Get to know new Energy FC Coach John Pascarella
With the Energy opening its 2020 season on Saturday with a game against the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, it seemed like a good time to learn more about the new coach.
The OKC Energy FC's new head coach, John Pascarella, comes to the team from the MLS's Minnesota United FC, where he was an assistant coach since January 2018. During the 2017 season, he was with the Des Moines Menace in the USL's League Two. From 2009 to 2016, he was an assistant and goalkeeper coach with Sporting Kansas City, where the team won the MLS Cup in the US Open Cup.
Pascarella played professional soccer for nine seasons in the United States and Peru before beginning his coaching career at the University of Maryland in 1998. He also spent time with the Northern Virginia Royals of USL League Two and Virginia’s Olympic Development Program.
He has a bachelor’s of science in exercise science from Penn State University and holds a UEFA A License and a United States Soccer Federation (USSF) A License.
VeloCityOKC: What intrigued you about this job?
John Pascarella: I’ve known the market and the soccer market in particular almost since day one. Their connection with a Major League Soccer club their first year was with Sporting Kansas City. I’ve known Jason, a lot of the staff and the owners since when (Energy FC) first started. One of Sporting’s former players was the first coach, Jimmy Nielsen, so the connection goes back to the first year of the club.
What do you like about the USL?
I like that it’s extremely competitive top to bottom. In the MLS, you’re starting to have the haves and the have-nots. You don’t see that separation yet in the rosters in the USL. That competitiveness, knowing that every game is to play for is an intriguing thing about a league. In some games, you might look across the field and go, ‘how do you compete with that team?’ knowing they just outspent you. I know we felt like that in Minnesota. I don’t think that’s the case in this league. When you match up with any given team on any given day, the quality on both sides of the field is pretty balanced.
Do you still feel like (the USL) is underrated in terms of if people are soccer fans that they don’t give the league a chance?
I think it’s slowly making its mark. I think with the fans we still have a ways to go. I think the soccer people have a ton of respect for the people involved with the league.
What is the Energy looking like so far?
Slowly and surely we’re getting there. If you judged on pre-season results, you’d say, ‘Holy cow, we’ve got a problem.’ But I actually think it’s come a long in the last month. They’re figuring out what each other’s tendencies are and how to play. The chemistry is slowly but surely getting better. I think the culture we’re trying to establish in the locker room and all the way through the club is becoming more evident in things that we do every day and the behaviors of the players and the interactions every day. I think that comes before any results will.
How do you establish a culture when you have so many other nations you’re dealing with as well?
(There are about 12 different countries represented on the team.)
We can only do that by modeling it and leading the way with the coaches. If the staff, the coaches, the GMs the owners – if the interaction with those groups, down through the players is a respectful one, a trustful one, I think you start to see that in the interactions in the way that everyone deals with one another. That’s really what we want – a very transparent culture, a very transparent way of doing business. Ours is a results business. You have to tell people what’s good enough, what isn’t and hold people accountable along the way to that standard.
It’s not easy to get 12 different cultures to buy into one culture. The culture we’re talking about in the locker room, those standards we want to hold them to: Those are international. Those are respect and trust and ways of living that we’re trying to create around our team.
When the staff announced players, the release would say you had been watching them. Explain a little on your history of scouting USL players.
It was always part of my job both at sporting KC and Minnesota. My connection was as a liaison to get to know the USL players. I continued to do that when I left KC and went to Minnesota. My knowledge of the USL game is pretty good, though not nearly as good as someone that’s been in it and lived in every day.
How would you say you’ve seen the quality of USL players change in the time you’ve been involved?
Both leagues are unrecognizable from 10 years ago in terms of the quality. I played in the MLS in 1996 and I played in USL before that and I can tell you that the talent level that I was, I couldn’t’ get close to either league today because of how good the current players are.
How’s it feel to be part of an organization that’s highly involved in developing the game?
That’s the biggest piece for me. I was unlucky enough – well I guess in some ways lucky enough because it became my passion – to live through a time when the US lost its pro league. That loss had an influence on the next generation of kids.
(The original North American Soccer League operated from 1968 to 1984. It was the first soccer league to be successful on a national scale, with an average of 13,000 fans attending games.)
I was lucky enough to see the old NASL and the New York Cosmos and the Ft. Lauderdale strikers and it had an impact on me on me and how I saw the game and how much I love the game. When I was in college, my sophomore year, that league folded. There was a whole generation of kids that didn’t have it. One of my driving forces is I don’t ever want to see soccer in the country go away. That means every MLS team and every USL team has to thrive. You have to connect to everything that goes on in that market. You have to drive it at the grassroots level because you want the game to stick around, ultimately. That’s what is fun about it here. That movement has grown a lot since the league first came in 2014.
Anything specifically you want to do here to help grow the game?
I want to connect to the international market as much as possible. The local market, yes. But the local market is so diverse, I think it’s important that we touch all the cornerstones of the OKC market.
(This season, the Energy FC signed its first Asian-born player, Kodai Iida.)
What have you liked about OKC as a city since you’ve lived here?
[without hesitation] The food.
Listen, it doesn’t take much to keep me hooked and this place is great in terms of the food scene. I like to cook, but more than anything I like to eat. So the fact that I can walk 10 minutes in any direction from here or any place in downtown nad have good food – all kinds of food good – is exciting.
Going back and forth (to Kansas City and Oklahoma City), I noticed it over time. I don’t remember it four, five or six years ago. It seems like its growing. But it’s a very foodie area.
Why should people come out this year to watch a game?
Why wouldn’t people come out? What did they see last year that was so disastrous to not take a look at it again? You be fair, you have a very different group of players. That’s what you have. You have eight returning guys from last year. It’s a roster of 24. There are 16 new guys. You’ve got a new coach.
Every team has its own identity that kind of discovers its own way of playing. This group’s will be different than last year’s and this group’s will be different than next year’s. I think it’s worth watching for sure.
I’ve heard a couple of times as I've been calling season ticket holders that they enjoy the way we’re trying to play. It’s not an easy way to play
How would your players describe you?
They'd say I'm really easy to get along with and hard to please. I think that’s probably fair. My kids would say that, too.
I'm hard to please because they have so much to give. If you saw the quality of the team, you’d know what I was talking about. If they’re easy on themselves, then shame on them because they have a lot to give.
I’ve got an easy group. I got lucky. The players we were left with from last year are quality guys, which is the most important thing character wise. It’s hard when there’s a new coach that comes in with a whole new group of players. But they’re also good players. I think the new players that have come in have been a good complement to them. They’re a solid group of guys.