Clive Charles — Builder, Head Coach, Legend
article by Wanda Rozwadowska, photos courtesy of UP Athletics The University of Portland women’s soccer team has been winning games with frightening consistency ever since Coach Clive Charles was leading the program in the early 1990s. Today Merlo Field, the home of the Pilots, is one of the most feared college stadiums in women’s soccer, with sell-out crowds of extreme fans. The small private college program punches well above its weight as one of just three programs to have won multiple NCAA Division I titles. The program had three alumni win medals in the 2012 London Olympics and will feature professionals in the upcoming National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). The evolution of the Pilots soccer program is a beautiful story. A rich story that begins in the 1980s and, like every good story, it has powerful characters and key moments that came to define the program.
The catalyst of the University of Portland’s (UP) soccer program, Clive Charles, built a program around a coaching philosophy that continues today under current Head Coach Garrett Smith of professionalism, discipline, success and a “keep the game simple” system of fluidity, possession and disciplined defense. Above all, he was a relationship-based leader who remembered that players are people before they are athletes. He passionately poured his heart and soul into the program. For proof that his philosophy works, his program morphed over the years into a powerhouse, and captured the 2002 NCAA National Championship in what would be his final year of coaching before passing away after a long battle with prostate cancer. Always a trailblazer, the British-born Charles was one of the first black players in England’s First Division (now the
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Premier League) when he joined West Ham’s first team as a defender. His playing career led him to Wales and eventually landed him in Portland in 1978, with the now-defunct North American Soccer League’s (NASL) Timbers. It was a time when many British and international soccer players joined the NASL — most came and went, but of those that stayed, none had a greater impact on American soccer than Charles. His professionalism, mixed with youthful exuberance, would touch every level of the game. In 1986, with a thin coaching resume but a robust sense of confidence, Charles was named head coach of the then only moderately successful UP men’s soccer team and in 1989 his responsibilities expanded to include the women’s team. In just two quick years his cocksure confidence transformed into results as he took the
men to the school’s first NCAA Final Four appearance. During his 17 years of leadership at UP, his teams would go on to earn 13 conference titles, 20 NCAA tournament berths, 7 NCAA Final Four appearances, with a combined 439-144-44 record. His players went on to play on the national teams of Canada, Mexico and the United States; play professionally in Europe, Asia and the US; and earn Olympic medals and win World Cups. In his spare time, he coached the men’s US Olympic Team (1996-2000) and the women’s US U-20 National Team (1993-1996). He created F.C. Portland Academy, a youth club modeled on the very philosophy that shaped the UP Pilots: “Through the game of soccer there is an opportunity to prepare and develop young people for the challenges of life.” Underlining this philosophy is his motto “Earn Your Right
“Through the game of soccer there is an opportunity to prepare and develop young people for the challenges of life.”
to Play.” These simple words fueled his life and those that he touched, creating a legacy along the way — a legacy that is perhaps felt most strongly at UP, a program he built into a regular national contender from the ground up. Like all great feats, he didn’t do it alone.
Harry Merlo — Donor
Harry Merlo is perhaps best known as the face of the legion of financial supporters of the program that help maintain UP’s high level of success. The economics of college soccer, with minimal media revenue as compared to football, is such that donors can play a big part to help build champions. Merlo himself is the man that made possible the famous Pilot gameday experience. Merlo shared Charles’ vision and commitment in building a Pilots soccer program where any given match day there would be thousands of fans filling the stadium. The Pilots’ home pitch, the Harry A. Merlo Field (established 1990, capacity of 4,892), is a soccer-specific venue created in the image of British football stadiums, putting fans right along the sidelines to create a friendly environment Issue 18 | March 2013 | 31
Above: Villa Drum Squad rallying at the quad before marching over to Merlo Field. Center: University of Portland Pilots Student Section at Merlo Field. for the home team but a hostile distraction for the visiting team. The pristine pitch quality has attracted many professional and international teams to the campus for soccer “friendlies.” At most Pilot games today, Merlo, with his signature white hair and black mustache, can still be spotted in the stands. The University of Portland may be a small university with just over 3,000 students, yet it owns the nation’s women’s soccer attendance record for the past seven straight seasons, attracting even more fans than the leading men’s college, UC Santa Barbara. In its 22 seasons of existence, Pilot squads have won almost 90 (213-27-11) percent of their home games according to the Portland Pilot athletic department.
