The 2017 Premier Development League season was largely a successful one for San Francisco City FC, as the team finished with an 8-5-1 record, but also a tough reminder of how difficult it can be.
Despite the team's stellar winning record, SF City FC fell just shy of the PDL playoffs in 2017, finishing fourth in the Southwest Division, just behind the Fresno Fuego and FC Golden State Force for the two available playoff spots. To Head Coach Paddy Coyne, it was a reminder of the quality of teams and players in the PDL, but also a measuring stick of how far SF City FC has come in the span of two seasons in the league. The team has established itself as a firm contender in the Southwest under Coyne, who previously led the club to a championship in the 2015 Fall season of the NorCal Premier League while simultaneously qualifying them for the U.S. Open Cup in 2016. The England-born Coyne has coached in locations as far flung as Peru, Argentina, South Africa and Australia, but has found a home in San Francisco, turning his current club into one which the city can be proud to claim as their own.
After the conclusion of the team's second, successful season, Coyne sat down with USLPDL.com to discuss the team's progress, guiding principles and the unique aspects of coaching a supporters-owned club in the U.S.
Read more from Coyne below in this week's Coach's Spotlight.
PDL: You finished with a strong 8-5-1 record this season, but finished just shy of the playoffs, how difficult is it to make the postseason in the PDL?
Paddy Coyne: The PDL has some great clubs and an abundance of talented players that take part each year. It is difficult to make the playoffs in this league for two main reasons: the standard of play and the fact that only two teams make the playoffs from divisions containing up to nine teams. Our record has improved in the last two years since joining the league. Making the playoffs is a big goal for us this year.
PDL: The team started a bit slow, but really picked things up in the tough middle stretch of the season, winning six of seven. How do you keep the team fresh and ready to compete during the condensed mid-season schedule?
PC: We carried a large roster of players for this exact reason. We also designed an appropriate training schedule for the amount of games we had, allowing for rest and recovery when needed.
PDL: When you begin constructing a roster prior to the start of a season, where do you start? What factors do you consider?
PC: SF City may be unique in how we approach shaping our roster, as we have a year-round program with local players that compete in preseason scrimmages for PDL and exhibition games throughout the year. This forms the base of our PDL squad. Building on this foundation, we look to recruit players from colleges that fit in with our culture and who can play at this level.
PDL: Some coaches primarily set their tactics based on the abilities of their players, while others seek out players who fit a certain style of play. Where do you fall on that spectrum and what is your preferred style of play?
PC: I would say I’m a bit of a hybrid. We try to play a progressive style of soccer. Building from the back, looking to maintain possession and attacking as much as possible, but as most coaches know this isn’t always easy. Ideally, we look to recruit players that fit this style of play, but when that’s not possible we adapt the style of play to suit the roster, opponent and conditions.
PDL: In 2015, San Francisco City FC became the first amateur club from the city to qualify for the U.S. Open Cup since 1995. The team qualified for the Cup again in 2016. What does this team and its success represent to this San Francisco?
PC: The Open Cup is everyone’s shot at competing against the best clubs in the country - professional and amateur. Our supporters and the club are aware of the significance of the Cup. I think it’s really established us as San Francisco’s team with a vision to compete at the highest level possible.
PDL: One of the unique qualities of San Francisco City FC is the majority fan ownership model. What is it like working within that model as a coach? Are there any unique aspects to the role?
PC: Supporter ownership is quite common in parts of the world like Germany and Argentina, but very unique here in the U.S. Our members and our supporter group, the Northsiders, are the backbone of the club, bringing passion and energy to every game and club event. Having supporters who are so invested in the club is hugely motivating because I know they care deeply about our success and I feel a sense of responsibility to build a club that we’ll all be proud of.
PDL: Heading into your 2018 campaign, what are some changes you plan on making in order to push into the PDL playoffs for the first time?
PC: This will be our third year in the PDL. Over the last two years we’ve gotten progressively better. College coaches and players now know who we are so we expect to draw from a broader pool of talent this year. In addition to recruiting, our main focus this year will be consistency in performance.