The Kids Are All Wright

by Gunnar Berndt

Exclusive Q&A with the Strykers' New Head Coach, a San Diego Sockers Legend

Ahead of today's Strykers away clash with rival San Diego, Paul Wright, Empire's new head coach, took some time to provide insight into his personality and philosophy. A San Diego Sockers legend and an MLS alum, Wright enjoyed a successful playing career with numerous indoor and outdoor clubs. Now in his first season in charge of a professional squad, the former attacker has been leading a non-profit offering training support to youth in need, as well as a training company that works with aspiring athletes.

The match between the visiting Empire Strykers and host San Diego, which is scheduled to kick off at 6:05 p.m. PT, will be streamed live on Twitch. A full channel lineup for live MASL games can be found here.

Question: How did you get to be the head coach of the Strykers? 

Wright: I didn’t seek out the position, nor did I have any thoughts of getting into this arena. (Empire’s executive vice president) Jimmy Nordberg called me out of the blue and I had some really good conversations with him and Jeff (Burum), the owner. The Strykers are a classy organization that’s had success in the past, and they just needed someone to push them over the edge. When they offered me the job, it felt like an amazing opportunity to build a championship-caliber team. 

Question: So your goal from the start is to compete for a trophy? 

Wright: There’s only one reason I’m doing this, and that’s to win. Part of my job is to guide the guys in the right direction by bringing a winning mentality day-in and day-out. We have very few returning players from last year’s roster. A lot of our guys are young, and some haven’t played indoor before, so there’s going to be a learning curve. That said, the expectations are high. Not having made the playoffs in the past two seasons, the main objective is to get back there. Once we accomplish that, we will reevaluate our goals. 

Question: Why did you want to add a lot of younger players at the expense of accomplished veterans?

Wright: One of the things we’ve observed in other teams with a history of success is that their rosters are starting to get a bit older and some of the players maybe aren’t quite as fit as they once were. We felt that could be an opportunity if we identify young, hungry guys that we think could give us an edge. Now it’s all about creating an environment where people feel safe to make mistakes and be creative. I’m big on empowering my players and everyone else around me. 

Question: Speaking of that, what else can we expect from you as head coach? 

Wright: I like to be a calming influence. I know from personal experience that these games get very intense and competitive. With emotions running high, I’ve always admired the coaches who have the opposite effect on their players and help them keep level heads. I’m all about attention to detail, being organized, and a sharp focus on what we need to do in a given game, based on our own strengths and the opponent. Generally speaking, I want us to be very fast, athletic, and aggressive, getting up and down the field quickly. The goal is to bring an exciting brand of soccer. 

Question: How have the folks in San Diego reacted to you joining this side of the rivalry? 

Wright: People who know me know I’m not afraid to take risks and that I’ll do something unexpected once in a while. My instinct is to go where I’m needed, where I can grow as a person, and where I can help others do the same. If I can make a difference by sharing my expertise and winning attitude, that seems worthwhile. Of course, you’re never going to make everybody happy, but nearly everyone down in San Diego has been supportive. They’ve told me they’re glad I’m getting this opportunity and that it’s well deserved. 

Question: Anything you'd like to add? 

Wright: I’d like to ask our fans to be patient but to come out not only for Marco Fabián and our other big-time stars, but for all of these players. We feel that we have a fantastic group that could gel into something truly special if we’re given some time to work and improve. Provided we all stick together, I believe we’re going to put a very good product out on the field and make the Inland Empire proud.

Marco Fabián and the Strykers return home to take on Tacoma on December 28.