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A Legendary Eritrean-American Soccer/Football Coach.

INTERVIEW WITH AN ERITREAN-AMERICAN SOCCER LEGEND “COACH BERHANE ANDEBERHAN”.

Interview Conducted on December 19, 2012 ·


When we think of Eritrean soccer legends we think of those who have played in the past in Eritrea. However we also have the ultimate Eritrean soccer coach who has made a big name for himself right here in the United States. He did it in a very humble way despite helping to lead the top women’s soccer team in the world the USA by helping create some of the biggest stars in the women’s game. Coach Berhane Andeberham is a low profile person who attended UCLA in the 70’s way before Meb Kiflezghi one of the most famous American athletes has made a name for himself. The UCLA Eritrean connection seems to bring good results. Coach Andeberhan has extensive coaching experience at US Soccer as well as several Universities. He has also served as a college instructor in the fields of Microbiology and Food Science. Coach Andeberhan holds the Brazilian Professional Coaching License issued by the Brazilian Football Federation as well as the A License of US Soccer. He played his collegiate soccer at UCLA where he earned his BA in Zoology. Subsequently he completed his MS degree in Microbiology at Loma Linda University and is a Doctoral Candidate at Cornell where he has completed work for his PhD in Food Science. As a member of the US Soccer National Staff he served as a Coaching School Instructor, coached the US U20 Women’s National Team, served as Men’s Olympic Festival team coach and Women’s Olympic Festival team coach. He also served as the Western Regional coach for Men, Women’s Olympic Festival Coach and USYSA Girls Western Regional Coach. At the college level he served as CSU Los Angeles Men’s Head Coach, Stanford Women’s Head Coach, Cornell Women’s Head Coach and USC Men’s Assistant Coach. He is currently the Technical Director in charge of the soccer operations for the Sacramento (California) Capital athletic Soccer academy club including establishing the curriculum as well as hiring, directing and supervising the coaching staff. I first learned of this man during my college years as a soccer player where his name frequented the Soccer America magazine a popular weekly that covered college soccer extensively. I recently had a chance to interview this great Eritrean-American who has lots and lots of experience and would like one day to help the Eritrean national team program by contributing to his land of origin just as he has done to his adopted home of the USA. Here below is the interview conducted by last summer. Coach Andeberhan was invited as a guest to the Eritrean sports festival but could not make it at that time. Meanwhile enjoy this personal and an inside look of his incredible career as a coach and an education advocate who has done so much.


1. First and foremost thank you for giving us your time, I think it was well over due. Can you give us a brief description of your life? Where were you born and raised and how you started to get involved in the beautiful game of soccer.

While I have been lucky enough to have enjoyed soccer as a player and a coach, I do not want anyone to think that I am anywhere near the wonderful soccer talents that I grew up watching and admiring in Eritrea. I happened to come to the USA, a country where soccer was not developed at the time, but it gave me a chance to play and eventually coach and learn about coaching in this country and eventually take a professional coaching course in Brazil. My background is a lot more humble than that. I was born and raised in Asmara and like most boys grew up playing football. We played with balls made out of socks and did so bare foot and I cannot imagine a happier time than that! On Sundays we went to the stadium whether we had money to buy a ticket or not. More often than not we did not have the funds. But being part of the atmosphere by climbing advertisement placards near the stadium or standing on the small adjacent hill from where you could see about a third of the stadium field was a delightful adventure. What you could not see you used your imagination and interpretation of the roar of the crowd to decide what must have happened. All I ever wanted to do as a boy was play football. There were some “obstacles” to overcome at least from a kid’s point of view. My father was a teacher and I always heard “do your homework” and I did. Not because I understood the value of education like my parents did but so I could go and play football. I was an excellent homework finisher although I never understood my parents’ motivation to force that on me. Another minor obstacle was that my parents wee Seventh Day Adventists and one was not allowed to play football on Saturday, the Sabbath. The way I often overcame this obstacle was that on many weekends I would go to visit my aunt’s family in Idaga Hamous. Then on Saturdays I could play football with some of my classmates who lived in Ambagalliano out of the scrutiny of my parents. My father was fascinated and amused but forgiving when I told him this part recently. As a result, I became a decent soccer player in my neighborhood of Settanta Otto. However, the reality was that at no age would I ever have made a select team of Asmara much less Eritrea if there were a selection made. But I loved to play and gained a great deal of joy and confidence out of football. Meanwhile, not being allowed to play unless I finished my homework or maintained good grades, worked in my favor and I also became a good student.Eventually I went to school in Arusi (Ethiopia) where the church we grew up in, had an excellent boarding school and it was from there that I took the school leaving exams which were part of the qualifications that earned me a scholarship to study in the USA.

2. You are one of the early Eritrean immigrants that made their way to the U.S.A and you came here at the height of the growth of the game of soccer in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, how do you feel about the game today and the game then in this country? Can you also discuss briefly your contribution to the game’s growth in the U.S.A?

