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Vaqueros Insider Interview with Academy Director Mark Snell

Vaqueros Insider Interview with Academy Director Mark Snell

Part 1 of 3

Where are you from originally?

I am from a small town named Lockport just north of Buffalo, NY not far from the Canadian border.

Are you a Buffalo Bills fan?

Yes! Bills fan for life!

Why did you move to Texas?

When I was coaching college soccer in NY I used to come to Dallas 4-5 times per year recruiting as it was known as a hotbed for talent. College soccer is roughly 3 months per year on the field coaching and 9 months off the field recruiting. The club system was very organized here in North Texas and more importantly, I could be on the field coaching year round. I had several college teammates that lived here and encouraged me to make the move. I have been here since 2003 and its home now.

When did you start playing soccer?

Soccer wasn’t popular where I grew up so I really didn’t start playing until I was 12 or 13. I played pick up football, baseball, basketball, soccer and street hockey in my neighborhood. I also was a pretty fast runner and in 6th grade I won a city-wide cross country race.

Did you play in high school?

All the older guys in the neighborhood played soccer for our high school during the Fall season. So when I was in 8th grade they asked me to be the manager of the high school varsity team which was two blocks from my house. Basically, the manager was the ball boy and the water boy during practices. There was only one goalkeeper on the team, so every day when they scrimmaged they threw me in goal, but they had a difficult time trying to score on me. That’s how I became a goalkeeper instead of a field player. I was fortunate enough to be a High School All America my senior year and several years ago I was inducted into my High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

Did you play club?

I played with a Polish team called the White Eagles in Buffalo and Polonia White Eagles in nearby Rochester. All the teams in those adult leagues back then were ethnic based teams. I was usually one of the youngest on the team.

Where did you go to college?

I went to Hartwick College in Upstate NY. It was Division 1 power and while I was there we went to two NCAA Final Four tournaments and won a national championship in my sophomore year. The team was super competitive so I didn’t even get a chance to play until my senior year, but I made the most of it because pro scouts got to see me play. Jim Lennox (Hartwick coach) ran the program almost like a professional team. So it prepared me for the next level.

You also played pro?

I had a few tryouts and ended up signing with the Edmonton Drillers of the North American Soccer League (NASL). During my time there I was sent on loan to a 3rd division team in Germany for a year, and also got to train with Borussia Moenchengladbach who at the time was one of the top Bundesliga and European teams. After my loan was up, there were a lot of financial problems with the NASL so I ended up playing professionally indoors for three more years in the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) with the Buffalo Stallions and the Wichita Wings.

What did you do after you stopped playing?

I went back to my hometown of Lockport and started working in sales, then owned my own business for about eight years. There wasn’t a club system like there is now in the area. But I always knew I wanted to coach. One day I literally had one of those “looked yourself in the mirror” moments and decided I wanted to get into coaching fulltime. So I contacted my coach at Hartwick College and he was kind enough to give me the opportunity to be one of his assistants.

When did you start your coaching career?

I formally started my coaching career when I went back to my alma mater Hartwick College and was an assistant for five years. It was a real honor to mentor one of the top coaches in the US, Jim Lennox, who was also my college coach. He was a US National Team coach with several age groups. He would tell stories about two of the top coaches in the world that he had met: Dettmar Cramer (Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen) and Rinus Michels (Ajax, Barcelona) and talk about their tactical conversations he had with them. Jim was way ahead of his time regarding tactics and I learned so much from him. It was a great experience which prepared me for my journey into coaching.

Do you have a college degree?

I left early in my senior year to play professionally, so when I was an assistant at Hartwick College I was fortunate that I could take classes for free. I had one semester and a thesis to do to graduate with a BA in Mathematics. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do after being out of the classroom for over 15 years. But in the end, it was worth it. I received my Mathematics degree in 2002.

What soccer leagues and teams do you like to watch?

I watch a lot of games, record them and study tactical trends. My favorite leagues are the Bundesliga (Germany) and La Liga (Spain) but I also watch Liga MX (Mexico), Ligue 1 (France), Serie A (Italy) and the Premiership (England). Last season my favorite teams were TSG Hoffenheim and SSC Napoli because they are playing good attacking soccer and are interesting to watch tactically. I used to be a diehard Arsenal fan but have been discouraged what has been happening there lately, but hopefully, their coaching change to Unai Emery can turn things around. Other teams that interest me are Barcelona, Real Betis, Bayer Leverkusen, RB Leipzig, Manchester City, Monaco and Chelsea, all because of their coaches.

Do you have any favorite coaches?

I am intrigued with coaches that bring new and interesting ideas to the game. Pep Guardiola (Manchester City) Thomas Tuchel (former Borussia Dortmund and now PSG), Maurizio Sarri (former SSC Napoli and now Chelsea), Quique Setien (Real Betis) and Julian Nagelsmann (TSG Hoffenheim).

Do you have any favorite players?

Currently, I enjoy watching the youngsters such as Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona), Isco, Marco Asensio (Real Madrid) and Chucky Lozano (PSV). But I never get tired of watching Sergio Busquets (Barcelona).

Do you like living in Fort Worth?

I have been living here for almost three years and love it. It is a big city with a small town feel to it. People are very friendly here. Downtown is such a cool place, and there so much going on. Sundance Square and Magnolia areas are my favorites.

Do you have any hobbies?

I am a gym rat and weight train almost every day. I read a lot (mostly coaching and player development articles/books) and if I am not watching soccer I usually am watching the food shows. Although I am not very good, I do like to cook. I consider myself a life-long learner and I am always trying to learn new things. Cultures from around the world really interest me as well.

What’s your favorite television show?

Andrew Zimmern Bizarre Foods America, anything on the Food Network and Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown (RIP).

What music do you listen to?

I still prefer the classic rock groups that I grew up with. Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and the list goes on. I also like blues, jazz, and reggae.

What’s your favorite food?

Mexican, Italian and Caribbean. I like all spicy foods.

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