FRISCO, Texas — After any given training at the Toyota Soccer Center, FC Dallas assistant coach Peter Luccin can be seen instructing players. On this day, Luccin is talking to defender Reggie Cannon, gesturing where he wants the 20-year-old to be in a certain situation and continuing the conversation as they walk into the locker room.
Coaching was always on Luccin’s horizon. After retiring at the end of the 2014 season, Luccin was named coach of the under-12 FC Dallas side. He loved the game and wanted to enjoy it in a different capacity. Taking over the U-12s was a perfect fit for the Frenchmen, who wanted to pass off his experience of playing with teams in Europe, such as Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico Madrid, and Marseille, to younger players.
Starting off at the lower levels, Luccin had to balance two different ideologies: teaching players about the game and, more importantly, helping them develop as humans. FCD head coach Luchi Gonzalez has emphasized the importance of youth players having fun with their soccer. It isn’t all about results or skills on the ball, but how much a child actually cares for the game.
In 2018, former FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja invited Luccin to be with the first-team staff during training and learn as he waited for the chance to get his ‘A’ coaching license. The time spent there helped Luccin acclimate to professionals rather than kids. He began to run drills that he would pass on to the younger players, adapting his speech and philosophies within the same day.
“It’s like two different worlds,” Luccin told Pro Soccer USA. “We are talking about teaching the young players and players from the 14 years old and after that, going with the adults. It’s different, even the way you have to approach each player. Young players, you want to teach them how to play soccer, how to read the game, but in the end, you want to help them to develop like a human being. It doesn’t mean with the pro players you don’t want to do it but at their age, the human-being part is there. At the young age, there’s so many things they don’t know, even things they know. Adults, it’s a lot of things they already know, even though we can improve every single day.
“It was perfect for me because it was a challenge to change in less than two hours [after trainings last year], from young players to adult players. I’m not going to talk to adult players as I talk to young players and vice versa.”
Comfort with the first team
Luccin grew in that year unofficially as part of Pareja’s staff. When Pareja left and Gonzalez was brought in, Gonzalez knew he wanted Luccin on staff. However, it took discussion and time for the two to see that their ideas on soccer were similar. More importantly, the hiring of Luccin and assistant Mikey Varas gave the staff a vast knowledge of the famed FCD academy. The three know the players in the academy and how they are progressing in their development.
As a former player who has performed on the big stage, Luccin was not nervous in his first days as an official assistant. The days under Pareja made him more comfortable in his new role, and it showed in his familiarity with the players.
“Just the fact that I spent one year with those group of players, there were no nerves,” Luccin said. “The preseason and the first 15 games have been very interesting because we’ve been through hard moments in term of concepts and good moments as well, just trying to teach them the way we wanted to play. They get that pretty quick, but that process, you’re going to go through good moment and bad moments.
“At the end, there are no bad moments. It’s just a moment to help us to improve, to grow in our style of play. That’s why when we went to Arizona [for preseason camp], all those games have been very important to us, just to develop that and very happy. We lost some games we should not have lost and won some games that maybe, that was more tie and losing. It’s part of the game, part of the process.”
Those good and bad moments are exemplified through players as well. Gonzalez praised Luccin for his man management, saying that the 40-year-old knows how to connect with players in certain ways. One of those ways is his ability to speak three languages: French, Spanish and English. Luccin can transition from Spanish to French quickly, something that may not be normal on other teams.
“When I’m talking with French with Reto [Ziegler] and Dominique [Badji], you can see that you can go closer to the player,” Luccin said. “I’m French, I like to speak my language. For Spanish, I’ve played in Spain for many years. For me, it’s important. You can go closer to the players to make sure they’re going to get the message from Luchi, from Mikey, from Drew or for me.”
Earning the players’ trust
Connecting with the player is important for Luccin. He knows that trust is vital in a relationship and attempted to build the foundation with players during his first season in 2018.
“It’s very important that first, the players trust you,” Luccin said. “That trust is very important and does not come in one day. That’s why last year when Oscar gave me the opportunity, I started talking with the players and just make sure that they can trust me. It’s two years that I’ve known Reggie. He’s a young player with amazing potential, an international player with the U.S. national team. Just to talk, not just in terms of experience, but in terms of positioning, what he’s doing pretty good, what he needs to improve.
“The mental aspect of the game too, to recognize a moment in the game, when and where. It’s not good just to talk every single time but just to find the right moment to start talking with Reggie, Jacori [Hayes], Carlos Gruezo and [Kellyn]Acosta. It was very important for me to get that relationship with them.”
Luccin admits that he and Cannon have worked more together and have a closer relationship. Cannon calls Luccin a close brother and spoke about how the coach helped him tick and work harder on the pitch. The young American defender also pointed out how Luccin has helped Hayes grow and be more confident in midfield during the season.
“He makes fun of me sometimes and says that I just open the book of soccer and you play it page by page instead of just playing and doing things that are natural,” Cannon recalled to Pro Soccer USA. “Stop reading the freaking manual and play. That stuck with me for a while because I’ve been kinda formulaic lately and things kinda happen. You have tactics, and you try to execute them to the best of your ability, but at the end of the day, it’s football. You do what your instinct tells you, it’s a game of passion, it’s a game of anticipation. Peter knows that. He told me to rip that book to shreds and have fun. Stuff like that is the kind of advice he gives to the teams to help us emotionally and mentally.”
For a team that prides itself on development, Luccin’s role in man management is key. It’s something he looks forward to daily. He’s not looking too far ahead to the future.
“I’m going step by step,” Luccin said. “I’m not even thinking about going head coach. In the future, maybe I can be. Right now, I have years — for me, I’m feeling very comfortable in the position — I know that I can help in this position too. In the future, only God knows what’s going to happen but right now it’s no rush for me. I keep growing up as a coach. The vision I have, it’s a long term vision. For me, I’m very good at where I’m at, and I’m in no rush.”