When I arrived in the US it was strictly to study science and playing soccer was not a consideration. When I arrived at UCLA I saw some students playing a kick around game and asked if I could join. When we finished playing they asked me to join them in starting a varsity team at UCLA. Most of us were foreign students and football was not played much in the US and UCLA was not much interested in supporting us. We formed a club and played in the Los Angeles men’s leagues while continuing to insist to be recognized by UCLA. Finally my sophomore year we were recognized as a varsity team with minimal support but we were ecstatic. It must be emphasized we were all serious students unlike is the case with many varsity teams nowadays. It was a wonderful time and it helped my acclimation to a new country. The team continued to do well and by my junior year we made the playoffs. My senior year I was proud to have been elected captain of the team and we were NCAA finalists. I subsequently got into coaching by pure accident. One of my former teammates asked me to help with a youth soccer camp. While I was confident about my playing skills, I had no idea what to do about coaching. I learned quickly and found out what an amazing charge one gets out of teaching children to play. Coincidentally the US Soccer Federation had started to conduct some coaching schools and the week after my first camp coaching experience there was a “C” coaching course being offered in Southern California and I took the course. I was immediately hooked! I loved coaching and learning about coaching! While going to graduate school I volunteered to coach with many youth teams and continued my coaching education eventually earning the highest level “A” Coaching License. Six months after earning my A license, the national coaching director Coach Walt Chysowych hired me to be part of the teaching Staff of the US Soccer Coaching Schools where I served for nearly 30 years. It is during those years I had opportunities to coach various regional youth teams, Olympic Festival Men’s and Women’s teams as well as the U20 Women’s National team. The game was getting wide acceptance in the US and youth soccer was especially growing by leaps and bounds and I was fortunate enough to be involved in my sport.

3. Coach Berhane you have amazing credentials athletically as a player, and then a coach at the collegiate level, then at the national and international level, you have also been active in young people’s lives for many years by setting up a great example to follow including with your education where you have a PHD in food sciences, how do you balance the two Academics and athletics and what advise do you have to young people about being a student athlete?

Just as it was during my childhood, balancing academics and football has not been easy during my professional life. However, I was also very fortunate. When I was working on my MS degree in Microbiology, I continued to volunteer and assist with a couple of youth teams. This kept me in the game although my playing opportunities were curtailed significantly and father time was also sending a strong message and I did more coaching than playing. After finishing that program, I started a graduate program as USC and while there I was asked to coach the team by a professor who was determined to keep the team viable. I volunteered and coached the team and we had a very successful season. I was not happy with my graduate program and as I was contemplating withdrawing from it, I was approached by Cal State Los Angeles to coach their Men’s team. I told them that while I love coaching that I am really interested in teaching in my field. They proceeded to hire me as a Microbiology Instructor and allowed me to teach fewer units during the soccer season so that I could coach the Men’s team. Instantly all the conflicts between my academic and soccer interests were resolved. I taught and coached at Cal State Los Angeles for nearly a decade. While there I had the privilege of coaching some amazing young men many of whom have gone to be successful in playing and coaching at the highest levels. Perhaps the most famous of my former players is Martin Vasquez who was a standout professional player in Mexico and in the US. He is now a high powered coach who last year served as Jurgen Klinsman’s assistant at Bayern Munich. Many others have also embraced coaching some on a full time basis and some part time. Two of my former players are Directors of youth clubs in California.

4. You have been an instrumental person in the popularity of the US women’s national team and their success in the international game and have even coached some of the best players on the American teams during your coaching career at major universities such as Stanford, Cornell and UCLA, can you talk about your experiences with helping advance individual players achieve excellent careers?

While I honestly cannot take too much credit for the successes of players I coached, I have been fortunate enough to coach many players that have eventually represented the US. I am proud of my contributions but they must be taken in the proper context. Many of the youth players that I selected and coached on the U20 National team eventually represented the US on the National team. In 1991 I was part of the US delegation at the first Women’s World Cup held in Guanzhou, China. I had had the privilege of coaching a few of the players at one point or another. They included Michelle Akers, Mary Harvey, Joy Faucett, Julie Foudy, Amy Allman, Lori Henry, Shannon Higgins and Brandi Chastain. Prior to the establishment of the first Women’s World Cup there were also many players that were pioneers of the Women’s game that I had the privilege of coaching in youth and elite women’s teams who had been selected to the National team before there was an international event. These players included Gretchen Gegg, Denise Boyer, Lorraine Figgins, Sharon Remer, Cindy Gordon, Sandy Gordon to name a few.

