Jay Paris: MacMillan’s soccer kicks now come with kids

Shannon MacMillan had a goal and with her soccer resume, it’s no surprise.

“That it wouldn’t be about results, but about building a foundation, love and passion for the game,’’ MacMillan said.

MacMillan, a legend among U.S. woman soccer players, recalled her initial conversation with the Del Mar Carmel Valley Sharks, a youth soccer program attempting to lure her from UCLA.

After leading America to a 1996 Olympic gold medal and the 1998 Women’s World Cup title, MacMillan had settled in quite nicely, thank you, as a coach at her alma mater.

“When the Sharks first called I told them I wasn’t interested,’’ said MacMillan, a Cardiff resident. “Youth soccer had become real political and kids were getting burned out and quitting at such a young age.’’

To return to the kids’ pitch, MacMillan made one of her own: If she embraced coaching the young ‘uns, it would be on her terms.

“It would not be about the results on the field,’’ MacMillan said, preferring to emphasize the bigger picture, rather than a scoreboard after a particular game.

On any level, the Sharks have been a smashing success with MacMillan as its director of club operations since 2010. She coaches its girls-under-11 squad, but also oversees some 3,000 players ages 5 to 19.

Her Sharks teams collect national and state titles with the panache MacMillan once collected 160 national caps.

She’s watched a program grow, and if she’s too modest for a bow, we tip our cap.

“You can plant the seeds for these kids,’’ said MacMillan, the U.S. female soccer player of the year in 2002. ”And we’re teaching life skills as well.’’

What a life it’s been for MacMillan and we’re not sure how she crammed it into her 40 years, either.

From being a San Pasqual High star to becoming the backbone of great University of Portland and UCLA teams to evolving into the heart-and-soul of Team USA on the world’s biggest stages.

Soccer gave her so much that the classy MacMillan had to return the favor. She’s done so with the force that balls were once redirected from her powerful legs.

“Soccer paid for my education and allowed me to go around the world and play for our county and win a gold medal,’’ she said. “It’s so amazing to me and it was important for me to give back and try to share what I’ve learned. Try to help people and educate them to see what a beautiful game it is.’’

It’s a game that hardly looks the same as when MacMillan was growing up.

“I didn’t even know there were 13-, 14-year-old national teams,’’ MacMillan said.

And women soccer matches being televised? Please.

That’s why when the current World Cup squad is competing, MacMillan is the rare coach to tell her charges to stay inside.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to learn,’’ she said. “Watch how the players play off the ball.’’

Off their game, according to MacMillan, is her takeaway from the U.S. team’s opening match. While it defeated Australia, 3-1, it wasn’t a performance that impressed the analytical MacMillan.

“If they want to be lifting the trophy at the end, they are going to have to play much better,’’ she said.

MacMillan praised keeper Hope Solo for critical saves early as the Aussies applied more pressure than expected. But MacMillan was mystified why the offense didn’t go through the middle of the field more, giving American playmakers a chance to, well, make more plays.

“We need to clean up both sides of the ball,’’ MacMillan said.

The U.S. plays again on Friday against Sweden, and then ends pool play versus Nigeria June 16.

MacMillan will be watching, even if her viewing comes with seeing things others don’t.

“I enjoy it but I’m probably more critical than most,’’ she said. “At the same time, no one is going to be perfect out there.’’

Just like there’s no such thing as a perfect coach.

But with MacMillan’s affection for the game and teaching it with a perspective that has depth, she’s close to it.

Players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

“We’re about developing the kids,’’ she said. “Success will come if you treat the game properly.’’
Contact Jay Paris at jparis8@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports.

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