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Q&A: Monterey Bay FC Head Coach Frank Yallop

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 with Monterey Bay FC head coach Frank Yallop. After playing for Ipswich Town for 16 years and the Canadian National Team for eight, Yallop played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny in MLS for the league’s inaugural three seasons before beginning his coaching career in Tampa. In 2001, he was named head coach of the San Jose Earthquakes and led them to two MLS Cups before leaving to coach the Canadian Men’s National Team. Yallop returned to the Earthquakes in 2008 to coach for nearly another six seasons. The NorCal resident now serves as the head coach of Monterey Bay FC, a USL Championship expansion team that plays its first-ever home game this Saturday. Tickets for the club’s franchise opener can be found here.

NorCal Premier Soccer: How did you fall in love with soccer?

Frank Yallop: Well I was born in England, so I think that was probably the start of it. My dad was a big Arsenal fan. We moved to Watford, so we then became fans of Watford. By the time of my 10th birthday we’d immigrated to Canada but before that it was just watching Watford and watching Arsenal and Match of the Day. I just fell in love with it. When I was a young kid, I really liked the Arsenal kit, which was white and it just stuck in my mind. So you fall in love with it and you start playing it and you start to get not too bad at it and it becomes sort of part of you, you can’t wait for the weekends. I was playing four games every weekend from when I was eight, nine, 10 years old.

NorCal: What was the youth soccer scene like in Canada when you were growing up, I can’t imagine that it was anything like it is now?

Yallop: No, not at all. I was starting to move up the ranks at Watford, where I was living, but then we moved to Canada and coming over was a bit of a shock, it wasn’t structured, but again, I lived in a city where soccer wasn’t the no. 1 sport, that was ice hockey. Among all the sports, soccer was pretty far down in the rankings. But I managed to do pretty well. The first club I went to was the Westminster Royals, just a local club, and then I got spotted by another team and just sort of started to grow, started to get recognized. Then I got a trial at Ipswich Town, which was at that time, a pretty prominent team in England. I got a chance to go over at 14 and from that I happened to make it, signed at 16 and then kind of had a career.

NorCal: You were at Ipswich Town for 16 years, what’s it like to be at a single club for that long?

Yallop: Great. No moving, you’re not having to make new friends. It’s unheard of nowadays as sports have changed and life has changed. Back then, I didn’t want to move anywhere. There wasn’t really the lure of any crazy contracts, everyone was kind of making the same money back then. I had a couple of chances and a couple of inquiries about going to other clubs, but I always wanted to stay with Ipswich. I met my wife there and we have two boys now, so it worked out. It’s interesting that I stayed there for 16 years because when you look at that now, it’s unheard of.

NorCal: So then what brought you back across the Atlantic?

Yallop: MLS. My parents immigrated to Vancouver and I ended up playing for Canada from 1990-97. And I kind of wanted to get back to North America in the end so my career was coming, not to an end, I was 32, but Ipswich wanted to sign me to another two or three-year contract to see my career out, but I kind wanted a new challenge so I spoke to MLS and a good friend of mine, Trevor James, I got in touch with him and he made me available for the draft in 1996 for the first MLS draft and I got drafted by the Tampa Bay Mutiny. I played three seasons there, then ended up coaching for a season, then coached one season at DC United, then got the head coaching job at the San Jose Earthquakes in 2001.

NorCal: When did you know that you wanted to be a coach?

Yallop: Well funnily enough, I took my first coaching badge at Ipswich at 23. We had an FA person come in for a coaching course and that just got me going in it. I was always interested. It always seems like if you’re not maybe as gifted as a player, you’re going to think more about the game rather than just going out and playing. I was always one of those guys who always thought about the game a lot. How can I get better? I was a bit of a student of the game, which I really think helped me in my coaching career. So when I left Tampa, I didn’t get released, but I got told that they really needed to use the foreign spot that I was using at the point for a foreign player, so they put me on the coaching staff in 1998, at the beginning of 1999.

NorCal: So then you got that Earthquakes job and a ton of people remember that team. Some of your first acquisitions were Jeff Agoos, Landon Donovan, Dwayne De Rosario, Manny Lagos, Ramiro Corrales, Ronnie Ekelund…that’s a who’s who of MLS legends.

Yallop: It was a weird, I mean not a weird time, but it’s like it seemed a little easier to get players from other teams at that point, but obviously you’ve got to put the team together. You can hope and pray it’s going to mix well and it did. We hit the ground running with some unbelievable players. I had some good assets to trade and use, I think I used two first round draft picks on Jeff Agoos, but that’s maybe the best move that the club’s ever made, trading for a guy who’s won five championships in Jeff Agoos. Just from that, we got some options, we got Landon, we got Dwayne from Canada and from the old A-League, which is USL now. Ronnie Ekelund, I’d played against in the Premier League when I was with Ipswich and he was with Southampton. So just on and on we kept adding really good players. It was a really, really fun team, an excellent team. Fun to coach for sure.

