Talent recognition and scouting has become a major talking point in the US Soccer landscape as of late. The soccer public seems to feel that many deserving players may be slipping through the cracks. Different players develop at different times, but late bloomers tend to be overlooked for other players who have been hyped up or put on a pedestal since they first kicked a ball. Those who develop later in life must fight for a second chance at recognition.
I sat down with one man looking to help more players gain that recognition and get those players more opportunities. His name is Eric Bucchere, one of Northern California’s premier eyes for talent. Although he might not tell you that, his resume for talent recognition speaks for itself. Eric was most recently the lead assistant coach for Reno 1868 in the USL. Before that he was the head coach at the San Jose Earthquakes PDL affiliate, Burlingame Dragons, for two years. Eric also has experience within the US Soccer Development Academy, having worked for both the San Diego Surf and the San Jose Earthquakes academies. Multiple players from his 2015 and 2016 PDL teams have gone on to sign with MLS teams and he even had one of those players, Nick Lima, called into the USMNT camp just last week.
Eric created Path2Pro Soccer, a scouting combine that will take place on January 19th and 20th in San Francisco, California at Negoesco Stadium on the campus of USF. The combine invites 120 of the top players who were not invited to the MLS combine or who have been struggling to get a proper look from pro teams in general. The combine will feature scouts and coaches from many of the top West Coast MLS, USL, PDL and NPSL teams.
“I don’t really think scouting is about having a great eye for talent.
I think it’s just about watching players and games, a lot.”
MP: Can you start by talking a little about yourself and how you got into coaching? And what has taken you out of coaching at the current time?
EB: I really decided I wanted to coach as a career when I was in college at UC Santa Cruz playing for Paul Holocher. Paul is an amazing coach and an absolutely wonderful guy who got the best out of me, and also made me realize that coaching is a profession where you could really impact people’s lives for the better.
I’ve been a coach for 12 years, and have been lucky to have had quite a bit of success. Path2Pro Soccer was growing rapidly and is something I feel strongly and passionate about, and the time was right to go full-time with the business.
MP: You recently coached for both the PDL Burlingame Dragons FC and for Reno 1868 FC in the USL. What were those experiences like and how were they similar and different?
EB: Every coaching situation is different but I’ve always approached coaching at all levels the same way; which is to completely dive in. We ran the Dragons the same way we ran things in Reno, extremely professionally and with total effort and commitment every day.
I’m a big fan of the PDL, and really enjoyed my experience with the Dragons. The team was successful in lots of ways and that success is still continuing now. This offseason, JT Marcinkowski signed a homegrown deal with the San Jose Earthquakes, Corey Baird signed a homegrown deal with Real Salt Lake, and Nick Lima just got called into US National team camp. Our 2016 squad had several guys advance into professional soccer, and I expect more to make the jump this year. Danny Musovski, Josh Morton, and Drew Skundrich are all at the 2018 MLS combine this week and are likely to get drafted. So getting to work with and seeing those guys advance their careers was awesome. I truly believe the PDL is a wonderful pathway and opportunity for young players to grow and improve, and prepare for becoming a professional soccer player.
Coaching with Reno 1868 in the USL was fantastic as well. Building an expansion team from scratch and advancing to the playoffs and breaking the all-time USL scoring record was a great accomplishment. But the best for me was seeing some of our best guys; Jimmy Ockford, Chris Wehan and Luis Felipe Fernandes sign MLS deals with the Quakes after the season. Can’t wait to see those guys continue to thrive.
MP: Can you talk about some of the things that you notice in terms of coaching development and structure of getting coaching licensing in the US that you like, and something that might need improving?
EB: For me, coaching licenses are more about the piece of paper then they are about learning. When I’m putting together a coaching staff it’s the last thing I look for. I care way more about actual coaching ability, honesty, character, and passion for the sport than about what letter US soccer has stamped on your coaching license. If I was a young coach right now I’d reach out to coaches I admired and ask if I could come watch their sessions. If you’re in the Bay Area you can probably go watch Kevin Grimes, Simon Tobin and Jeremy Gunn run a practice if you just reach out and ask. And it will be free. I think NorCal Premier does a good job of bringing in some excellent coaches to run sessions and do clinics for coaches to watch, and the cost to attend is low. There are lots of different ways to learn and educate yourself, and personally I always found that I learned more while coaching or watching coaches in an actual team environment than at a course environment, but everyone is different and learns differently.
MP: You are part of the USL/PDL scouting network. What goes into that program?
EB: It’s great, and it’s one of the ways the PDL is getting it right and helping grow the game. For me, the USL/PDL scouting network is about making sure that if guys are off the PDL radar start doing well, that they will get noticed and rewarded for that. Some players plateau and some guys really push on and elevate their game, and a lot of times that goes unnoticed. It’s sometimes easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that if a player was good at 16 he will be good at 18, and at 22. But that’s not always the case and it can also be true that a player who wasn’t so good at 18 is now doing really well at age 22 and should get a shot to prove that at the next level.
MP: You seem to have a good eye for talent, including recognizing and developing talents like Nick Lima who got his first USMNT call up or Corey Baird among others. What goes into recognizing potential talent and where do you think the US is at as a whole in terms of scouting talent?
EB: I think scouting is one of the areas that has the most room for growth in soccer in the United States. If I were a GM of a professional team I would have a scout on staff at every youth club, college and PDL team in the country. I don’t really think scouting is about having a great eye for talent. I think it’s just about watching players and games, a lot, and there are way too many games that go unwatched, and way too many players that have never had the chance to play in front of a professional scout.
MP: You created Path2Pro Soccer, based in San Francisco to help local players get recognized. What led you to start this project and can you tell us a little about it?
EB: I started Path2Pro Soccer because as a coach in college soccer and in the PDL for many years I witnessed firsthand how many players, who in my opinion were good enough to play professionally, weren’t getting opportunities to do so. After our first combine in 2017 we had six players sign professional contracts that potentially would not have been able to do so had they not attended our combine. That’s something I’m really proud of, and I expect Path2Pro to continue to provide opportunities for players to follow and achieve their dreams. I also hope to continue to provide opportunities to coaches and scouts of professional teams to see a high-quality group of players in a short amount of time, who can likely add value to their roster. We have an excellent group of players this year at the San Francisco combine, and I’m really excited to see which guys can make the jump and sign professional deals.
MP: Who are some of the teams that will be involved at this year’s combine?
EB: Portland Timbers, Timbers 2, San Jose Earthquakes, Reno 1868 FC, Sporting Kansas City, Swope Park Rangers, LAFC, Colorado Switchbacks FC, Fresno FC, Sacramento Republic FC, San Diego 1904 FC, San Diego Sockers, and LA Galaxy II will be there. On top of that we have about 15 NPSL/PDL teams coming.
MP: Do you hope to maybe set up some more combines like this throughout the country?
EB: We have an additional pro combine planned in San Diego this August and a few other pretty exciting plans that we will announce soon.
MP: Is there anything else you’d like to tell the readers of Midfield Press about either yourself or Path2Pro Soccer?
EB: If you’re a fan of soccer in the Bay Area, come out and watch next weekend. The combine takes place from 9am-3pm on January 19th and 20th at Negoesco Stadium at USF. Admission is free. You’ll enjoy the level and might get a chance to see some future pros in action.