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Q & A: West Coast Soccer Director of Coaching Troy Dayak

Note: NorCal Premier Soccer regularly sits down with an influential figure in the youth soccer landscape to pick their brain about a variety of different topics that are relevant in the current soccer environment in the United States. For this edition, we spoke to West Coast Soccer Director of Coaching Troy Dayak. A hard-nosed defender who spent most of his professional career plying his trade for various professional sides in Northern California, including two stints with the San Jose Earthquakes, Dayak earned nine caps with the U.S. Men’s National Team and played in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. An MLS original who participated in the league’s inaugural game, the Walnut Creek native was part of two MLS Cup-winning sides and finished his career in 2005 by helping the Earthquakes to the club’s first-ever Supporters’ Shield.

NorCal: You’ve both played and coached at a high level in Northern California, how have you seen the landscape change since your playing career?

Dayak: The population here has definitely grown and the soccer environment has as well because NorCal has come in and come up with some great pathways for different levels of play in different age groups. You have State Cup, you have different levels of champions that go on — those kinds of things have changed a lot. Back when I was young playing through State Cup, there was only really one option to play, one league. That was okay back then, but I think the game has developed into different categories where players and teams and clubs can play at different levels. Everything used to be kind of a league structure whereas now everything is kind of a club structure.

NorCal: You played in Major League Soccer, but when you were growing up, that league didn’t exist — the highest level was either the college game or some of the semi-professional leagues around. How big is it now that we have two professional clubs here in Northern California that have started their own academies in order to create a pathway for youth players to the first team?

Dayak: It’s a natural progression. As players get better, the awareness of the top players and the scouting system becomes more prevalent. Back in my day, I was a high school All-American and I turned pro at 17-years-old. I played for the youth national team at 14 so I was just a young man. You think about our youth development now, I don’t think there’s many players who are turning pro at 17. There’s quite a few that are getting highlighted and brought into the system, which is great, but I’d like to see some more of those players actually play on the first team. That’s the biggest thing, though, there’s more avenues for players to get recognized. There’s more ID programs. We used to just have ODP, which I went through, but now there are probably five or six different systems where players can get recognized through.

NorCal: West Coast Soccer has seen tremendous success in recent years in NorCal competitions, how did you guys get started and what is the key to your success?

Dayak: Hard work and dedication and passion to our mission statement and helping players get to the highest level and our coaches have really driven and motivated our club to keep a high standard. In the past five years since NorCal has been keeping track of college recruits, West Coast Soccer has been ranked No. 1. And we’re a tiny club when you compare us to larger clubs who have thousands of soccer players. We’re in a niche where we really promote our players and have a really good structure and foundation built. Those players have all earned the opportunity by working hard and staying committed and passionate to our program and our club so they’ve reached the highest levels. We have players who are now on the youth national teams that developed all the way through our club. This year we had two former players who got invited to NWSL training camps, so we’re on our way to having our first players who went through West Coast Soccer turning pro. We also have over 100 kids who have committed to colleges and gotten a scholarship and all of our players have reached the highest level in the NPL, which is Champions League. It’s not an easy task — you have to have success and build solid teams because if you finish at the bottom of the table, you’re relegated. All of our teams started at the NPL 3 and earned their way to the Champions League, so that’s something we’re really proud of.

NorCal: How much do you use those players from your club who have reached the highest level as examples for your younger players to follow?

Dayak: One thing that we do as frequently as possible is have our former players train with our oldest age groups when they come home. There will probably be four or five other teams out there training at the facility when this happens, so we’ll bring our younger players over and have a discussion with our players who have made it to the college, national team, or pro level. When you have a series of players going off to college and doing well, you set a really high standard for the next generation.

NorCal: How is your club handling the COVID-19 situation?

Dayak: On our website and YouTube channel and our social media, we have such a large amount of original content, things that we’ve done through our own teams. We’re putting our players through virtual interactive soccer practices using a ton of the digital content that we’ve recorded over the past two or three years. It’s hard to get kids together to run a training session right now — we’re following the guidelines — so we’re using a lot of our footage from before to run sessions.

NorCal: Anything else you’d like to add?

Dayak: Our staff is 100 percent on board with providing video conferences and virtual interactive curriculum. Video practices have been pretty big hits. Right now I’m just trying to get through and meet with each team, but we have a lot of time on our hands right now that we don’t normally have so we’re just trying to use it to build up our content and we’re really excited about the opportunity to continue to build our program.