In the 13 seasons at Berkeley, Neil McGuire has led the California women’s soccer team to unprecedented success. Besides being a Liverpool native since the age of five, Coach McGuire brings a fresh perspective to the coaching world. McGuire loves to continually learn more about the game and appreciates what it has to offer. He is the program’s all-time wins’ leader with 155 career victories; holding an overall record of 155-86-31. Coach McGuire has led the Bears to the tournament 12 out of his 13 seasons in Berkeley, helping Cal to a streak of 14 consecutive tournament appearances 2004-17 and a return to the postseason of 2019. In addition to the team’s success, the Bears have also produced five All-Americans, 21 All-Region, and 26 All-Conference selections in McGuire’s tenure. From the academic side of being a student-athlete, his team has captured the United Soccer Coaches Team Academic Award 10 times in the last 13 seasons and produced 17 Academic All-District and 64 Pac-12 All-Academic honorees.
2aDays: You’ve coached Cal Women’s Soccer for the past 13 seasons. What is the best way for an athlete to get on your radar?
There are several ways. First, over time in the industry, you build up champions in your program who are coaches in the youth soccer environment. These coaches know you, trust you, and understand what types of players you like and would fit your system and game model. When they have a player, they call you to discuss the player, and it starts. Second, would be through us looking closely at National Teams, both domestically and internationally to see what players fit our game model; once we find players we like, we then pursue them. Lastly, we see them at an event when we are recruiting or at a camp; if a player peaks our interest, we then watch more of them in different playing environments against the best match ups possible.
2aDays: Should high school recruits be open to playing other positions?
I think it’s fair that all players should be open to playing new positions, and for a few reasons. The first being that it will help the player be more well-rounded in both their understanding of and appreciation for the variety of ways the game can be played. Secondly, it will improve their soccer IQ and technical ability. Third, if it helps the team, that should be their priority. I’d add if a player likes to play soccer and wants to get on the field, having the ability to play in a lot of positions will be of great value.
2aDays: What are the three characteristics that will help make a recruit stand out in their first year?
- Being able to keep up with the speed of play of their new environment will be critical for success. The game is simply faster than the next level in all aspects. A player who is very well conditioned helps themselves with the first hurdle of can you keep up with the pace of play?
- Maturity in understanding that while they would have been a starter and most likely one of the best players on their previous team, it most likely will be that they are not the best player on their new team. The emotional maturity to accept their new role will be vital to not only their success but the chemistry of the team.
- Consistency of work ethic while being passionate about the game with natural enthusiasm. Simply put, work hard and enjoy the process of being on a great team.
2aDays: How important is it to come to a Cal soccer ID camp to showcase their talents? Do you go to other recruiting events?
Camps are a great way for both players and coaches to get to know one another. As a player, I can showcase my soccer ability to the coaches more than at a recruiting event, and also get to know the coach and their coaching style. This is a great benefit to both parties. The issue is most of the time the camp soccer level does not always challenge the best players, so it is hard to know how well a good player will do against a Pac-12 level player. So, if we like a player from camp, we go watch them play for their club or the highest level they compete in. We also go to many recruiting events to look for players all over the nation.
2aDays: What is something that a high-school athlete can do to prepare themselves either physically or mentally to excel at the high school level and yet be prepared for the college level?
Any high school athlete who wants to excel in college should not settle for their current success believing they are ready for college sports. The best high school players get a lot of good press, and it’s often too easy to believe they are prepared. My advice is to pay close attention to the advice of their college coaches, and just as importantly, the seniors on the college team who engage with them in the build-up to college.
2aDays: Do you recommend high school and college athletes watch soccer matches in the professional league?
To be the best, you have to be able to execute at a high level. Watching professional players will help in many ways, but I think there are two that are most important. 1. Seeing the best play your position will help give you a reference point both technically and tactically on what the game demands are. Seeing a player who can do those things consistently well will paint the picture of what standard you need to attain. Secondly, it will help you prepare for the level of tactical awareness you will need in college. The professional games on TV have great analysts who were once great players, and their understanding of tactics and subtle nuance will be very helpful.
2aDays: What can a recruit do or say to make you stop recruiting them?
Being a bad citizen, a rude person, or self-centered will get a top recruit off of coaches lists very quickly. Athletes who feel they are entitled, and act like it, will put their recruitment in jeopardy. Coaches are now broadening that out to look closely at how parents act as well and are doing a lot of research on the entire family before recruitment begins.
2aDays: Do you and your coaching staff look at recruit’s social media, and if so, what do you look for?
As a general rule, yes. Coaches will pay very close attention to social media, especially if they are advised to do so, or are alerted to an issue. I highly recommended recruits work with the understanding that someone will be looking at it and making decisions from it. In modern times we are apt to put our life on social media, and it can tell a very telling story of the person.
