Join MLSsoccer.com’s Jackie Pickering and Nick Firchau as they travel from LA to Vancouver, checking in on all the West Coast teams, meeting with fans, and stopping into adidas HQ in Portland to pick up the game ball for First Kick on March 15 at Qwest Field.
Follow the Road Trip here
HARRISON, N.J. – With his perfectly coifed hair and sporting a preppy style sweater and jeans combo, Jan Halvor Halvorsen doesn’t look like the typical assistant coach one might find around MLS.
But the Red Bulls’ Halvorsen is a well-traveled soccer mind. There are not many head coaches in MLS – let alone assistant coaches – who boast his credentials and experience as he has decades of high-level soccer on his resume.
A teammate of San Jose Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop in the 1980s when they both played for England's Ipswich, Halvorson also spent the past 14 years managing teams throughout Norway and Sweden.
That experience caught Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe's eye. Late last year when Backe approached Halvorsen about joining his staff, the Norwegian jumped at the opportunity.
“I had been following MLS for a while when I was home and I knew about the league, and I knew Hans well,” Halvorsen told MLSsoccer.com. “He approached me with this opportunity, saying that he had an opening on the staff, and I was interested. I had an opportunity with a team in England but I knew I wanted to be here.”
Halvorsen joined the club in January and so begins his new American journey. But his connection to MLS isn’t new.
Besides sharing a field with Yallop nearly three decades ago, Halvorsen also coached former MetroStars striker Fabian Taylor when the Jamaican international played for Norwegian club Notodden from 2008 to 2011.
“He was a very skilled player,” Halvorsen said about the former MetroStars forward, who couldn’t quite cut it at MLS level.
But Halvorsen has also seen a growing number of Americans coming into the Scandinavian leagues over the past few years, including Real Salt Lake’s Robbie Russell. All this led the coach to build an admiration for the league.
“I can see where MLS has been and where it is going,” Halvorsen said, making an upward hand motion. “It is a league that is growing and has done great things over the past few years. I knew that New York was a place where they were bringing in players, good players with European experience and I wanted to be a part of that. It has been impressive. This is a professionally run club.”
His daily duties are complex. Halvorsen handles individual parts of the team’s training sessions and works with the players during drills. He closely advises Backe as to player form and potential lineup changes.
The Norwegian notes that his duties have not changed much over the past few weeks despite recent personnel changes that thinned the Red Bulls coaching staff. Long-time New York assistant Richie Williams and goalkeeper coach Des McAleenan — the second-longest tenured coach in the league — were both released on Feb. 26.
There is one part of the club that excites Halvorsen greatly and causes the level-headed coach to light-up: the academy set-up in New York. In fact, Halvorsen’s two sons play in the Red Bulls academy, so he gets the chance to see the players and the system through not only a coach’s trained eye but also as a parent.
“I think the academy is something that I would say is very exciting for this club,” Halvorsen said. “We see the younger players on the senior team, like Matt [Kassel] and Sacir [Hot], making the move from the academy to the senior team, and that’s what happens in the rest of the world. I think we’re going to see that happen more and more here. I think the future is very exciting.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer