The Richmond Kickers introduced Darren Sawatzky as the club’s new head coach and sporting director in a news conference Friday.
The Kickers announced Nov. 6 that Sawatzky would take the place of coach David Bulow, with whom the organization parted ways in October.
Sawatzky is the eighth head coach in the club’s 27-year history. As sporting director, he will also have a major say in personnel and developmental decisions.
“I’m humbled and excited to have this opportunity,” Sawatzky said. “For me, it gives me a little bit of goosebumps.”
Sawatzky was formerly the head coach at another USL League One side, FC Tucson. Before his stint in Tucson, Sawatzky worked in the Seattle Sounders FC organization. The Sounders are the reigning MLS Cup champions.
A Seattle native, Sawatzky directed the Sounders developmental academy and U-23 USL Leage Two team. He helped foster talent such as current United States national team players Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders) and DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United).
Kickers president Matt Spear said Sawatzky’s familiarity with USL League One and connections within the world of American soccer made him a prime candidate for the job.
“Having someone as established and connected as Darren. … He’s the type of person that we wanted to lead our organization,” Spear said.
Sawatzky also spent time as the coach of Guam’s national team, and holds a United States Soccer Federation A license as well as a French Federation Formation license.
Sawatzky called the French Formation license “probably the highest level youth license in the world.”
“Formation” refers to the formation of a youth player, starting at about 12 years old. The course lasts two years, and Sawatzky said it was harder than his four-year bachelor’s degree.
“Pretty much every acronym in pro soccer in this country I’ve had some affiliation with,” Sawatzky said. “For me, it’s about the project and the opportunity. And life is about people. I can’t think of a better opportunity than what I have been given and what my family has been given here in Richmond.”
Sawatzky said he and his wife are shopping for a home in Richmond, and plan on being here “for the long haul.”
Sawatzky’s first priority is establishing a hard-working culture and philosophy within the organization. His father was a “union man” and single parent for much of Sawatzky’s childhood, and instilled in him a work ethic that he has come to expect from those around him.
“I expect that from whoever I work with, from coaches and players, you come to work every day with your lunchbox and get ready to do the job,” Sawatzky said. “My teams are always very competitive, willing to fight.”
Sawatzky said his team will press their opposition consistently and attack directly. It will defend well, he said, but more importantly, it will play on the front foot with an eye for goals.
Sawatzky is passionate about player development. He led the Sounders’ development program for seven years and takes pride in installing a grittiness he associates with “the American player.”
“Identification, and putting them on on the correct pathway to make sure we develop them, put them in a Kickers jersey and then sell them to Real Madrid,” Sawatzky quipped when asked about the cornerstones of his youth development agenda.
He added with a wink that, after absorbing “hundreds” of years of knowledge in the French Formation program, he hopes to have a hand in the US developing “more Christian Pulisics [Chelsea] and less Darren Sawatskys.”
Sawatzky said multiple times that life is about people. So when asked what put the Kickers job over the top for him, he pointed to the people within the organization — Spear and chairman Rob Ukrop, among others.
Sawatzky played with Ukrop in the MLS with the New England Revolution.
“To have the opportunity to build a team, and work with great people, it’s a knockout punch,” Sawatzky said.