After several years as an assistant under new Indy Eleven assistant Dave Dixon, Luke Helmuth is ready to step into the spotlight for the reigning PDL Champion Charlotte Eagles.
Since their first PDL season in 2015, the Eagles have established themselves as one of the premier winning franchises in the league. Under the stewardship of Dixon, the Eagles won the South Atlantic Division in 2015 and 2016, reaching the Conference Semifinals in each year. In 2017, the Eagles finished as runner-up to the Myrtle Beach Mutiny, but rode a hot streak into the playoffs to the ultimate prize, winning a 2-1 victory over the Thunder Bay Chill to become PDL Champions for the first time.
During this tenure, Helmuth, who began with the Eagles as an intern, helped as an assistant on Dixon’s staff and proved his value to the PDL club. Once Dixon accepted a well-deserved move to the professional ranks with the USL’s Indy Eleven, the Eagles wasted no time in naming his heir apparent as their new head coach.
During his preparation for the 2018 PDL season, opening May 4 with the full schedule recently released, Helmuth took time to discuss taking over the Eagles’ lead role with USLPDL.com.
PDL: You take over the defending PDL Champions as head coach of the Eagles. How do you plan to meet the level of success that precedes you?
Luke Helmuth: Success is a hard term to put parameters around. Every coach, every team is looking to accomplish what we did last year: to win the national championship. Yet, at the end of the day, only one of us will. Therefore, in those terms, success is relatively fleeting. It is often out of your control and in some cases beyond reach. Do championships come by accident? No. No matter how you define success I do not think it comes simply by chance. It is my hope that my players believe and buy into the idea that success comes through dedication to the little actions, which are compounded over time. However, I believe the most success we had last year was not winning the national championship, but it was the quality of the experience the team had together. I think if you asked the guys that were here to describe last summer, they would all share about the amazing experience they had and the things they learned during their time here. To me, those things define success more than wins and losses. Do I want to win? Absolutely. I hope we are able to extend our season to the last day. When everyone else’s seasons have ended and their players have gone home, I hope to be the one walking off the field with a championship trophy. But more than winning, I want the guys to have a life-changing experience. And I guess that’s how we have defined success and how we are going to continue to define it moving forward.
PDL: You served as Dave Dixon’s assistant coach for the past three seasons with the Eagles. What did you learn from working under Dixon?
LH: I am so thankful for the time I had working with Dave. This is really a hard question because there is so much I could say. We spent a lot of time in his office talking soccer and bouncing ideas off of each other. He used to always show me something he did or saw and then asked me how we could make it better. So, there was a lot of collaboration in our vision for the way we ran the team. We also fed off of each other with the way we challenged the team to grow personally. I felt like every team talk last season I picked up things from him and used them for my talks with the group and vise-versa until it snowballed into something great. But if I were to pick one thing in particular that I want to take away from my time with Dave, it would be the dedication and time he puts into his work. I don’t know many people who love what they do like he does and there are still fewer who are willing to put in the time and effort that I saw him put in. As I step into my role, here I am realizing even more the amount of energy expended and the attention to detail he had for the team. At the end of the day, it’s those little things compounded over time that makes him such an amazing coach.
PDL: The Eagles do a great job of utilizing talent from the NCAA Division II, Division III and NAIA levels. What allows the club to find such talent outside of Division I?
LH: Neither Dave nor I played Division I soccer, so a lot of our friends and connections are guys who are still connected in the NAIA or NCAA Divisions II and III. We also have been blessed by having a number of guys who experienced the Eagles as a professional team, spent an extended amount of time here, and have moved on to collegiate coaching. Those guys understand the types of players we are looking for and see the value of sending their players to us. We also do a lot of work scouting. Dave has set an incredible standard through the work he put into scouting and I know the amount of time he has put into that aspect of our work has led to a lot of our success.
PDL: You played in the Columbus Crew’s Development Academy and ended up at Messiah College, where you won three national titles before joining the Eagles organization. How will that experience help you coach your players?
LH: Growing up I was never the best player, but I have been fortunate to be on teams that win at a number of different levels – especially if you include my experience working here with Dave. So, I think I have a good understanding of some of the intangibles involved in winning. Soccer is the best sport in the world because it is a game where a team with a collective mentality and hard work can prevail over a more talented team. When I played for the Crew I picked up what it means to train and work in a professional environment. But we were also extremely talented and a lot of my friends from those teams went on to play in MLS. At Messiah, while some would argue we were still extremely talented for the Division III level, a lot of our success came from a clear purpose, team values, and a rock-solid collective mentality. As I have stepped into coaching, those are the things that I have tried to bring into every team I’ve worked with.
PDL: You’re also very familiar with developing young talent, notably coaching a U19 team within the Eagles’ youth club. How do you perceive the PDL’s role in developing young, talented athletes into future professionals?
LH: I love working with the U19 group that I have had over the last few years. In a lot of ways, we speak the same message to them and the PDL team - life and development are a process and you can’t skip any steps along the way. With both groups, I try to talk through life goals and dreams and then help guys understand and have a vision for how to get there. With the PDL guys, it is more challenging because if their goal is playing professionally, that is a loftier next step than what my U19s are likely envisioning. However, with both, we keep coming back to trusting the process and dominating that process no matter what you are going after. Part of that process involves opportunity. I agree with those who’ve said the PDL ultimately exists to provide opportunity. Young talent needs experience like the ones the PDL can provide in order to both grow as a future professional and prove to the soccer community that they are capable of playing at the next level. I think in order for players to really develop, they need to have quality coaching, quality opposition within the team, quality opposition outside of the team and a quality training environment. The best PDL teams nail these things and I believe those teams do better than anyone in the country at developing young talented athletes into future professionals.
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?
LH: Every year around this time and building to the start of the season, I get really excited about our guys. I am excited to see each player, what they can do, how they relate to others, and hear their dreams and aspirations. That first day of training is always special because we put in all of this work in the off-season and then it comes together and we get to actually do what we love: coach soccer. So I guess I would say that I am most looking forward to those first two weeks of training and getting to really know the group we have coming in this summer.