FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When Clint Peay signed on to coach Revolution II, mere days before Thanksgiving in November 2019, the club’s Technical Director Curt Onalfo noted there are few people in the sport who he trusted more when it comes to evaluating and developing rising young talent. Over his first several months in the role, his first as a head coach in the pros, Peay has proven that trust was well placed. His Revs II side is off to a solid start in its first-ever season, claiming a point and a clean sheet in its USL League One opener on July 25.
In an uncertain year, Peay now has a 16-game regular season at his disposal to develop and evaluate the Revolution’s crop of rising players of the future. The pressure is on Peay to implement a program that fulfills the team’s primary mission: developing players for success at the game’s highest levels and strengthening the connection between the academy and MLS side.
“It’s a great organization,” Peay said. “Obviously, the Kraft family does a great job of supporting soccer in the New England area and the organization itself. They’ve hired some quality people and it makes my job easier and makes it enjoyable, and that’s where I’d say the best has been in terms of working here daily.”
While player development is the focal point of his approach, any team coached by the Columbia, Md. native is going to have an eye on three points, as well. Peay’s success as a player in the late-1980s and 1990s was unrivaled, as he won seven straight champions across high school, college, and MLS.
In his playing days as a defender, Peay was known for his hard-nosed style and leadership abilities. As a senior on his Oakland Mills (Md.) High School varsity team, Peay led the program to the state title and a number-one ranking in Maryland. In the four years that followed at Virginia, under current Revolution head coach Bruce Arena, Peay and the Cavaliers won four straight national championships – the first NCAA Division I program to accomplish the feat.
Arena and Peay’s paths crossed several more times. In the 1996 Olympics, Peay was selected to Arena’s squad that finished third in group play. Earlier that year, Peay was again taken by Arena in the inaugural MLS Draft, and the two went on to win the first two MLS Cups for the Black and Red.
“It’s about standards and expectations,” Peay said of Arena’s leadership. “Bruce always demanded out of his staff and players the best and didn’t accept excuses. For me, that’s key to the growth of our young players, is that they recognize what the standards are and that they’re held accountable to his standards.”
After his playing days, Peay made the natural transition to coaching. During his early years, he bounced around the mid-Atlantic, garnering experience as an assistant coach at Georgetown, George Mason and Davidson. In 2009, Peay earned his first head coaching position with the University of Richmond Spiders, where he spent four seasons. In 2012, Peay stepped away from the college game, taking another head coaching position in the U.S. Youth National Team system, working with the Under-17s, Under-15s, and Under-14s during his tenure.
Throughout those early years in coaching, he often evoked the wisdom picked up from Arena during his playing days.
“I think having a method to your madness is the biggest key,” Peay said. “He was a guy, and still is a guy, who there’s always a plan to what he’s trying to accomplish. I think that piece of coaching is important to deliver your message and to be consistent.
“I would say that I’m more purposeful and break the game down into more details now. I would say from college to now, I’ve grown more patient with individuals and players. I’ve just developed a rapport to communicate with players better.”
While Revolution II is his first head coaching gig in the professional ranks, Peay spent 2019 as an assistant for North Carolina FC in the USL Championship. There, he learned important details about how to coach players at the next level, while continuing to nurture their growth as developing players. Nevertheless, Peay knew that launching Revs II for its inaugural campaign was always going to be a challenge.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced a delayed start to the League One season and a prolonged hiatus from training, an entirely new set of obstacles confronted Peay and his staff. Every training session is critical to a young player’s development, and multiple months off could be detrimental to the progress they had made during the team’s first preseason. However, Peay and his staff took the situation in stride, and used the new-look workouts as a way to get his younger Academy players up to speed with some of the more experienced players on the squad.
“We were always, as a new organization, going to be in somewhat of a learning curve of how to do it, and I think more than anything it took us a lot longer [because of COVID-19],” Peay said. “It maybe helped that because we had small groups and isolated training, it was a soft landing in terms of bringing in some young guys without throwing them into the fire too quickly.”
Now with the team’s regular-season unveiling -- and his pro head coaching debut -- in the rear view mirror, Peay is not looking back. With 15 games left to go in the season, each a crucial opportunity to learn and grow for his young squad, Peay knows the hardest work is still ahead.
“It was good to see the guys. We put a lot of work in and they have progressed, but by no means do we think we’re finished,” Peay reflected. “I was very pleased, but I know that we still have a long road ahead of us.”