The Villa Drum Squad — Supporter’s Group
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powers the Pilots’ success. Driven by a deep spirited pride and emotion for their team, the supporter’s group the Villa Drum Squad, might just be one of the most creative and energetic student sections in women’s college soccer. Dressed in kilts, togas and body paint, armed with drums, purple smoke bombs and deafening chants, the men of all-male dorm Villa Maria gather in the quad before marching toward Merlo Field to take their post at the heart of the student section, directly across the field from the players’ bench. Thirty-year Pilot fan and recently retired UP professor Dr. Robert Duff points out how the student support groups are different at UP. “To me, a most interesting aspect of the campus support is the widespread interest of male students in the women’s team. That is rare on college campuses. The off-campus fans are often family groups who look up to the athletes as role models for their children.”
There is, too, a mutual admiration, a love affair between player and fan, that one can witness after every game in the way the players jog as a team to the student section applauding their fans, following a routine that has become as important as the postgame cool down. They sign autographs as their sweat chills in the post-game air waiting until the very last little fan passes through the line before finally heading back to the locker rooms to hit the showers. The small school atmosphere creates a unique culture in which many of the players are acquainted with a large part of the student population. Junior striker Micaela Capelle explains, “The fact that we get as many fans as we do for being such a small school and a women’s college sport is incredible. There is literally no other school in the country like ours. Women’s soccer is so important to the school and students, which makes it so much fun to play for this program.”
A member of the Villa Drum Squad lets off a purple smoke bomb in celebration of a Pilot goal on Merlo Field.
The Pilot Way
The post-Charles era at UP has been ushered in by the very same coaching staff he nurtured with his philosophy of person before athlete. Today, as before, the men’s and women’s teams share a coaching staff — a group that has Pilot DNA all over it, true shepherds of the Pilot Way. Director of Soccer, Bill Irwin, has coached with Charles from the very beginning, continuing a relationship that began as teammates while pros in Europe. Smith and Assistant Coach Rob Baarts were both players on one of Charles’ earliest squads at UP — the 1988 team that was the first Pilot soccer team to ever play in an NCAA Final Four. Smith, Irwin and their staffs clearly carry on Charles’ legacy of working toward success both on and off the field, and have helped players get to the next level. Assistant Coach Lisa Sari Chambers, who has been decked in Pilot purple since she dreamed as a little girl to play at UP, went
on to clock some of the most minutes ever in a Pilot jersey (2003-2006), including an undefeated 2005 championship season. She then took her playing career into the pros during the WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer) era before returning to UP to coach the next generation of Pilots. “Thanks to my experience as a player at the University of Portland, I felt more than prepared to be managing my life, my time, my fitness, my role, and the unpredictable ups and downs that professional sports hand you,” said Sari Chambers. “I was completely grateful for how well prepared I was ... there were several young players that weren’t prepared and really struggled through things and didn’t get to enjoy their experience the way I did in the pros.” Charles, and now Smith, puts emphasis on a very fan-friendly attacking and possession-oriented playing style anchored in disciplined defense. The eloquent inhouse editor of the (University of) Portland
Magazine and longtime Pilot soccer fan, Brian Doyle, explains the signature style as such: “It was the way they (the 2005 national championship team) played, the verve and dash and zest and humor and camaraderie and creativity and coherence and generosity and quicksilver flow of their game as they bent it to their remarkable wills, the astounding instantaneous passes, the liquid geometry, the relentless energy, the constant laughter, the eerie calm, the heartfelt and hilarious bond with their fellow students, the patient sinuous ferocity of their play.” The Pilots have built a reputation as one of the fittest teams in the nation, season after season. This doesn’t come as a result of brutal “doggies” or “suicides” — which are nonexistent in the Pilot training plans by the way — but rather from a plan “based more upon scientific application of training principles than all-out gut busting efforts,” according to Pilot fitness coach Issue 18 | March 2013 | 33
Dr. Terry Favero (known as “T-Fav” to the players). Since Favero, an awardwinning UP professor, joined the squad in 1994, he has instilled the type of seasonal planning that sets the program apart: “Build your base in the summer. Let the first few games provide game fitness then work the remainder of the season to continually build toward playoffs.” Favero also incorporates movement activities such as form-plyometrics to address movement deficiencies and uses workouts as a tool to build a psychological edge. “The goal is for players to say ‘Yes, I just ran 50 efforts, bring on the playoffs.’”
