Exclusive Interview with Mike Ammann
I recently had the opportunity to interview Mike Ammann, who had an extensive playing career in England and MLS. Mike was a very talented goalie who had some very tough breaks in his career that have been well documented. In this interview, I was able to catch up with Mike to see what he is doing in the game now and get his thoughts on soccer in America.
SLI: What are you doing now in soccer?
MA: I run a Goalkeeper Academy called 247GK (Twenty Four/Seven Goalkeeper) where we are providing quality training for boys and girls of all ages. I will have a major announcement this summer that is going to be exciting in more ways than one. We are putting together a world class group that is providing goalkeepers and parents with proper guidance regarding every aspect of the game. I am very excited about this announcement and know this is going to have a major impact on the game. I wish I could tell you more but soon enough.
SLI: What brought you back to the game after having been away from it for a number of years?
MA: I was helping coach my oldest sons team with John O'Hara (George Mason Asst) and about 3 years ago he decided to play in goal. I looked around and saw the lack of quality goalkeeper coaches and decided to do something about it. I have always coached and trained both field players and goalkeepers but think there is a big void for goalkeepers. Johno has been a big part of my son's development in addition to working with me. Johno and I have really enjoyed working together and share the same thoughts about development.
My son is 15 and it's fun to see him progressing in the game. He heads to Florida on Sunday with the U17's for a few days and friendlies in Bradenton. He was also just invited by Norwich to preseason July 8-26 in England. He has a Swiss passport which helps with him getting over there. He has been to Spurs, Brighton, Fulham and Brentford for training and is hoping to impress them enough to stay over there.
SLI: Going forward, what are you hoping to achieve in the game?
MA: This announcement is going to touch on things that have been in the works for the last couple of years. We see the need to provide a unique value to not only the players but the parents as well. As the parent of a goalkeeper I know firsthand what things come up and issues that families have. I am in a position now that allows us to do things different than most. What I mean by that is making decisions based on what’s best for the players and parents and not just chasing a dollar. I make sure that we provide a service that everyone benefits from.
SLI: You were able to accomplish a lot during your playing career in a relatively short period of time. Are there any things that you wish you would have been able to do?
MA: Playing professional soccer is something that was a goal of mine for a long time. Fortunately for me I was able to reach that and play some good years before doing too much damage to my body. It’s very easy to look back on the years and say I wish I did this or I wish I did that differently and if I knew then what I know now I would have had more success. I have learned more about the game and the goalkeeper position since retiring than I knew as a player. When you are playing you are extremely selfish, and you have to be in order to make it, but I see the big picture now and that is what I try to pass on to my coaches and players that we work with. If there was one thing I wish I was able to do while playing is to wear the US jersey for the full team. I was able to play for the “B” team prior to the 1994 World Cup and I have to tell you that team was a great group of players and coaches. John Ellinger, Tom Fitzgerald and Peter Mellor put together a young group of players and provided an environment that was the best I had ever been a part of. The full team had Meola, Keller, Friedel and Sommer in the mix so I was on the outside looking in.
SLI: What do you think of MLS today and what does the league need to do in order to continue growing?
MA: The league has definitely changed over the years and continues to grow. Going back to my earlier comment about being selfish as a player, I had a hard time understanding why certain decisions were made by management and not in the best interest of the players. But I can see that decisions were made for the long haul and continued growth of the league. It’s exciting to see the influx of new money coming into the game, former players involved in different levels of clubs, games being played on network tv, and the soccer specific stadiums. Things continue to get better and a number of non-soccer fans are starting to talk more often about the game and that’s exciting.
The league needs to continue to focus on the casual fan. We have two different sets of fans in this country, the traditional European fan that has grown up watching the game outside of the US and then we have the new generation that is into soccer because their kids play and they see the benefits of their kids playing the sport. The tough part is getting people that did not grow up playing the game or don’t have kids currently playing to actually go to a game. I think the atmosphere that the new teams in the league have created is incredible. When someone goes to a game there has to be a reason for them to come back. It’s not just the product on the field that excites the casual fan. Hopefully teams can continue to focus on that atmosphere and not get caught up with the other major sports that charge an arm and a leg to attend a game.
SLI: What are your thoughts about the current state of soccer in the U.S.?
MA: Major changes need to occur in order that compete at the world class level. Obviously we are trying to fix things with development and Claudio has his hands full trying to implement these changes. It’s definitely a difficult task and not something that is going to change overnight. I feel the big picture plan is in place but the execution of this plan is the key to its success. I am trying to do my part in passing on what I know and that is all I have control over.
SLI: The U.S. National team has always had at least one top goalie that seems to be a key to the team’s success. Who besides Tim Howard do you think can play at a high level for the national team?
MA: We have definitely had the luxury of quality depth at the goalkeeping position over the years. I am surprised that no one has stepped up and been the clear second and third choice behind Timmy. There are reasons for this and I have a few opinions but they are only as an outsider. I think that someone that is not currently in the fold is going to have to be given a chance. We seem to have our favorites and chosen ones but I think we have a couple of others that have what it takes if they were given a chance. Time will tell but hopefully Timmy can stay healthy can continue doing what he does for us. He has always come up big and allows us to stay in games.