Photo courtesy of Lionsbridge FC
Ahead of Lionsbridge FC’s inaugural PDL season, Newport News-local Chris Whalley has been named as the team’s first head coach, and hopes to create something that he can be proud of as a member of the local community.
One of the 12 new member clubs beginning play in 2018, Lionsbridge FC has made clear its intent to represent the Virginia Peninsula and create strong ties to the community that will ultimately support the club. From partnering with multiple local organizations, such as Mosquito Joe, Tradition Brewing Company and Riverside Health System, to signing high-profile partnerships such as a jersey sponsorship with Chick-fil-a and an apparel deal with Nike, Lionsbridge has made waves since its announcement and looks to shake up the local soccer scene.
Whalley, who has both professional and PDL playing experience with the Reading Rage and West Virginia Chaos, will be given a chance to impart his vision. While impressing the importance of community ties, Whalley hopes to integrate his own playing and coaching experiences, both in PDL and within multiple collegiate divisions, to help turn his squad into a highly-competitive, entertaining outfit.
During his preparation for the upcoming season, Whalley spoke with USLPDL.com on the importance of playing the right way, being a role model for young athletes in the community and what the opportunity to lead Lionsbridge means to him.
PDL: You take over one of the PDL’s newest member clubs in 2018, Lionsbridge FC. What does it mean to you to be trusted to lead an all-new team with your own vision?
Chris Whalley: It’s very exciting to have the opportunity to work with the owners and to work here in Newport News, and I’m really looking forward to putting a team out that’s going to work hard, portray the area in a great light and hopefully have a lot of success on the field while giving back to the community. I live in this community as well, and as someone that lives here, I want to make sure that we’re doing the right things and are being great role models for the youngsters in the area.
PDL: Lionsbridge has made waves in the Virginia Peninsula community, partnering with multiple local organizations such as Mosquito Joe, Tradition Brewing Company and Riverside Health System. How important is that community connection?
CW: I think it’s really, really important. We want to be the team for the people in this area. It’s a fun, nice area to be in, the weather in the summer is great, and we have a lot of tourists come to the area. I think to have community support and people who want to come out to the games and support us is great, and we need to make sure that we’re doing the right things and portray the area in the best light we can.
PDL: As a player you competed at Mercyhurst University, helping the school to an NCAA Division II Final Four appearance, before playing with the Reading Rage (now Reading United AC) and the West Virginia Chaos in the PDL. How do you hope to translate your own PDL playing experience to your players?
CW: I played for the Rage when they were a professional team, so as someone who has been a professional and has also played in the PDL over the years, I want to express to my players just how professional the PDL is. The opportunities, you’ll get to play in front of some good crowds, in front of scouts as well so guys can put themselves in the shop window for playing at the next level. There’s a real responsibility when you’re playing in front of a crowd and kids that come to our camps. Not only do we need to play good soccer, but we need to play in a way where we’re being good role models for those kids as well. Working hard, doing the right things and being a good steward for the program is extremely important for our guys.
PDL: After playing for the Chaos, you took over as the team’s manager in 2009. How beneficial is it to have coached in the PDL previously and what do you look to bring from that experience to Lionsbridge?
CW: What I’m going to try and do, since I’m a college coach as well, is balance things. Since we’re going to have a lot of college guys on this team, it’s important that we find a balance between helping these guys prepare for their fall seasons, and fielding guys who are former professionals or college graduates who are playing here now at this level.
I think the experience of being a coach will help me run the program in a way that will be conducive to guys both playing college soccer and not, and finding a balance with that. I’ve been in the league before, so I know how the travel works and playing by FIFA rules rather than college rules. I also know how important it is to manage the roster. We play a lot of games against a lot of good teams in a short period of time, so squad management is a big part of it. Playing 14 regular season games in a two-and-a-half month period is tough, so making sure the guys are well-prepared, healthy and ready to compete is an important aspect of coaching at this level.
PDL: You’ve also had a successful collegiate coaching career, spending time with Lees-McRae College, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Appalachian State and Chowan University. At the DII level, you rank fifth in all-time win percentage, while also leading Chowan to its best winning percentage of all time in 2017. How do you hope to translate that success back to the PDL?
CW: I’ve coached at the Division I level for four seasons and have coached at the Division II level for the rest of my career. I think the PDL is a great opportunity for some guys from those smaller schools, where they might not be getting recognition in DII or DIII, and show how good of a player they are and play alongside some of those DI players. For the DII, DIII and NAIA guys, it’s an opportunity to show how good they are. There are some very good players at that level, and there are guys in MLS who played at that level. It’s a great opportunity for those guys to showcase themselves on a national stage, for sure.
PDL: We’re just a few months away from the start of the 2018 PDL season. What are you most looking forward to in the months to come?
CW: I’m really looking forward coaching in the league as a college coach. During the fall, we obviously play a very competitive season, and we work with our players in the spring, but from mid-April to August I’m coaching camps and those sorts of things. So for me, it’s exciting to coach top players in a highly competitive environment during the summer months. I know we’re in a very good league, the Charlotte Eagles won the whole thing last year, so I’m excited to coach against some of the best players in the country from all levels in the summer months as well. So hopefully that will help me continue to develop as a coach, for both Lionsbridge FC and my university program as well.