Randy Waldrum: “It truly was a life altering experience”.
Head coach of the NWSL club Houston Dash, Randy Waldrum has witnessed huge growth in the women’s game since he started coaching women in 1989.
Last season, Waldrum guided the Dash to a fifth place finish in the National Women’s Soccer League, only just missing out on a NWSL playoff place.
Randy also spent time as the Trinidad and Tobago head coach, guiding the squad through a successful campaign that saw them only narrowly lose out on a World Cup spot, though many would say they won the hearts of many football fans around the world.
In an exclusive interview with Women’s Soccer United, Randy Waldrum took time out of his pre-season training with the Dash to talk about his preparations ahead of the 2016 NWSL season, what needs to be done to grow the women’s game globally and to reflect on some of his fondest memories guiding the ‘Women Soca Warriers’.
Women’s Soccer United: Looking back at the 2015 NWSL season in which Houston Dash earned a 5th place finish, what lessons did you learn and how has that helped you prepare for the challenge ahead?
Randy Waldrum: We made great improvements last year as it relates to our expansion year where we came on board with a new team so late in the process. We finished in 5th place, just six points away from that final play-off position. So, even though I was very proud of the improvement, the one thing I learned is that we were not quite deep enough in every position to accommodate for the time that our national team players were away for the World Cup. We are working hard this year to make sure we have the depth in each of the positions to cover when the national team players are away for the Olympics.
WSU: The 2016 NWSL season is fast approaching and you have been strengthening your squad with the signings of Denise O’Sullivan, Lydia Williams, Poliana to name a few, who join an already talented squad including the likes of Morgan Brian and Carli Lloyd. Does this group of players have what it takes to win the league?
RW: I think we are very close to getting the squad in place that can compete to win the league. After two seasons of building, this third year should put us in play-off contention. I think we still need a couple of players, but I am very excited about this young team.
WSU: Carli Lloyd picked up the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year 2015 award earlier this year. How valuable is it to have a player of Lloyd’s calibre within the squad, what positive role does she play both on and off the pitch?
RW: Just having Carli and her experience alone is huge for us here in Houston. Not only is she one of the best players in the world, but she is a true pro in every sense of the word. Her training habits, her discipline off the field with her fitness and nutrition, her media saavy, all of these things are great for our young players to observe and learn from.
WSU: How would you describe yourself as a coach and what playing style are you hoping to achieve with Houston Dash this season?
RW: I always said I believe I am a “teacher with a whistle” meaning that I teach during the week, and let the players play on game day. Of course there are adjustments to make, but I am not one that gets up on the side line to yell and scream at our players, or the officials. I believe in doing the work, the teaching, during the week and the game on the weekends is a player’s game. They’ll do well if I prepared them properly. As for our style of play, I used to say I wanted my team to look like a combination of Barcelona and Manchester United. Unfortunately, I can’t say that with the way Manchester United play today! Ha… as you can read between the lines I am a huge United fan, so I am not very happy at the moment.
WSU: Do you keep a close eye on your opponent’s recent player transactions? Who do you think will be the toughest opponents to face in the upcoming season?
RW: Yes, I am sure all the coaches keep a keen eye on each others transactions as well as those around the world. I think Washington is going to be very good this season. They have a very balanced roster with steady players and won’t be impacted with the Olympics as much as we will. Seattle of course has been the team to beat the past two seasons, and once again I believe they should be the favorites. Kim Little sets that team apart, and they aren’t effected too much by the Olympics either. Portland on paper look to be strong, but we’ll see how that plays out with so many attacking players. The good thing about our league is that from top to bottom it’s highly competitive unlike some of the leagues around the world.
WSU: During the 2016 NWSL season the clubs will lose national team players to training camps and the Rio 2016 Olympics. Has this had an impact on the squad you are building and how difficult will it be to adapt to their absences?
RW: As I mentioned in one of the answers above, yes we clearly will be effected by the Olympics. We have 7 national team players that will be missing various times for the Olympics. My hope is that we have built enough depth and quality around those periods of time.
