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New Orlando Pride coach Marc Skinner focused on quickly bonding with players, fans

New Orlando Pride coach Marc Skinner is looking forward to quickly bonding with fans. (Courtesy of Mark Thor/Orlando City SC)

New Orlando Pride coach Marc Skinner was once told a loss was entirely his fault.

That moment shaped his career.

He was an 18-year-old goalkeeper at the time. His team had just lost a title match. And his coach came to speak with him.

“If you look at me, I’m not the biggest fella in the world,” Skinner said with a smile during in an exclusive interview with Pro Soccer USA at Orlando City Stadium.

Slender and sharply dressed in a black blazer over a purple sweater, Skinner doesn’t have the look of a typical goalkeeper.

“I ended up being a goalkeeper and it was my experience from that that shaped me. I had a coach – I won’t mention his name – but I always remember the last experience I had as a goalkeeper. We lost a game, a championship game and he came up to me at the end and rather than thanking me for all the things I’d done, he put his arm around me – so he lulled me into a false sense of security – and said, ‘I just want you know that it’s all your fault.’

“I promised myself I’d never, ever, ever treat my players that way.”

The dream of being a goalkeeper died and was replaced with the dream of becoming a top coach.

Now 35, Skinner is tasked with helping the Pride live up to the promise of a star-studded roster. The hire was officially announced Monday, though general manager Erik Ustruck said Skinner had been identified the Pride’s next coach for weeks. This means Skinner had time take a look at the Pride’s roster and what the team needs heading into 2019.

The needs aren’t on the player side, Skinner said.

“I’m not looking to particularly add, but if there’s somebody that I feel will add to the group pretty quickly, then I’ll look at that,” he said. “If I need to move, I’ll look to move, and that’s with the blessing of the club and so on. Nothing instantly. I’ll get to know the people, get to know the players and then see if I can improve the group from last year.”

Even without potentially adding new players, there’s more than enough work to get done.

Dream job

Skinner previously coached English Women’s Super League side Birmingham City Women FC. Ustruck said while with Birmingham City, and while working with a smaller budget when compared to the other teams in the WSL, Skinner was able to get the most out of the players and resources he had.

“We had a very, very good thing and it’s a place that will always be close to my heart and I’ll miss the people, but I just couldn’t turn this opportunity down,” Skinner said.

Skinner left Birmingham City with his newborn daughter, Saede (pronounced Sadie) on his mind. Eventually, Saede and Skinner’s partner, Laura Bassett, will join the Pride’s new coach in Orlando, but for now, he’s missing his small family.

Skinner arrived in Orlando on Thursday and toured Orlando City Stadium Friday morning. He’ll go back to England one more time before returning to Orlando to stay.

“I’m actually crazily missing her, and it’s only been a day,” Skinner said about his six-week-old daughter. “Even though we don’t get any sleep, I’m crazily missing her.”

Passing up on the Pride job would have meant a disingenuous future conversation with his daughter, Skinner said.

“I’ve got a baby daughter and I had a conversation with Laura, my partner, and I said that if I’m to say to her in the future, ‘Go and live your dreams,’ how could I then turn around and say I didn’t do that?” Skinner said.

“For me, it’s a dream to come to a place where the soccer – because I’ve got to get used to saying that – is going to be something that’s at the forefront and something that makes people smile.”

It’s not about the prospect of coaching the likes superstars of Marta and Alex Morgan. Skinner said he was sold on the vision of the Pride.

“I’m so amazed by what I’ve seen so far, and this is just a glimpse or a snapshot of what I know is to come,” he said. “Once again, it’s the magic. You know, they’ve got the magic of Disney. I think this is the magic of Orlando for me. The players, the staff – it’s just a real, real good vibe and I’m going to make sure that I do my best to make sure it’s successful.”

Coaching philosophy

Skinner proudly calls himself a “head coach” rather than the more typical English term of “manager.”

He worked with current Utah Royals head coach Laura Harvey when the latter was the head coach of Birmingham City Women from 2006 until 2008. Skinner was the technical director for the Birmingham City Ladies Centre of Excellence from 2006 until 2012.

“For me, we’ve got to create good habits,” he said. “Habits we’ll create here [are about] understanding the details of the game. If the girls can do that, I think not only will they be successful, but they’ll love the process, too. It’s hard at first, because I’m going to be very demanding. But once they get used to that and they know my character, then I’m sure they’ll fall in love with it.”

Ustruck said Skinner, among other things, is a motivator.

Skinner said his ability to motivate comes from his own astronomical standards.

