [FFF]? What has that process been like? What have you learned?

DAN DeGEER: I've learned a ton, to be honest. I was told before going into it, 'If you have an opportunity to take this course, do it, it will be game-changing for you.'  I didn't know what they meant until I got in the course.

But you just learn so much about yourself as a coach. A lot about their methodologies and the pedagogy that they use to teach their own game principles, which they are very dialed in on.

They're great with presentations and powerpoints — they force you to become proficient in powerpoint presentations because they believe that's very important for educating players. Video animation, content and quality of your messaging — they're teaching you how to be a good speaker and presenter.

They also teach you how to evaluate someone else's training session. As you're doing that, you're learning quite a bit.

An example: someone will do an 18-minute practice between playing between lines and gaps. Then you will go break down that training session. That might take you a good five or six hours of work to do. You'll stay up until three or four in the morning doing that presentation and then you'll have 12 minutes to deliver it — and it needs to be high level. If you go over 12 minutes, then you're done. It teaches you how to perform in a very intense environment.

They also go into a lot of good details on the soccer side. [MLS technical technical director, player development] Fred [Lipka] and [FFF academy supervisor] Jean-Claude [Lafargue] have been great. It's a humbling, motivating and inspiring course.

SA: What have you taken away from the most, soccer-wise?

DAN DeGEER: The biggest thing they talk about is the cues. How can you teach players to pick up on cues that are specific to the principle that you're teaching?

Anticipating and defending depth when the ball carrier isn't under pressure. Teaching center backs to understand whether the ball carrier is able to hit certain balls through lines if he isn't under pressure. What does his body language look like when he's about to hit a pass through the lines? Are you communicating and connected with your backline? How do certain passes impact your backline?

You look at all these cues with whatever principle you're teaching and based on the frame you're using — whether that's a discovery game where you're asking players questions, or a tactical situation where you're getting a lot of repetitions on one or two specific actions.

Then you can also focus on the technical details — the weight of the pass, the angle of a pass, the timing of a run.

These are all details I can bring back to the staff at the Quakes

SA: Advice for coaches just getting their start?

DAN DeGEER: I think it's really important to have good mentors around you. I was fortunate that when I started coaching 13 years ago I had really bright people around me. Even now, I have people around me who are smarter and more experienced than me. That helps you grow because you can watch their training sessions, steal their ideas and make them your own.

At the same time, make sure you're taking the steps to improve your education — whether that's licensing or whatnot. I did a master's degree in kinesiology and the French course. You're always growing as a coach by continually learning.

2 comments about "Dan DeGeer on the Earthquakes' young talent surge, their daily approach, and his French coaching lessons".
  1. cony konstin, June 28, 2022 at 2:44 p.m.

    Westside Metros FC alumni. We are very proud of Dan's accomplishments. Great article. 

  2. Derek Armstrong, June 29, 2022 at 9:07 a.m.

    I enjoyed reading this article and so pleased to see young coache taking the game seriously . He seems to be well supported by people with experience . 

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