WSU: As well as coaching at club level, you have also gained experience coaching at national level (Trinidad and Tobago 2014-2016). What are the noticeable differences between coaching at club and national level, was it difficult to transition between the both?
RW: The real adjustment between the two is that at the national team level you don’t have your players on a regular basis, and in the case of T&T we didn’t have enough games to prepare properly. At the club level you have your team all season with a league full of games. I think too, it’s often more tactical than our particular league.
WSU: Your time as Trinidad and Tobago National team head coach was inspirational, despite a lack of preparation/resources compared to other nations heading into the CONCACAF qualifiers, the Women Soca Warriers made the global soccer world stop and take notice. Among your achievements, T&T moved up 75 places in the FIFA rankings (largest climb in history) – You must be very proud of what you achieved with these players, can you share some of your fondest memories of that time?
RW: It truly was a life altering experience. It’s so unfortunate, because with just the slightest of preparation and resources, we would have qualified. We were so close to doing so in spite of all the difficulties. Just being around this special group of women will always be what stands out in my memories. They truly are “women’s warriors” and most people will never understand what they really go through in their day to day lives just trying to live their dream. If I had to pick some special moments, most would come during the CONCACAF WC qualifying rounds. The opening game versus the USWNT, where we held them so long and took them all the way to the final whistle in a 1-0 loss will always be a memory. Our game plan was so good, and we were able to frustrate them, which they didn’t expect at all. The game vs. Haiti was next and we were winning 1-0 and our goalkeeper was ejected for a foul with 30 minutes left. We had to win this game to have any chance and we were able to hold on for the win. Taking Costa Rica to penalties and scoring the late goal to tie that game, as well as taking Mexico to overtime were all great accomplishments for us knowing we only had our full team together about a week before qualifications began. This just shows the potential T&T has if only the TTFA would fund the program properly. Unfortunately it looks like the new administration is operating status quo.
Another great memory is the overwhelming support the people of T&T gave to me personally and our team. We had 3500 people at the CFU finals in August, and by the last playoff leg against Ecuador in December over 20,000 people attended a women’s football game. Proof that women’s football is important to countries like T&T!
WSU: Who or what influenced your decision to become a coach, do you have any role models who continue to inspire you?
RW: Probably the two greatest influences for me growing up were Eric Nordstrom and Simon Sanchez. Mr. Nordstrom started soccer in my area. We didn’t have it as a sport until he came along. He was a gentle Swede who loved all of us kids that were playing, and he was the father of soccer in my home-town. My club and high school coach, Simon Sanchez, truly gave me the passion for the game. We spent hours on the weekends just talking about soccer, it’s history, tactics, the whole thing. I would run through a brick wall for him, and I aspire to be a coach like him. I only hope I touch my players the same way he did me. I have been very fortunate to play for some great coaches, and fortunate to have been mentored in my coaching around some of the best in the business as well. I am very lucky in that regard.
WSU: What’s your view on the women’s game in general, how has it progressed since your first involvement and what needs to be done to improve it further?
RW: The women’s game has grown immensely since I started coaching women in 1989. I never would have dreamed that our national team would be filling stadiums or that we would have a women’s professional league! So we’ve made huge strides in this regard. This is a complicated question, as I could go on and on about what we need to do in the US to improve the league and the women’s game. There are also so many things that we need to do on a world stage that could improve the women’s game worldwide, so it is a very broad topic.
On the world stage we have seen growth with the emergence of Germany, France, Japan, Australia just to name a few. Their growth is due to the fact that their federations recognize the importance of a women’s program. I believe the next immediate need is to make sure that the Caribbean countries and others like them not only get the funding necessary to develop women’s football, but make sure an enforce that these funds are being used for women’s football only. The corruption is slowly being weeded out, but it still exists. We need new leadership in these countries with people who have advanced ideas and knowledge of business and marketing, etc.
WSU: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.