“The sad part about me – and I’m very open and honest – is I’m really never happy,” he said. “I make sure my players are happy, but I’m never happy because I need to get as close to perfection as possible. That’s with result and performance. If we win games and we don’t perform well, I’ll be the first one to say I haven’t performed well.

“But that’ll be for me. For the girls, they’ll know that I love the process. When somebody’s on to you all the time, in a positive way, it’s never negative, it’s never personal, they start to understand that, ‘I can be pushed here. I can come out of my comfort zone. I can grow.’ I think that’s the key to it.

“When I go home, I don’t switch off. I mean, most coaches don’t, to be honest. They’re always wired. I don’t switch off. I focus on what could we have done better, what could individuals do better. Where’s the growth in this game? Where’s the growth in that? I think that’s probably the key to being a motivator.”

He didn’t want to give away too much regarding his tactics, but Skinner was willing to offer a glimpse into how he wants the Pride to play.

“It’s positional playing rather that it being about individuals,” he said. “In Australia and America, what I’ve experienced is it’s very woman-player orientated. For me, I think the better the team, the more opportunities they have to be successful.

“There are some superb teams in this league. I’ve seen North Carolina and, obviously, Portland, to say the least. Then Utah. They, from what I hear, are the best teams. Not just the best individuals. That’s what I’ve got to create here.”

Skinner said it’s about simplifying the message so players can adjust on the field without his input.

“People think you have to over-complicate soccer,” he said. “You have to have this here, this there, this there, do this at this time. I find that you work on the habits and make sure every day every habit is trained, then what they end up doing is being able to make their own decisions, and autonomy is the end goal for me.”

Player connections

Fostering a strong connection between player and coach is a necessity, Skinner said. To that end, he’s already emailed out a questionnaire to the Pride’s current players.

“It’s more about the person,” he said. “I need to know the person because when things don’t go your way – because that’s any major sport – who picks them up? Who’s the person that helps them? I need to know all of this before I teach and coach them as football players or soccer players. The person’s the most important to me.”

He said it doesn’t matter who is the biggest star on the team.

“I’m not a fan of statuses,” he said. “My job is to work with people, and I’ll bring those people back down, I’ll connect with them and from that point, we’ll work forward.”

The connection between coach and player is just as important to Skinner as the connections between his players. They’ll get to work on building those connections at the start of March, though Skinner said the details of preseason training haven’t been fully ironed out yet.

“This is what we need to understand: you don’t have to be the best of friends,” he said. “There’s a lot of people I will not like, but in a professional manner, we’ll connect and we’ll work together and we’ll make sure we get the best. When we’re on the field, as long as we’re connected, that’s all I want. Then you’ll see the real fruition of what we’re trying to do.”

Skinner made a point of adding he’s looking forward to working with striker Sydney Leroux, who is out for the foreseeable future due to pregnancy, in a “different capacity.”

“Everybody will be key if we’re going to be successful,” Skinner said. “You’ll need everybody to pull in the right direction. Will it be a challenge? Yes. Is that something that I’m here for? Yes.”

Courting supporters

Skinner – in his first Twitter comments since taking the Pride job – addressed the Pride’s supporters. Last season, the Pride dealt with below average attendance and twice had record low crowds show up to matches.

For the Orlando Pride to thrive, the supporters need to be involved, Skinner said.

“It’s so, so important that they’re onside for what we’re starting to do,” Skinner said about the supporters. “If there’s a disconnect between you and the supporters, what’s the point? Who are we playing to, the seats? The seats can’t clap. The seats can’t cheer.”

Skinner said support from fans will be crucial as the Pride change they way they’ve played after having the same coach for three years.

He knows it’ll be a process. It’s a process he wants to get underway as soon as possible.

“As long as people go away happy in their experience, they’ll come back,” he said. “I want this place rocking. I’ve got to earn that. This team has got to earn that. That’s what I’m going to work to every day. If we walk away and the fans are happy, then I’m sure we’ve done our job at some point. Without them … my job’s not here and it’s a very boring game. I want to be with them.”

Skinner’s mentality when it comes to supporters was reflected in a conversation he had over dinner with Ustruck.

“We went for a bite to eat and I said, ‘Please don’t take this the wrong way. I know I’m employed by Orlando City, but actually, I work for the players and I work for the staff and I work for everybody that works tirelessly behind the scenes,’” Skinner said. “That love and that connection is what I want them to know. I work for them now.

“Once they know that, they’ll understand the process and they’ll understand we’ve got to go through some transitions, but we’re always connected together. Life isn’t just about having that fairy tale and that happy story. We’ve got to work at it to earn that right. I’d like them to know I work for them and I’m going to make sure that they get everything from me.”

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