Darren Powell experienced the birth of an MLS team as director of Orlando City SC’s pro academy. He saw how an inspired community rallied behind a soccer team and turned their city into one of the USL and MLS’ best fanbases. Now, he wants to help make the same thing happen in San Antonio.
Powell was named as the first head coach of San Antonio’s new USL franchise on Thursday. The team will begin play at Toyota Field in March.
“It’s a very exciting challenge,” Powell said. “To be here with Spurs Sports & Entertainment and be a part of their soccer plans on Day 1, it’s an incredible opportunity. We want to continue the tradition of success of the San Antonio Spurs, and build alongside that success with a soccer team.”
Powell brings more than 15 years of coaching experience to San Antonio, including the past two seasons as the director of Orlando’s Pro Academy. The Development Academy qualify for the 2015 U-16 and U-18 U.S. Soccer playoffs and was also recognized as the Most Improved Academy in the East by U.S. Soccer.
Powell also previously spent nine seasons as head men’s soccer coach at Elon University, a Division I school in North Carolina. When Powell arrived at Elon in 2004, the soccer team was coming off nine straight seasons with 10 or more losses. Powell turned the program around, becoming the school’s all-time winningest coach. Powell had a 94-68-23 record in nine seasons, and was named All-Southern Conference Coach of the Year four times.
After seeing success and the college and developmental levels, Powell takes on his newest challenge of leading a pro team.
“To me, the game is the same, the players are just more experienced,” Powell said. “We’re looking to bring a fast-paced, attacking style, but also to have a team that’s adaptable to different situations in a game.”
Powell said he was thrilled about the opportunity to start with a team from Day 1, especially with the chance to help build San Antonio’s youth soccer programs. The growth of youth soccer in Orlando has been essential to the city’s passion for soccer, and Powell hopes attention to youth soccer in San Antonio will help galvanize South Texas as well. While he was Orlando City’s Pro Academy director, 12 players in five age groups received national team call-ups.
“I believe in building youth soccer and having those players aspire to be a part of a first team down the road,” he said.
Powell said he learned a lot from watching the explosion of soccer in Orlando, which spent four seasons in the USL before joining the MLS. In their inaugural MLS season in 2015, Orlando City drew 62,500 fans to their home opener in the Citrus Bowl.
“Obviously getting to watch Orlando coach Adrian Heath train the team every day and to see the commitment level of the players was very beneficial,” Powell said. “There was an attention to detail on every aspect, a team-first mentality, and we’ll draw a lot from Orlando’s blueprint.”
Powell said he’s looking forward to meeting with San Antonio’s soccer supporter groups, the Crocketeers and the Bexar County Casuals. His next step will be building the roster for San Antonio’s inaugural USL team. “What we’re looking for in our players is good character and ambition,” Powell said. “We’re obviously looking for guys who can pass the ball, control the ball and know their role on a team.”
Powell grew up in Nottingham, England. One of his favorite memories was watching his local team, Nottingham Forest, as a 7-year-old. The team made an improbable run to the Champions League semifinals in 1979, and the Powells had two tickets. Powell’s father was waiting for him as soon as school let out, and they rushed over to Nottingham’s stadium, City Ground, to be first in line when the turnstiles opened. Powell stood in the front row, his face pressed up to the fence, as he watched his home team. Nottingham Forest went on to win the Champions League and a 7-year-old would be inspired by soccer for the rest of his life.
“That’s the goal, to see something like that in San Antonio,” Powell said. “We want kids to grow up in San Antonio in our youth soccer programs and dream of playing for San Antonio’s MLS team someday. “
Hometown: Nottingham, England
College: North Carolina – Greensboro
Resume: Head Coach, Greensboro College (1998-2001), Assistant Coach, University of North Carolina Greensboro (2001-2004), Head Coach, Elon University (2005-2014), Orlando City SC ProAcademy Director (2014-2015)
Record: 94-68-23, Nine seasons, Elon University
Family: Wife, Elise. Children, Naomi (17), Caleb (13).