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Charlotte MLS technical chief looks forward to building bridges
Marc Nicholls sees potential in Carolinas soccer
Published Friday, January 10, 2020 8:44 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Marc Nicholls, the Seattle Sounders' academy technical director, is Charlotte MLS's technical director starting in mid-January.

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Charlotte MLS have their second hire.

Marc Nicholls returns to North Carolina as the expansion franchise’s technical director. He joins Zoran Krneta, who was announced as the club’s sporting director on New Year’s Eve, as Tepper Sports and Entertainment assembles a club ahead of their inaugural campaign in 2021. Nicholls, the Seattle Sounders’ academy technical director, will remain in that role through the middle of the month.

“I’ve been able to spend some time with Zoran, and we’ve been communicating on a daily basis,” Nicholls said. “I’m really excited to be working with him. He has a really extensive network of people involved in the game. His ideas are very refreshing and aligned with mine, in terms of how we want to build this.”

Said Charlotte MLS President Tom Glick: “We’re going to define success in the community. If we get this club right, we will make a difference here in our city and our region.”

Nicholls’ duties include establishing the academy side of the club.

“It’s a little bit different in the U.S.,” Nicholls said. “The mainstream way of doing this is traditionally a kid plays for a club and a school and then goes to college, and then gets drafted. The academy model is very different. The vast majority of top soccer players are making their professional debuts at the age of 17. The idea is that all over the world you have these talent factories that develop players for their city. Why not also in Charlotte?”

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Establishing that pipeline takes establishing training programs for coaching and teaching top players in the Carolinas, which Nicholls pointed out they would need to have access to by creating a scouting network. Then the club can begin the player development component which includes working with youth organizations like Charlotte Soccer Academy and Charlotte Independence Soccer Club.

“Our academy is only going to be as good as the local clubs,” Nicholls said. “Therefore it’s in everyone’s interest to work together and collaborate and share ideas. Our objective is to be accessible to every single prospect—irrelevant of their club affiliation or where they live in the Carolinas.”

Youth soccer in America is often condemned for its pay-to-play model and club system that is too expensive and inaccessible to lower-income children. Nicholls intends to tackle that.

“The wonderful thing about soccer, of course, is all you need is a ball. In reality, it’s more,” Nicholls said. “You need to have the time and the access to get to training and all the other things that come with life. We’re not going to make the strides that we need to make as a club, as a nation, unless this game is accessible to each and every player who has the desire and passion to play it. We are obliged to make sure that every single player has an opportunity to play, and from our end, which is of course the top 1 percent [of players] have the opportunity to be exposed to us and to develop to the best of their ability. That is our goal. There are all different types of soccer leagues and affiliations. Sometimes you have to dig a little bit deeper into communities in order to get true access to all of the players. That is something we are prepared to do, and we are excited to do.”

Nicholls knows North Carolina, having coached the Carolina Dynamo (USL2) from 2011-13, and technical director for youth club N.C. Fusion. He coached Charlotte 49ers standout midfielder Brandt Bronico, who was selected in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft by Chicago.

“I played for him when I was maybe 15-18 for the Fusion, and then I played PDL under him my first year,” Bronico said. “I always had a great experience with Marc. He knows the game really well. He puts his belief in his players. Tactically, he tries to do the best he can with the players he has, and he utilizes them really well. Our team did a lot better than we were supposed to, because of Marc, and how well he managed the players and the tactics he brought into each game. I always felt like he believed in me, and he always pushed me to be better. He knew I wanted to play beyond college. I think he prepared me very well for that.”

Said Nicholls: “I feel like the stars aligned for me a little bit with it with the timing and role, and obviously having some knowledge of the market. What a fascinating and unique experience to be involved with something from the start.” 

Nicholls, who grew up in England, fell in love with the game through Wolverhampton Wanders.

“I started like most young boys—I started as a fan,” Nicholls said. “I went to my first Wolves game when I was 7 [years old]. For me, it was always like a fantasyland. You walk into the ground—there’s the beautiful green field, and the lights and the singing and the noise. Just like most people, you start as a fan. Then you play – almost everybody played. My playing career was negligible in terms of the highest levels, but I always played a reasonable standard.”

Nicholls continued playing at Liverpool University, then made to the transition to coaching before moving to the U.S. at age 24. The game does not look anything like it did when he first arrived.

“That was 23 years ago now,” Nicholls said. “To watch the development of the game from then to now is pretty staggering really. If you had told me in 1997 when I came that I would be involved in something like this in Charlotte in the South, in the U.S., people would have thought that you were crazy, but being a part of it all, watching the emergence of clubs, and the way the game has caught the attention and grown is perhaps the most interesting thing. I’m lucky to be a part of it.”

MLS turns 25 this season. Meanwhile, European clubs like Wolves have over a century of history. Both offer tremendous upside for Nicholls.

“My club in England, Wolves, were founded in 1877,” he said. “On the one hand, you have 150 years of institutional knowledge and tradition and history, and all different kinds of intricate and wonderful things that have just occurred in that time, but on the other hand, you can also be saddled by your history a little bit, too. The idea that right now there’s not a club, and in a year there will be is a positive because times change, things change, people change, and to start something from nothing to have a bit of a thumbprint on what will be our history in Charlotte it’s quite a unique opportunity.”

Nicholls noted how coaching throughout other levels of the American soccer pyramid exposed him to what he called the “MLS standard.” In the early 2010s, he was a scout for the Montreal Impact, a relatively new franchise at that time. His work eventually took him to Seattle, where he became the Sounders’ academy technical director in 2014.
“At the time, the MLS draft was really quite important—academies weren’t really developed,” said Nicholls in comparing the it to the spectacle of the NFL and NBA player selection process. “The draft was really important at the time. It’s not so much anymore.”



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