NorCal: You then went to coach Canada and then the Galaxy, but then you came back to the Earthquakes. What brought you back to San Jose again?

Yallop: It’s a weird one because in 2003 I should have stayed to be honest. It’s the one regret I have, but I thought I might not get another chance to coach Canada and I played for them for a number of years and a lot of family and people I knew were in Canada. I think I maybe jumped into Canada a little bit too soon and I wasn’t ready for it anyway because there’s not enough day-to-day stuff (with international teams) so I think it’s for a seasoned coach. I should have stayed with the (Earthquakes) and was always sort of itching to get back with a (club) team. But when I heard that the Earthquakes were going to start up again in 2008, I got a phone call straight away from John Doyle saying, “would you be interested?” I obviously said that I would. I was still under contract with the Galaxy but they let me speak to San Jose, which was great of them. It was a tough time at the Galaxy and I was looking forward to trying to get that team back on track, but as soon as I got the call from San Jose, it made me really, really happy.

NorCal: Did you want to get away from the media frenzy at that time with David Beckham?

Yallop: It was tough. We got 200 press people in the first game Beckham had, imagine that. Again, it’s no one’s fault, it just maybe didn’t suit my personality. I like the homely club that’s friendly, where I can really be in touch with all of my players and staff and fans alike. San Jose as a club is a lot more of a family-oriented club.

NorCal: Given what you’re saying about the Earthquakes, you just got inducted into their Hall of Fame. What does that mean to you?

Yallop: It means a lot, I had some really enjoyable times coaching in San Jose. I met some really great people. It feels like home. Any time you get some recognition for what you’ve done, it’s really nice, I’ll probably say this a few times after this, but you can’t do this without a great staff and great players and all of that around you and the support from the fans and the ownership group. I’ve listed a lot of people who have helped me along the way, but I just fit in there. Some coaches feel at home in certain places – I felt really at home when I was in San Jose. I did my best work there and felt comfortable in everything and I think that really stands out, but it’s a great honor. I want the best for the Earthquakes as always and I just really want them to get back to winning ways, but I know that it’s easier said than done, especially in soccer right now.

NorCal: Could you talk about your current project at Monterey Bay FC?

Yallop: It’s a great opportunity, I think that this area has been crying out for a professional team of any sport, but especially soccer with Salinas and Watsonville and Monterey being real soccer towns that produce talent. I think it’s the perfect time to come in and put a team here. I’m really excited about the stadium we’re building and the structure of the club. We want to make sure that we’re one of the best small clubs in the country – you know, it’s only a 5,500-seat stadium, but it’s perfect for us. I don’t think we could get many more fans because of the population, but I think it’s going to be exciting. Sometimes it takes a while, but we’ll build a team that the fans will really enjoy that will win games – no promises in winning anything because it’s difficult. I just want to build a team that the area is proud of. I mean, I’m from the area, only an hour away. We’re going to move down here once my youngest goes to college. We love it down here. It’s going to be really good, really exciting and my job is to build a good team.

NorCal: Some of the best players we have in Northern California come from the area you were just talking about. Have you felt embraced by the community yet, is there a buzz around there for when you’re going to play your first home game?

Yallop: Yes I do (feel embraced). I think that people are embracing us when we meet them for the first time and they learn that we’re a professional soccer team and they’re very interested. We’ve got to get the word out, obviously, and that’s never easy in a new market. Because they’re not used to having a professional soccer team so we’ve got to get the word out, but it’s going to be great to watch. And then the word of mouth after the first game, third game, word of mouth is always a good thing along with being on the news and radio. Once it’s something to talk about in the area, I think that’s when we’re going to get a huge following. All of our fans can watch our games when we’re playing away from home too. And they’re already interested in our results and our team. I think that there’s slow growth in any startup or expansion team, but I feel really strongly about the love we’ve already received in the community and the positivity of the people around here – they’re really excited to have a team that they call their own, especially a pro soccer team.

NorCal: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Yallop: I call (Northern California) my home. It’s my home. Whether it’s Monterey or Los Gatos, where we currently live, this area is what my family loves. We don’t want to move away, we love it here. I feel connected to the area. I’ve had success an hour away in San Jose. I’m making sure to try my best to have that success with this team in Monterey. I will try my hardest for that and it’s never easy to do anything but I feel strongly about having a good team down here like I did with the Earthquakes. I’m just really connected to the area. People are so nice and accommodating to me down here.