Interim head-coach Wolde Harris: Switchbacks can still make the Playoffs

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Wolde Harris
Photo courtesy of Isiash Downing.

Editorial (July 12, 2019) — Wolde Harris is a winner. During his time at Clemson University, he scored 76 goals and set numerous records as he routinely featured among the nation’s top scorers, earning him a place in the Clemson Hall of Fame in 2017.

Similarly, he topped the A-League scoring charts with the Colorado Foxes, before lighting up MLS with the Colorado Rapids, New England Revolution and Kansas City Wizards. He starred for the Jamaican National Team. He notched almost a goal every three games and rounding out his international career winning the Caribbean Cup.

Now, Harris faces perhaps the biggest challenge of his career. As the new interim head coach of the USL Championship Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, he needs to take all his experiences, everything he’s learned as both a player and a coach, his winning mentality and spirit and use it to help a team that’s hurting.

As assistant coach for the past four years, Harris knows this team inside out and has no shortage of belief in their ability. Last Word on Soccer got to talk at length with him about how he intends to apply his coaching methods to help propel the team to the playoffs. It’s a lofty goal for a club currently second from bottom in the Western Conference. However, if Harris can help the Switchbacks secure a post-season spot not only will that be good for the team, it will undoubtedly position him to achieve an important personal goal in the process.

And as Wolde Harris has demonstrated throughout his career, he’s all about goals.

LWOS: Congratulations Coach Harris on being named the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC interim Head Coach! How does it feel?

Wolde Harris: Mixed, is the first thing that comes to mind! The way I got this job I have very mixed feelings about because it meant that someone lost their job, someone I’ve been friends with for a very long time and working colleagues with for the last four and half years (referring to former Switchbacks Head Coach Steve Trittschuh). I feel some remorse and sadness, but this is all part of the industry we’re in, which is such a result-orientated business. So these kinds of things happen all the time in football. On the other side of the coin, I’m excited at the opportunity of leading a team. I think most assistant coaches aspire to become head coaches one day and that was my hope, too. I’m fortunate that I had a very good mentor, a very good teacher in Coach Tritt. The respect I have for him and that he has for me is enormous. It will never change on a personal or professional level. So mixed feelings, but now I have to be in the moment. I have to be focus on the season and get back to work.

LWOS: How did you find out you were going to have this opportunity to lead the team?

WH: It was a phone call, followed by a meeting with the club president. We had a short week and it was very difficult. But we had to move to ahead quickly so that was that.

LWOS: Moving from assistant coach to head coach, what are you seeing already as being the biggest change in your work?

WH: For a start, it’s a lot more work! Right now, there isn’t really an official assistant coach so it’s a bit like I’ve taken on two jobs at once. We have good people in a supporting capacity but it’s not quite the same. There’s a lot more on my plate right now. It’s longer days, so hopefully that changes sooner rather than later. There’s a lot to be done to properly prepare the team for the upcoming games. For continuities sake and to keep the team in the right frame of mind, it’ll be good to be in a situation where the day-to-day looks similar to what it was before I took on the head coach job. I’ve put in a request for an assistant coach, there are candidates there, and I believe we’re moving forward with that, but no decision has been made as of yet.

LWOS: I know in talking with some of the players before and after your first game as head coach against OC Blues, they commented on how good the training sessions were leading up to that match, how they were worked hard and really enjoyed it. What were your key areas of focus heading into that game?

WH: First off, I wanted to make sure that the players were 100% focused on the game. That translated to the practice sessions. We asked for total focus, honed-in on particular information that I wanted them to pay attention to. We want to work on very specific things. I’m trying to put them in a position to execute their job to the best of their ability. I think that’s where most players find fun in the game when they’re doing their jobs well and they’re finding success. Hard work is a given and has always been a part of our teams’ blue-collar mentality. Despite how hard we’ve worked this season, we haven’t gotten the results, so I asked the experienced players to show the younger players how it should be done. I thought we went into the OC Blues match well prepared but two lapses in concentration cost us the game, which is something we’re going to look to improve upon in the next game.

LWOS: It’s interesting that in addition to citing the need to improve concentration and continuing to work hard, you also used the word “fun.” Are you seeing the results this season have a bit of a psychological impact on the players, to the point where they’re struggling to enjoy the game?

WH: I think it’s the main thing when it comes to their concentration and cutting out the mistakes we’ve been making. I’d say the psychological part of the game is 95, maybe 98 percent of the game. Even though the games might not be going our way, the ball might not be bouncing in our favor, we’re still doing a lot of things really well. The last game we created four or five clear goalscoring opportunities and another few half-chances. So, it’s not that the talent isn’t there or that the willingness isn’t there. The margin between winning and losing at this level is very small. We have to make sure we cover all our bases. If we continue to work hard, stay focused and maintain our concentration, I believe we’re going to come overcome that. The guys need to know that and keep the belief.

LWOS: How much did it help for the team to have the backing of a record sell-out crowd? That must have felt fantastic when you saw and heard over 5,600 fans in the stands!

WH: It was great to see the stadium full! Seeing Colorado Springs behind us in those numbers, it really helped. Hopefully, we see the same kind of crowd this weekend, getting just a little bit more rowdy and behind the team, and we can feed off that to secure a much-needed victory.

LWOS: Arguably, all we’ve really lacked this season is that finishing touch in front of goal. I don’t suppose there’s any way we can coax you out of player retirement?

WH: Highly unlikely!

LWOS: What are your goals for the team this season now? Are the play-offs still a realistic target?

WH: Making the play-offs has always got to be the goal; it’s what we must strive for. We have 16 games left, so still have nearly half a season remaining. With the way the playoff race is shaping up, I think we’re about two wins from being in contention. Now is the time with the next two home games for us to push ourselves to get much-needed points. Then if we can pick up a few points on the road in August we can position ourselves well going down the final stretch. There’s nobody on the team who doesn’t still believe that we can do it. It’s about us going out and executing. That said, we can’t look at the end of the season right now, we have to look at what’s directly in front of us. That means getting the job done this weekend and taking each game one game at a time for the duration.

LWOS: Finally, what are your personal aspirations? Do you want to be the next full-time Head Coach of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC?

WH: As I said before, most assistant coaches aspire to be a head coach and I’m no different. I’ve been with the club since the start, I live in Colorado Springs. I love the area, I love the people and I get to work with good people. I think there’s a lot of potential here, particularly with what’s going on with the downtown stadium. So, there’s no doubt in my mind that I aspire to become the full-time head coach here. Obviously, that’s somewhat out of my hands. I can only control what I do throughout this interim period. However, long that is, so I’m just going to do the best I can with what I have right now. I’ll let the chips fall where they may.

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