HALL OF FAMER MARCELO BALBOA TAKES ON HIS NEXT CHALLENGE: COACHING

By Jeremy Reid

Across nearly two dozen Southern California fields, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Summer Showcase and Playoffs is abuzz with activity. But on one sun-splashed field, long-time U.S. Soccer fans might recognize a distinctive long black ponytail on the touchline. Forever synonymous with the U.S. Men's National Team, all-time great Marcelo Balboa is now taking on a new challenge: coaching.

A veteran of three World Cups, Balboa earned 127 caps with the MNT in his 13-year international career. Now in his second season as a coach with the Colorado Rapids, he works with both the U-14 and U-18/19 teams.

"It's been fun," Balboa said. "I've been coaching in club soccer a long time in Colorado and finally the door opened up for me to take the Rapids' U-14s and I've had an absolute blast. When I left Mexico (for MLS), I knew that wherever I was going to play was going to be home, so I picked Denver and it has been a great place. The fans were great, great ownership when (Phil) Anschutz had the team and now with Stan Kroenke."

"For me, coaching was just getting my foot in the door. Sometimes you have to stick your foot in, try it a little bit and see if that is what you have a passion for. If you see me on the sideline, my heart and soul is into this."

Not only is Balboa enjoying being on the touchline with the club where he made his mark as a player, the former U.S. captain is also relishing the opportunity to be a part of the Development Academy.

"The Development Academy has been fantastic," Balboa said. "I've been in it now for two years, I usually have the U-14 Rapids, we go to showcase events and it's been fun. It's getting better and better. Now that we are out here in San Diego, we have the U-19s and it's a learning experience."

With a Hall of Fame resume on the field, it would be easy for Balboa to rely solely on lessons learned from his playing days. That hasn't been the case as the former MNT defender seeks to further his development as a coach. While Balboa says he has taken lessons from every coach he has played for, he sees the value in continuing his formal education.

"When you stop learning, that's when you get stuck. As a coach, when you think you know everything you're in trouble," Balboa said. "The licenses make you think in different directions and different ways. It makes you see the game differently, makes you evaluate a game differently, look at a player differently."

"When I was playing, what those coaches were teaching is different from what they're teaching now. It's keeping up with the new trends, keeping up with the new formations, keeping up with the way you train kids and the way you interact with them. The sports science, the analytical side, the numbers of the workload, it has completely changed. For me, it's trying to stay on the forefront of what's going on, the new technology. That makes me a better coach because that keeps me in tune with the game."

Following his retirement as a player, Balboa's initial foray on the sidelines came when he wanted to coach his own son. Now on the coaching staff with the Rapids, his player-centered priorities are clear.

"I just try to push them as hard as I can every day, to be the best they can be. I try to push them to a certain level that maybe they have never been pushed to," Balboa said. "In order to make it to the next level, to be a Division I or Division II player, to be a professional player, you have to sacrifice. Sometimes things aren't given to us, we have to work for them. I'm just trying to teach these kids that you have to work for what you want."

While the emphases on sacrifice and hard work haven't changed since the era when Balboa patrolled the MNT backline, almost everything else about player development in the United States has evolved.

"It has changed tremendously because we have an Academy," Balboa said. "I didn't have an Academy, we had the Olympic Development Program and that was the only way you got to the National Team. It was very rare that you had an event like this where coaches, National Team coaches, club coaches, everybody is here watching these games."

"If kids want to get better, everything is there. It's all about the mentality and the dedication. How much they're willing to dedicate to get to that next level? How much work are they willing to put in instead of playing Xbox, how much work are they willing to put in? 'Instead of going to play with my friends, I'm going to come out on the field and work on my shooting.' I think that's what it comes down to now."

As for his aspirations as a coach, Balboa hasn't ruled anything out. He simply says that he will let life take him where it goes. Wherever that may be, it's certain that he will continue his own development while giving back to the game.