Iowa State head women’s soccer coach Tony Minatta recently visited Portugal while attending a U.S. Soccer International Coaches Soccer Workshop. Minatta visited several of the top teams in the country including FC Porto, Sporting Lisbon and Benfica. From there he was able to learn from some of the world’s best coaches. I was able to sit down with Minatta and review his trip and find out how he plans on incorporating what he learned to his Iowa State team.
How does the U.S. Soccer International Coaches Workshop work and what drew you to Portugal?
Tony Minatta: Every year U.S. Soccer does an international workshop in different countries. They have been to Italy, Germany, England, Spain and this is the first year they went to Portugal. What drew me to the course was that it’s a very small country with limited recourses, yet they are consistently putting their national team in the top 10 in the world. Their club teams like FC Porto are in the Champions Elite Eight playing Bayern here in the next week or two. Being able to go to a country to see what they do and how they’ve managed to have that kind of success given that it’s a country of only 10 million people.
Were you able to meet with other collegiate soccer coaches across the country and what was that experience like?
TM: There were quite a few collegiate coaches there. North Carolina’s men’s coach was there and he has won a national championship. It was great to be around those individuals and share ideas and get different perspectives. When you’re on the bus to different places we were always talking soccer. It gives you a different perspective on different styles of coaching and why they are successful with what they are doing. Although the trip was international, I was able to interact with coaches who are at the highest level nationally.
Can you talk about your experience as a whole and some of the things that you learned that you’ll try to implement into your coaching style?
TM: The reality is that they are so much more advanced in other countries and there is a reason that their teams are consistently in the top in the world both on the club side and the national team side. One of the biggest things was that the clubs we visited had a culture of winning and that was everything from how they take the field to how they approach their scouting, recruiting, training and to the game models. All of the little things add up to the big picture. For us, it’s not about just running a really good training session. We have to be really good at everything that we’re doing. We need to refine and be better at everything we’re doing.
What was the gameday experience like at Estadio de Luz?
TM: It was amazing. The place was packed and everyone was looking to their left and this eagle came flying in and circled the stadium and landed on the wrist of a person at centerfield. When the game started, the songs and chanting that were going on made the entire atmosphere electric. It’s funny because we got to see a U19 Champions league game and the place was packed and they were singing the same songs. On our way back to Lisbon on the last day, we stopped at a restaurant on the way and a bunch of fans were there getting ready to go to another game and the whole table next to us was singing those same songs. I can’t see people doing that here.
What stuck out to you in terms of what Benfica does as a soccer club, or their practices and culture?
TM: Everything that they did in practice was designed to help the team have a better understanding of the spatial awareness on the field. That was something that I took away from it. They are very technical and very advanced. They do things that you don’t see over here in the United States. The youth players over there are amazing. Looking how they run they practices, it’s very similar to what we do already because I have a lot of influence from European styles. Just the spatial awareness that they look for and setting things up so everything will mimic the game and letting the players play. One thing that they always talked about is that they want to present the problem in their practice and they want the players to find the solution. They don’t want to dictate the solution, because they don’t feel that the players will ever learn it.
What does a typical training session look like at Sporting Lisbon and does it look any different from what you saw at Benfica?
TM: They are all very similar in how they set things up with their technical components. Interestingly enough we saw the same possession game in all three places. We got to see the first team train in Lisbon which was incredible. You recognize how much of an importance they put on the technical aspect of the game. Even with the first team, which was a Champions league team, the first three things that they did were all technical. Things like moving off the ball, and how it was set up. Sporting Lisbon has produced Cristiano Rinaldo and Figo, which are two world players of the year who both came out of the same club. Eight of the Sporting academy players are on the first team, which is pretty amazing because at Benfica of the starting 11, there wasn’t one that came out of their own academy. The only one who actually got some minutes came in like the last three minutes of the game. Lisbon puts a huge emphasis on player development and you can see that in how they approached the different training aspects.
What was your experience like at FC Porto and touring the city of Porto?
TM: It was amazing. When we met with the technical director in charge of FC Porto he said that he wanted us to go out into the town and talk to people and meet people so that we could really understand what the culture of the town was because that would help us understand the culture of the team. Porto was incredible. They got their Champions League draw while we were there. We had a lot more interaction with the coaches there. We got to have more sit downs with them personally as opposed to the other clubs where we got presentations and watched. Everybody spoke pretty good English. They had a lot of questions for us in how we do things. One of the guys that we sat down with coached a U14 team and he has his doctorate degree. The level of advancement they have for their coaches in incredible. Coaching soccer is an actual college degree in Portugal. What they put into it and how they approach it, it is definitely not just a profession, but rather a lifestyle.
How would you like to incorporate what you learned in Portugal to what you are doing here in Ames?
TM: A lot of the training will be similar. When we played Nebraska earlier and they opened the field up and we opened up defensively, we need to make sure that we’re closing that space and being more compact. Just watching some of their exercises and to be able to teach that and get their teams to understand that really has helped me out a lot. We need to make sure that we are showing our players the spatial awareness so they are able to do those things on the field and they have a better picture in their mind for it.
What are some things that Cyclone fans can get excited for that you have seen thus far this spring?
TM: Koree Willer is playing at a different level right now with some of the things she has been doing in practice. She’s really turned the corner and taken that next step to decide that she wants to be a next level player. Overall you can sense a different maturity about the team. We were so young last year. I think they finally realized that they can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. If they want to achieve more than what they achieved last year they have to put more work into it. You can see that at every practice they are more competitive. The level is rising every day. It’s exciting to see some of the players come out of their shells a little bit and really show quality play out on the field.
Check back to cyclones.com later this spring for a recap of Iowa State soccer’s spring season.