A New Yorker Takes Nepal
By BRIAN SCIARETTA:
With each passing year, the American presence in soccer throughout the globe continues to grow. Whether it be American players moving abroad to play or American businessmen buying controlling stakes in prestigious European clubs, the United States is no longer idle in the world of soccer.
There is one area of the game, however, where Americans have yet to find success outside its borders: coaching. Currently there are very few American-born head coaches with foreign clubs or national teams.
In Europe, Hammarby of Sweden’s second tier are lead by the former United States national team defender Gregg Berhalter, and Dennis Lukens was hired last year to coach Krystal Kherson in the Ukrainian Second League.
In international football, Egypt coach Bob Bradley is the most prominent American figure as he looks to lead a nation in turmoil to the 2014 World Cup.
Earlier this month, however, Jack Sefanowski, 37-year-old New York City native, added his name to the short roster of Americans coaching abroad when he accepted a one-year deal to coach the national team of Nepal.
“It’s been a tremendous experience,” Stefanowski said. “They’re very open and very responsive to having a foreign coach to work with the national team. I feel like a little bit like a celebrity. When I first got into the country, the press where there. It’s definitely a big deal. They’re very passionate about the football.”
The job in front of Stefanowski is a challenging one. Playing in the Asian Football Federation (A.F.C.), Nepal is ranked 171st out of 201 in the latest FIFA World Rankings. In 2011, their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign ended the second round after a humbling 10-1 aggregate loss to Jordan over two legs.
Stefanowski is aware of Nepal’s recent woes, but he said the goal of his tenure would be to improve the team from the basic levels and provide a foundation for it to build upon in the years ahead.
“The thing for me is to improve the standard of Nepalese football,” Stefanowski said. “I believe there is a higher standard to shoot for and I’d like to bring Nepalese football as close as I can to the global standard, which right now is in Europe and South America. I want to close that gap as much as possible.”
He added: “Hopefully by the end of the year you can see the improvement in the FIFA World Ranking. It’s a step-by-step process and it takes time to improve. So the world rankings would be a great indicator.”
The first games for Nepal under Stefanowski will be in February: a pair of friendlies against Pakistan. The games are some of the final preparations for the A.F.C. Challenge Cup qualifying in March.
The Challenge Cup is a tournament for national teams which the A.F.C. considers to be emerging and does not include the best teams in the federation. In 2006, Nepal finished third at the Challenge Cup; that remains one of the greatest successes in the team’s history.
Nepal will start Challenge Cup qualifying the first week of March with three games against Northern Mariana Islands, Bangladesh and Palestine. Stefanowski’s team will comprise mostly players from Nepal’s professional league. Only one player plays abroad, in Indonesia.
“Anything can happen,” Stefanowski said. “That’s the same philosophy that I have with the Nepalese team. I believe in the team and my expectations are very high.”
The road that has brought Stefanowski from New York City to Kathmandu has been a long one. After graduating New York University in 1997 he played with two semipro teams, the Brooklyn Knights and the New Jersey Stallions.
Stefanowski’s playing career was short lived, and he quickly transitioned into coaching by becoming the head coach at Briarcliff College. This was followed by a run of assistant coaching jobs with various colleges: St. Peter’s, New York University and Stony Brook. Over the years he acquired his UEFA “A” coaching license and his USSF “B” coaching license.
In 2008, he moved into the professional ranks and became the goalkeeping coach for the Puerto Rico Islanders, who were then in the United Soccer League (U.S.L.), which was the second level of American professional soccer until being replaced by North American Soccer League (N.A.S.L.) in 2011.
The Islanders were successful during Stefanowski’s years, winning the Caribbean Football Union Club Championships two times and the U.S.L. title in 2008. In 2010, the Islanders pulled off a stunning upset to eliminate the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Concacaf Champions League. That same year, while also coaching with the Islanders, Stefanowski was named the interim head coach of Puerto Rico’s national team.
Adrian Whitbread joined the Islanders coaching staff along with Stefanowski in 2008 and was named the team’s coach 2012. Following his promotion, he kept Stefanowski as his assistant and the team finished in third place in the N.A.S.L.
“I have [worked with] Jack for over five years,” Whitbread said. “He is an absolute different breed of person with his work ethic. If anyone can make a go of Nepal’s national team it will be Jack. It will be tough. Like here in Puerto Rico he will need time and support. He knows my door is always open.”
For now, Sefanowski is the focused on the difficult task ahead in bringing success to a country that has had very little in its past. It is not thought of as a high profile job, but the opportunity to create a legacy in the Himalayan nation is ideal for the proud New Yorker.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Stefanowski said. “I’ve always wanted to coach at the national team level. I was born in the United States and I’m going to represent America very well and I hope to bring a lot of success to Nepalese football.”
Source: NY Times