"Moments like this that showed me the details that are necessary to make it at the highest level."
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Welcome to a first here at AP, ladies and gentlemen! Today it's my pleasure to release American Pyramid's first ever interview with a head coach. And not just any head coach, but Michael Sesar of AFC Cleveland, who won the NPSL Championship last year. He's got some great things to say and spends some time answering questions from you, the readers. Check it out.
Tell readers a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with AFC Cleveland.
My name is Michael Sesar and I was born in London, Ontario, Canada. I am the current Head Coach of AFC Cleveland.
I graduated from the University of Windsor and played all 4 years there on the men’s varsity squad, competing against all the Div. 1 Michigan universities on a regular basis. My university coach, Vancho Cirovski graduated from Michigan St. and would get us opportunities to compete against the top schools in the United States. This was a test for me as a player, showing me a higher level to the game. After University I would go and compete in the Canadian Soccer League and play against top competition all over the continent. I was able to test myself against players such as Tomasz Radzinski who would go on and play for Everton in the EPL. It was moments like this that showed me the details that are necessary to make it at the highest level.
How did you come to be a fan of soccer?
I was born into soccer with parents from Europe (Croatia), and from an early age I was at a field every single day, watching my father play and then later on coach at my boyhood club London Croatia S.C.
Every Sunday we would go to church and then after lunch, head on over to the field to watch our men’s team play. At Halftime, the kids would all run onto the field and play world cup. I fell in love with the game at moments like this and would go everywhere with a soccer ball as a child. I was also able to spend summers as a kid in Europe and play every day for 3 months straight.
What's the 'origin story' behind the creation of AFC Cleveland?
The team was a thought of some soccer crazed individuals who love the sport of soccer. In Cleveland there was a void, with teams like the Cleveland Force folding. The face of high level soccer in Cleveland needed a presence and that is how AFC was formed.
As the head coach of AFC Cleveland, what got you started on your coaching career?
When I was younger, my father was a coach. I was always around the field and coached my first team when I was 14. They were a bunch of 8 year olds and I specifically remember getting kicked in the shins.
I was always fond of the game and when my playing career was winding to an end, I began to take coaching courses and really study the game from the sidelines.
Since you're the first head coach I've interviewed, I have to ask. What are some of the challenges you face as a coach in the states, especially for a team in the NPSL?
Lack of resources and time to build a team the proper way. It would be nice to train every night, but the players having careers and other things occupying their time.
How would describe the level of coaching in the NPSL? Is it better than people think, or is there much, much room for growth?
The coaching at the NPSL is excellent, there a fellow coaches out there who have a great deal of experience and are working in their local markets to improve the beautiful game.
It’s much better than people think. The passion for the game is present in these individuals that I face every week.
Your team has a reputation for playing quality attacking soccer. How have managed that? Is it a matter of looking for a particular type of player, your style of coaching, or a mix of both?
We have a core of players that have played together since they were kids in key positions on the field. The continuity and familiarity of midfield players is key on the field and with Suljevic and Derezic in the middle of the field, we have been able to play well in the final third. As for my style of coaching, I like to attack as a coach and you need the players with the same mentality to do that on the pitch.
Over the last month, AFC Cleveland defeated Des Moines Menace and took FC Cincinnati to Extra Time in the US Open Cup. Are you happy with how the Cup run went and the experience your players gained from it?
Yes, we as a coaching staff were happy with the performances that we put in the Open Cup this year. It was a great experience for our players and staff to play on the road in front of large crowd in Cincinnati and take them to extra time. It would have been nice to knock off a professional team on their home turf, but as a coach I was happy to have played them tough on their field and almost pull out the victory.
Currently you play in the East Conference Division of the NPSL, along with teams like FC Buffalo, Dayton Dynamo, Syracuse FC. Do you have any teams that you and the players really consider to be rivals?
The players have a familiarity with all the teams in our division, but with Erie being the closest in geography to us, I would have the peg them as a rival to our club and Dayton as an instate rivalry. The original rivalry that our club had was with Detroit City FC, but with the divisions changing that rivalry has since dwindled as we don’t meet that often anymore.
Losing that rivalry with DCFC is a bummer. Kind of the nature of lower league soccer in the US right now. You mentioned attack minded players earlier. How do you go about finding players who fit that mentality?
All year long, I have been fortunate enough to stay in touch with the local soccer scene, looking at all players from high school to college level. In this effort, we look for players who aren’t afraid to play, hold the ball and take people on. Then once we get to training we build an environment where we work on attacking, all year long.
Do the majority of the players you have, and look for, come from the Cleveland Metro Area?
Yes a majority are from the Cleveland metro area, we do have some foreign players who have come to school in Ohio, but for the most part they are Cleveland players.
Speaking of home turf, you currently call Stan Skoczen Stadium home. Do you think it's important for AFC Cleveland to have it's own field someday soon to not only continue growing as a club, but to provide a better experience for players and fans?
Yes it would be great to have our own home field, it helps build an identity for the club. From this the club can grow, having fans come experience the home field and hopefully grow the clubs fan base.
I've got a few questions from readers for you before we wrap this up. They're really interested in a coaches opinion and perspective. From @mimizhusband, 'How many hours per week do you expect players to commit to the team, in season and off season?'
During the week players need to commit 10-15 hours between games and training, that doesn’t include the time we spend travelling which can account for even more. In the off season, good players are constantly working on their game playing in multiple local leagues plus training all winter long. All of our top players are playing soccer 5-6 days a week for most of the year.
@CColeASU wants to know 'How does he think the NPSL plays in comparison to the PDL and does he see the future of the NPSL in the near future?'
Well if you looked at the results in the US Open Cup, you would see that the NPSL did well in comparison to the better PDL teams. We went into Des Moines and got a victory against a PDL powerhouse. NPSL is growing and is getting good players to compete in their league.
@OpenCupFan asks 'What does he think of NPSL playing part time (just summer) schedule? How does he think using college plyrs (not his own) affect club growth?'
This is a tough question, due to the structure of American soccer. There is college, club and pro soccer in this country and for the players there are plenty of options. It is just a matter of figuring out what is the best option for you personally.
Let's wrap things up with some short questions. What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
My favorite league to watch is are the top 3 European Leagues: La Liga Spain (Barcelona) English EPL (Liverpool) and German Bundesliga (Borussia Dortmund)
Favorite player, one past, one present.
Current Favorite Player: Lionel Messi
Past Favorite Player: Diego Maradona and Zvonimir Boban
Do you have coaching books or other material you would recommend to the people reading this?
The NSCAA Coaching journals always have great articles and I am constantly getting the Success in Soccer journal that always has great drills and ideas for traning.
You get to meet one person from soccer history. Who is it and why?
I would like to meet Johan Cruyff and pick his brain on his philosophy and views on the beautiful game. He was the mastermind behind Barcelona and it’s philosophy of their soccer school that they built.
What would you say to someone asking you 'why should I go out and support an amateur team like AFC Cleveland?'
Come out and support local players who are testing themselves against the top competition in the country. Your support could fuel the next soccer star onto a greater stage. Playing in front of passionate fans means the world to players, it drives them to succeed.
Thank you again for your time Michael, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the weekly content coming out on AP you can Follow AP on Twitter, or Like AP on Facebook. And if you want make sure you never miss an interview, and want to read articles before everyone else, click here and sign up for the Newsletter. You'll be the first to know when articles are released and learn about other exciting content down the road.
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