FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Curt Onalfo has a keen understanding of the challenges facing the New England Revolution as they build a USL squad from scratch – an understanding shaped from experience as he served as the first-ever head coach of LA Galaxy II in 2014.
So when Onalfo, now the Technical Director for the Revolution, began his search for Revolution II’s inaugural head coach, he knew exactly what qualities were necessary. Familiarity with MLS. Familiarity with USL. Experience in youth development. An ability to adapt on the fly. A competitive edge.
Enter Clint Peay.
“From just a coaching experience standpoint, he has all the qualities we were looking for in somebody that’s going to be in charge of our second team,” Onalfo said. “In terms of just being able to fit into the philosophy that we have, he checked all the boxes.”
Peay is familiar with MLS, having played under Revolution sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena during the early title-winning days at D.C. United. He’s familiar with USL, having served as an assistant coach with North Carolina FC this past year. He has extensive experience in youth development, having coached with the Under-14, Under-15, and Under-17 teams at U.S. Soccer, and at several colleges.
That history of working with younger players – shaping them and developing them for the rise to the professional game – was the major selling point for Onalfo, who was also a teammate of Peay’s on the 1999 D.C. United squad that claimed a third MLS Cup title in four years.
“There are a lot of objectives when you’re running a second team, but priority number one is to develop players,” said Onalfo. “That’s the most important thing. It’s not about results like the first team is about – it’s about developing players, number one.”
Peay agrees, but also notes that building a winning culture at Revolution II will be part of the development process – and that’s a process the 46-year-old has enjoyed throughout his coaching career as he’s worked extensively with younger players.
“When you look in their eyes and you start talking to them, you can see that it’s all in front of them, and they’re super excited to come out every day and work, and train, and try to get better,” Peay said. “When you’re dealing with younger players, that energy they have to want to make it, you can feed off it.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with younger players. I’ve always enjoyed the energy that they have about wanting to make it to whatever aspirations of player they want to be. That’s going to be one of the things that I’m sure I’ll continue to thrive off, and look forward to every day.”
Peay is also looking forward to working with Arena – who coached him not only at D.C. United, but also to four straight NCAA Division I national championships at Virginia – and said he envisions “weekly, if not daily” meetings with Onalfo to build a pathway from Academy, to Revs II, to the first team.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Onalfo. “This is not something that’s going to just take a month to get right. This is a longer-term plan. When you’re talking about developing players, you have to be nurturing, but you have to be demanding. Those are all the things that are part of the culture that we’ll be implementing with the second team and moving forward.”
“Working with Curt is going to be great,” said Peay. “He’s easy going, but he’s tough and he’s firm, as well, in terms of being committed. He wants to make this thing work, and that attracts me. I want to make sure that this thing can be successful.”
If step one in making Revolution II a success was hiring Peay, then step two is building a roster. The squad will feature several Academy players – from both the Under-19s and Under-17s, Onalfo said – and Revolution first-team players either in need of minutes or recovering from injury. But the group will also have a core of players signed to USL contracts, and that’s a process that’s well underway.
“We’ve got a little work to do,” Peay said with a laugh. “I think it’s exciting to build a roster. It can be an exercise in patience, at times, but this is part of what you need to do in order to get this thing running.”
Peay said there have been “preliminary conversations” about several potential players, but reiterated that patience will be critical as the Revs keep their sights on the ultimate long-term objective, which is using Revolution II to bridge the gap between youth and the pros, and flesh out a full developmental model.
“We know this first year will be a challenge in terms of the roster build, but we want to make sure that we don’t rush into poor decisions, and that we make decisions that we think will benefit this team and the organization as a whole in the coming years,” said Peay. “That’ll be important.”