The Building Years
It didn’t take long for Charles Clive Charles and current Head Coach Garrett Smith celebrating the Pilots’ 2002 National and his staff to develop his side Championship overtime victory over defending champions Santa Clara in Austin, Texas. into a national threat. After taking over in 1989, Charles soon landed some game-changing “There was no ‘I’ in team; there was no a horrible season we finally understood recruits in Shannon MacMillan and individual success without team success; the amount of work ethic, team chemistry Tiffeny Milbrett, both of whom would it was about promoting harmony within and heart that needed to go into being go on to become World and Olympic our squad and never allowing prima successful. We all started from scratch Champions with the US Women’s donna behavior; keeping your boots and worked hard to take care of all the National Team. As a senior in the 1994 polished and your jersey tucked in — little things from polishing your shoes season, the 5’2” tenacious Milbrett would these were all parts of being a Pilot and to taking care of gear and developing a lead Portland to its coming-of-age moment wearing purple on Merlo.” positive team chemistry on and off the — the Pilot women’s first appearance in With a Final Four appearance now as field. The players on that team played for the NCAA Final Four. Despite losing to their benchmark for success, the Pilots each other and for Clive.” Notre Dame in the semifinals, this squad suffered one of the worst seasons ever in The program’s success during the was perhaps most famous for starting 1999 with no postseason. The freshmen 1990s set the stage for what was to come what would become years of continued on the roster that year, including Lauren in the decade to follow. The next era in excellence that would eventually propel Orlandos and Erin Misaki, didn’t know the Pilot story begins when a deceivingly the program to one of the best the nation it yet, but they were going to carry the quiet, calm 18-year-old Canadian arrived has ever seen. program into history as seniors three on the UP campus. The following 1995 season, the Pilots years later. earned their first-ever trip to the NCAA “My freshman season was the worst The Dynasty Years: 2002-2005 Championship Final, suffering their one in UP women’s soccer history. All the Christine Sinclair, who at the 2012 loss all year to Notre Dame in overtime. players were on a different page and my Summer Olympic Games in London Also that year, MacMillan became the first freshman class was overly arrogant and scored the most goals ever in an Olympic Pilot to be awarded the MAC Hermann wanted to change a strong tradition that tournament as she led Canada to a Trophy (and Hermann Award) as soccer’s had been built from the ground up,” said bronze medal, stepped onto Merlo Field top collegiate player. Orlandos, the former Pilot captain and for the first time in a Pilot uniform in During the next six seasons (1996- center back. “We learned about failure, 2001, well aware of the legacy left by 2001) the Pilots would earn four trips to we were humiliated on and off the field former Pilots such as MacMillan and the NCAA Semifinals. Wynne McIntosh, through mistake after mistake, and after Milbrett. Over her four seasons at UP former player (1994-1997) and assistant it was all over it hurt. No one wanted she would surpass those Pilot legends coach (2002-2005) remembers what it to ever have that type of a season or with her staggering scoring titles and two meant to her to be a Pilot at that time: representation of UP soccer again. After national championships (2002, 2005) 34 | www.ourgamemagazine.com
“We all started from scratch and worked hard to take care of all the little things from polishing your shoes to taking care of gear and developing a positive team chemistry on and off the field. The players on that team played for each other and for Clive.” while etching herself in history as one of the most lethal strikers to ever play the college game. By the start of the 2002 season, Charles had led his squads to one NCAA Championship Final (1995) and five semifinals appearance (1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001) but the coveted National Title still evaded. That freshman class of 1999 who suffered through one of the worst years in the program’s history was now the senior class leading a squad that now included Sinclair. This veteran team, further inspired by Charles’ struggle with prostate cancer, charged through the season to land the school yet another appearance at the NCAA Final Four, and within two wins of earning the school’s first NCAA title in any sport. More importantly, it was two wins away from giving Charles the opportunity to hoist the trophy in