Assistant coach Mike Sorber talks playing, coaching, teaching and learning in this Q&A
There’s no doubt that Mike Sorber brings a wealth of experience to Philadelphia.
The Union’s newest assistant coach was born in Saint Louis and played college soccer at Saint Louis University, featuring in the 1991 Final Four and becoming a finalist for the 1992 MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded annually to the nation’s best player.
From there, it was on to the 1994 World Cup, where Sorber started all four games in the American midfield. Partnering with famous names like Tab Ramos, John Harkes, and Thomas Dooley, he was a rock solid performer in Bora Milutinovic’s starting XI.
He moved to Mexico after the tournament and played with Pumas for two years, earning accolades and learning Spanish along the way. Sorber finished his career in MLS, which included stints with Kansas City, New York, and Chicago.
Following retirement, he spent more than five years as an assistant coach at his alma mater, before hooking up with Bob Bradley in the United States setup. He served as an assistant for his former coach until 2011, joining Jesse Marsch in Montreal for the club’s upcoming expansion season. Marsch was eventually let go in favor of Marco Schallibaum, and Sorber and the Impact parted ways.
He spoke with philadelphiaunion.com, from the team’s training base in Deltona, Fla.
Philadelphiaunion.com: First things first - how did this move come about? How did you end up in Philadelphia and why work with this coaching staff?
Mike Sorber: My contract had ended up in Montreal, and at different points throughout the year I was in contact with Jim Curtin and John Hackworth. Once Brendan (Burke) decided he was going to take a different job, Hack reached out to me and we started a conversation, just about what my situation was. Because I follow MLS and pretty much know all of the teams, Philadelphia was an exciting opportunity to join a staff that I have a lot of respect for. It’s a good young team, so I’m excited to be a part of it.
PU.com: Tell us a little bit about your relationship with the coaching staff. You and John Hackworth were obviously part of the United States setup around the same time.
Sorber: Hack and I go back. He was the coach at the University of South Florida and I was the assistant coach at Saint Louis University. That’s where we first met, back in college. Then John moved over to the United States U-17 national team with John Ellinger. At points I had conversations with John about different players and different situations there. Then I was with Bob Bradley from 2007 to 2011 and John was still with the 17s, and then they made a change there and brought Wilmer (Cabrera) in. But we thought it was important that John still be a part of the federation, so he took over, overseeing the academy, transitioning there and getting that whole setup in place. Also during that time he would come in to January camps with us. He went to the Confederations Cup with us and did scouting for us. When you’re in these different camps with the regular staff, you’re working together every day. You get to know each other as soccer coaches but you also get to know each other as people. John’s a quality individual and a quality coach. One of the most important things when you’re in this business is that you have the respect and the trust when you work together. I think that’s the biggest thing, one of the most important factors, having worked together at different levels, now we know that we have each other’s back, and that’s the only way you’re going to succeed when you’re working with a team.
PU.com: Going back to the United States and Montreal, you were with Bob Bradley for those years, and then you joined up with Jesse Marsch after Jurgen Klinsmann had taken over the national team setup. Can you take us through that transition?
Sorber: Jesse had been offered the job and took the job in Montreal, while we were still in the Gold Cup in 2011. Then we lost to Mexico, and they eventually came to an agreement with Jurgen to make the coaching change. Jesse was starting to put together the team and the staff up there. Obviously, being an expansion team, you’re trying to figure out designated players ahead of time, but you need the knowledge of just all of the players in the league (for the expansion draft). So, once the (protected) lists come out, then you’re going to choose the first ten guys. Jesse had reached out to me, and said, ‘there’s a situation up here in Montreal, would you be interested in coming up here with me?’, and so that’s how that transpired and came about.
PU.com: What was it like on a personal level, working under Bob Bradley, and then Jurgen comes into the setup, and then you work with Jesse Marsch before Marco Schallibaum comes along? Was it at all difficult to deal with that turnover and go from the United States, to Montreal, to Philadelphia in a short amount of time?
Sorber: No. I think, having been a player, playing in the U.S., playing for the national team, playing in Mexico, the whole language, learning Spanish, playing for a Brazilian coach down there, Ricardo Ferretti, who’s coach of Tigres now - those situations as a player help you gain an understanding. You gain a knowledge and an experience that you can translate into knowing that every coach is going to have their own personality, their own style, their little differences and nuances, ideas that they have about the game. It’s different being an assistant coach than a head coach, because as a head coach you make final decisions. As an assistant coach, you have to adapt like you do as a player to the different working styles and the personality of the person you’re working with. I think that experience of playing in different environments for different teams helps me have an open mind but still have an eagerness to learn and to grow and to take away the positive points that every different head coach has to offer.
PU.com: What specifics did you discuss with Hack before taking this job? Obviously Brendan Burke worked with the guys in Reading. Jim Curtin helps to run the training sessions. Were there any specifics that Hack talked to you about, things that he wanted you to focus on or handle as a member of the coaching staff?
Sorber: Nothing that I would define as, ‘you’re only going to do this or that’. John knows the different roles that I had under Bob and more or less you’re a part of everything. You’re a part of scouting. You’re a part of running sessions. You’re a part of coming up with different ideas and solutions to make the team the best you possibly can. The only discussion was about, ‘one of my coaches is taking a new job, so there’s an opening’. Hack had a good understanding of my experience, and my knowledge, and the way I think about the game, which is similar to him. But there’s an understanding that we could still challenge each other with different ideas. Basically he said, ‘would you be interested in coming here to Philadelphia and helping our organization?’, and I said absolutely, I would be excited to do that.