Contributed by: Troy Thompson
The United States Australian Football National team - the American Revolution - will arrive in Melbourne this week for their second attempt to take home the International Cup. This talented bunch of American footballers will be playing under an Australian coach, making the return to his home town. World Footy News profile USA coach Alan Nugent.
Alan Nugent grew up in the Northern Melbourne suburb of Bundoora. Years later he was to play ten seasons with the University Blues football club in the Victorian Amateur Football Association. The Blues have been a strong and successful club for many years. It was a work opportunity on offer in 1999 that saw him leave Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne to take up a position at the Children's Hospital Boston/Harvard Medical School where he could add to his medical training. It also took him from his retirement from the Blues to playing with the Boston Demons. “I retired from Uni Blues mid 1998 because I was no longer improving and working too hard just to maintain myself. I knew that I was leaving the country in 1999, so it seemed like a good time to call it a day. I had 10 years at Uni Blues and loved it, I turned up to the Demons to have a kick and meet new people.” From just turning up for a kick, he then progressed to coaching for the first time, coaching the Demon’s for three years. On learning the coaching game American style Nugent reflected, “it is about teaching the fundamentals, participation etc. In the USA I have spent many hours working with players on the most basic things like kicking. I never once in Australia even considered what a player has to do to kick on the run. The best analogy is to get an Aussie to do a lay up in basketball. If you have never done it before it is not easy.”
Nugent took over the Revolution coaching job in early 2004 after being the assistant coach at the Cup in 2002. The team is well prepared with a carefully planned and lengthy selection process. With players knowing the process and the selection panels expectations in terms of the qualities and attributes they were looking for. Nugent is happy with the process “Obviously the country is so large it is not possible to see everyone play and assess them properly. Given this limitation, US footy have a yearly All-Star game (East/West) and any American is welcome to play over that weekend. Clubs and coaches constantly call you about players and it's simple to say "send them to East/West and we will look at them". It is only one game, which is not ideal, but each of the 3 years we have discovered players previously unknown to the Revolution staff. We selected the team for the International 3 months ahead of the tournament as being so far away, players need to organize work/family/expenses etc.” Even so there are those that cannot afford to make the expensive self-funded trip. The cost of the flights and accommodation alone seeing at least one of the US team’s better players, and best players in last years match against Canada, unable to assist his country’s bid for the Cup.
Getting better value out of their trips downunder are a handful of players playing the whole of the 2005 season with Clubs in Australia. Nugent thinks it is a big advantage for these players to have gained experience playing in Australia and is not concerned about wrapping them in cotton wool leading into the Cup “If they get injured 2 weeks before, that will be bad luck, but I have encouraged them to play and train as much as possible. There is a bigger picture than just the International Cup. When these guys come back to the States, they could coach and teach so much to their clubs,” he said.
An AFL team is hosting each club in the International Cup. The USAFL has a strong link with Essendon who have hosted a promising young American footballer for the last three years during the preseason. The program sees them completing full training with the Bombers as well as taking part in some of the club’s preseason intraclub matches. Essendon will be hosting the US team this year. Nugent stressed “that Essendon are a professional football club with responsibilities to their team. Any help we get will be appreciated, but we are not and can not expect AFL clubs to be focusing on us in August. I know the US Footy president has contacted Essendon and I'm sure they will assist us anyway they can that doesn't interfere with their club.”
Three years have passed since the previous International Cup. Of the domestic competition Nugent said, “anyone who has watched the quality of play knows the general level of play has improved over the last 3 years. Initially the older Aussies could dominate but now the younger Americans have improved to the level that this is no longer the case.” Reflecting on that improvement he said “There are guys who made a squad of 30 last time, not making this squad of 35. So yes we are stronger, but I'm sure so is everyone else. 16 of the 35 played in the IC in 2002, 19 will be in their first Cup.”
In 2002 the US team lost only to New Zealand and eventual winners Ireland, finishing fifth overall. The skill level and ability of a number of players through the tournament surprised many. When asked if the Revolution had been able to do any forward scouting Nugent admitted the difficulty of such a task ahead of the Cup, “We plan to scout through the tournament, but although you hear things here and there, you really have no idea what the other countries are doing. It's hard enough keeping up with US footy. The southern hemisphere countries have a massive advantage.”
The Revolution will be looking for a higher finish in 2005 and the massive incentive of battling it out on the MCG turf for the Cup as the curtain raiser for the Carlton vs Collingwood match. But overall Nugent’s expectations of his team are simple “to play to the maximum of their potential. If they play the best footy of their lives and come last, then fine. The fitness program, team rules and game plan have all been in place from months ago. They are representing their country and are highly motivated. They were selected on their character and work ethic and I see no reason why this group of guys won't land in Melbourne relaxed and fully prepared to play the footy of their lives.”
World Footy News