what would prove to be the last season he would ever coach. After a win over Penn State in the semisfinals, the Pilots took their West Coast Conference rivals and defending national champions Santa Clara into double overtime before Sinclair scored the gamewinning golden goal. Her dorm roommate, Kristin Moore, sent the set-up cross. The No. 8 Pilots were the lowest-seeded team to ever make and win the championship game. Charles hoisted the trophy. Clive Charles died six months later. Yet, his influence and inspiration live on in every aspect of the program. “Clive had an incredible way of relating to every player, starter or nonstarter, and he made every player feel important by giving them an integral role on the team,” said Orlandos. “I can honestly say that when I look back, I learned something new everyday. For Clive, coaching a Division I soccer program wasn’t about wins and losses, it was about teaching life through soccer and the relationships you build. I hope I can pay forward his positive coaching philosophy through my coaching.” In 2005, a roster stocked with many of those same players had matured to an
unstoppable unit under new Head Coach Smith, going undefeated to capture the school’s second title in four seasons. Still the transcendent superstar, Sinclair was surrounded by a flashy freshman phenomenon in Megan Rapinoe, as well as four All-Americans and three players that went on to represent their countries internationally. Two of those players medaled in the Olympics and FIFA World Cup: Stephanie (Lopez) Cox and Rapinoe. Sinclair became the first Pilot to capture the Honda-Broderick Cup, designating her as the top college female athlete across all sports. Like MacMillan before her, she would also be awarded the MAC Hermann Trophy for best college soccer player.
In addition to on-field awards and accolades, the Pilot women consistently earn their right in the classroom. Even during the intense 2005 championship season, UP led all schools with five NSCAA Academic All-Americans. As Duff explains, “The women are almost always good students. I have had many of them in class through the years. There is definitely a unique team culture that promotes study and academic achievement. They also do high-profile service activities; they make themselves available to their fans; and they play soccer with heart, skill, and dignity. Each year the members of the team are a true credit to the university.” The outreach and level of availability the women’s soccer team provides to fans is a breath of fresh air in today’s world of sport. They have become beloved by the university community and the city of Portland, who went absolutely Pilot-crazy when the team won the second national title in an undefeated season. The team brought joy and unity to the city and has sustained high fan attendance numbers ever since. The success of the last two decades has created a tradition of excellence that
current players feel compelled to uphold. As Capelle says, “Our alumni have set an example that is expected to be followed by current and future players. We set goals for on the pitch, in the classroom and know that we are role models throughout the community. Wearing a UP women’s soccer jersey is an honor.” In the six years following the 2005 championship, the Pilots have made four NCAA quarterfinal appearances. Many Pilot fans believe another championship is just around the corner despite suffering their first losing season in 28 years in 2011, while still advancing to the NCAA Second Round. In 2007, the Clive Charles Soccer Complex was built by the University of Portland to create a premier soccer venue while honoring the legacy of UP’s most successful coach in more than a century of college athletics. The complex includes Merlo Field as well as Pru Pitch, a FieldTurf practice soccer field. Pilot alumni that have continued their soccer careers post-college continue to get action on the international stage, and many will be suiting up in the NWSL. Charles’ influence has spread well beyond the University of Portland. In 2009, coaches at all four of Oregon’s Division I women’s programs had played for Charles. The majority of alumni have taken their lessons learned as Pilots and as students at the University of Portland and they now look to “earn their right to play” in other ways off the pitch, in family life and careers. Others have channeled the competitive fire to new avenues. Colleen (Salisbury) Little, a member of both the 2002 and 2005 national championship teams, turned her energies to marathon running upon graduation, and recently won the 2012 Portland Marathon with “4 Clive” written on her race bib, showing that Charles’ inspiration still lives strong within the Pilot community. ■ Issue 18 | March 2013 | 35