At Stanford I was able to build a varsity program from the ground up and was able to attract a couple of the youth national players such as Julie Foudy, Sarah Rafanelli and Heather McIntyre. Although at the time there were no scholarships for soccer at Stanford, the school attracts many excellent players who also happen to be excellent students. A few of them were willing to forego scholarship offers in order to study at Stanford. Using a few special players as a backbone of the team we were able to build an excellent program. When I arrived at Stanford they had never won a varsity game. My first year posted a record of 4-11-4, which was amazing considering our talent. But the effort and desire of the players was tremendous and we built a system that the players enjoyed and it was effective. The next year we just added Heather McIntyre who was a sweeper on the youth National Team. With the added year of practice and her contributions the second year we were 17-5 and nationally ranked in the top 20. The following year we added Julie Foudy and we were in the top ten and as high as #2 in the country.

I am equally proud of the many young people I coached who have now professional lives in may fields and claim that playing soccer on a team was instrumental in the successes they now enjoy in their chosen professions. Two of the most prominent ones are Marc Charlton who has build a major cabinet making corporation that is in extreme high demand. He believes the work ethic and teamwork and commitment to excellence he learned while playing sport has a great deal to do with his success in business. Another one who was an excellent player and an outstanding student is Javier Morales who credits his experiences as a team member in helping him in his work as a high level manager for an electronic communications company.

5. As an Eritrean-American you also happen to be focused on the growth of the game by helping out Eritrean kids acquire soccer balls with your organization “Soccer balls for Eritrea” along with another Eritrean colleague, can you discuss your plans for your organization?

My friend Berhane Ghebrehiwet and I have had similar childhood memories and current dreams for Eritrea. So far we have made very small attempts to collect footballs and take to Eritrea whenever either one of us goes home. The project is called “Soccer Balls for Eritrea” and we want to grow it and get the support of more people. Our dream is to eventually grow it to be “Soccer Balls and School Supplies for Eritrea”. We have had some challenges in our attempt to obtain nonprofit status. But now my club here has given us permission to operate under their non-profit status and we are hoping to grow the project. People can help by providing new soccer balls or funds. Every penny will be used to send equipment to Eritrea.

6. Coach, I first heard about your legend during my college playing days in South Carolina while reviewing soccer America magazines and seeing that distinct Eritrean name, I then run into a couple of US women’s National team players while covering the US national soccer scene for a regional TV network in the 90’s, once the players found out of my Eritrean origin, they proceeded to tell me about you and your great efforts in helping to shape them up, they spoke very positively about you, how does that make you feel even though I know you to be a very humble person?

The way I look at coaching is the same as teaching. As a teacher your goal is to share your knowledge and help make it your students’ knowledge. When they take it and make it their own it feels absolutely wonderful. Coaching gives you a similar positive feeling. However, coaching is even more primal as you are trying to teach individuals and then coordinate 11 of them at a time to work cooperatively to produce something beautiful. Often this is lost in our preoccupation with winning and losing. In addition to the competence of the individual the collective coordinated expression is exhilarating. And the lessons learned over and above the athletic performance are invaluable.

7. You are now in charge of a very large youth soccer association in California, how can young Eritreans and others benefit from your services?

I am not sure how to answer that other than to say I am ready and willing to cooperate with my countryfolk in any way possible. I am happy to have finally made acquaintance with the Eritrean Football Federation in the US. It was my intention to attend the event in the Bay Area but unfortunately I fell ill and was unable to attend. I fully intend to continue to stay in touch and see how I can take part.

8. Can you talk a little about your child hood soccer heroes and players that have inspired you?

Often in my coaching and in speaking in coaching seminars I mention this. It was the combination of heroes to emulate and an abundance of time to try things freely that is the reason so many youngsters grow up to be excellent players. As a kid I know all the major league players by nickname of course. As children we recited the heroics of players we saw and once we did not see. How Gurade split a soccer ball with his shot, Fessehaye Dessalegn who never retaliated against fouls but just dusted himself off and continued to play often winning the sportsmanship trophy as a result. I saw Fessehaye Sechi score with two bicycle kicks in the same game. We bragged how Wedi Mariano was the best goalkeeper in the World. We admired Berhe Batata who was a great forward for Mercato and then became a national centre back. We told anyone who would listen how Tele was just like Brazil and their Kudda we even attempted to imitate. We regaled about the elegance of Wedi Kichin, the composure of Kiflom and the dribbling of Italo and the free kicks of Luciano. I can go on and on! One of the greatest joys of my recent visit to Eritrea was seeing many of my heroes still playing on Sunday mornings at Red Sea school grounds. Berhe Goitom was kind enough to take me and my nephews and nieces there and it was beyond description. Despite their advanced years they still had the touch and elegance I remember from my childhood, the childlike enjoyment of true athletes and the fiery competition of real professionals. Congratulations to Coach Berhane and we hope that as a new policy change towards the building of a strong national soccer team in Eritrea, The Eritrean soccer federation will give him an opportunity to share in some of his knowledge and ability for better national teams. Mike Seium Erisportsnews.com

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