2aDays: What makes you different from other college coaches in your division?
The Pac-12 has exceptional coaches who have had outstanding success in many areas of their profession, but one area we have had success in is developing players who are prepared to be professionals and have had long careers in the sport. I think this comes from being candid and honest about what it takes to be a professional player.
2aDays: What is the biggest change from playing high school sports to transitioning to college sports? What should athletes mentally prepare for?
High school athletes should be prepared to be told the truth. The truth on their performance. The truth on what it will take to improve and to be ready to embrace it.
2aDays: Do you take walk-ons, and if so, how would a high school athlete start this process?
Walk-ons at the top end of college soccer tend to be recruited walk-ons, meaning that they are recruited in the same manner that scholarship athletes are. It is rare we do walk-on tryouts due to the squad size we have.
2aDays: What key elements make a great leader?
That’s a great question. A great leader must have a natural enthusiasm and a clear vision with the ability to communicate that vision with clarity. They need the courage of their convictions as there will be moments of resistance and criticism. They must be honest, with great integrity. Lastly, they should be humble and empathetic. They will need all of these skills to help people reach their true potential.
2aDays: When and how should a recruit reach out to you?
Rules dictate this, but freshmen and sophomores cannot call us, so generally, their club coach will advise us of their interest. Once they reach their junior year, they are allowed to call us. Everyone is allowed to email us, but we can only email back once they are juniors, unless it is camp information.
2aDays: Why coach for Cal? What makes this school your home?
As a competitor, I want to be able to coach against the best with the very best, and Cal allows me the privilege of coaching the best players and testing ourselves against other special talents.
The type of athlete who wants the academic rigor of Cal generally wants to excel in all they do and will challenge themselves soccer-wise.
2aDays: Why do you believe that Liverpool is the best premier league team?
Other than the point total 🙂 (If you expand the box you can see Liverpool is in first place this year)
I have supported Liverpool since the age of 5. In 1977 my boyhood hero Kenny Dalgliesh signed for them. He was then, and is now, still my hero. I modeled my game on him, my haircuts, how he celebrated goals, how he talked to the media, everything. At that time Liverpool was the best in Europe and won a lot… it was fun. Manchester United, dominated for 20 years… and we never won, but it didn’t matter, I still loved them. In recent years Brendan Rodgers played a style I like and learned from, and then Klopp took it to a whole new level. Also, Anfield, when it has energy is unlike anything I have ever experienced in sport. The fans are true working class women and men who love the club, which is true to my upbringing. So, all in all, as a lad I loved them for their soccer, as a coach I love them for what I can learn, and due to my life in Scotland before I got here, these were my people. Winning is cool, but I would love them the same if they weren’t. They are in my DNA.
2aDays: What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever witnessed on the field?
This made me think a lot about being old. I have seen some fun stuff, but the funniest was actually one of the best lessons I have ever learned about having perspective in life. Houston in the summer is hot, and I mean blazing hot due to both the temperature and humidity. It can be torture. Well, for many years, the Houston Showcase was the place to recruit the best players, and all the top schools would go there. We would sit there and bake since there was no tree coverage. It was the end of the third day, long days from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. games, when I was watching a player. Her team was up 3-0 and dominating. The coach of their team was sadly quite pompous, and as he was strutting his stuff up and down the sideline posing to others, he was yelling at the referee over and over again when his players got tackled, touched, breathed on. It was ridiculous. The referee was an older gentleman who had refereed six 90-minute games on Friday, and then Saturday, and now Sunday. He was in his 18th game as a referee or linesperson. He was clearly very tired. A player gets tackled, the poser coach screams, and the referee who was running suddenly stops abruptly, slumps over with the saddest body language, and then makes the stop the clock sign with his arms. He jogs slowly and exhaustedly over to the coach who was still remonstrating and as the coach was screaming asking him why the referee didn’t make the call, the referee, now one yard from the coach, and me right behind him, looks at the coach, and while slumping says in the most “I’ve got nothing left” voice….he says, “because I just don’t care,” with a look of please just leave me alone. The coach, to his credit, was taken aback but said, “fair enough,” and never said another word. It has stuck with me to never forget that everyone has a very different lens to each moment in life, but it still makes me laugh to remember the poser coach being put in his place by a man of great wisdom.
2aDays: What is the craziest way a player marketed themselves to you?
A player sent me a note via mail, and on the envelope wrote “Please Open with Enthusiasm” – I liked her style already. It was a DVD to watch, and the DVD had her doing dribbling skills around t-cups and saucers at full speed, or her racing people on bikes – but not just friends, she challenged bikers to race her and then raced them. She then chased geese to see if she could catch one. I cannot remember them all, but when I got done, I called her coach, so the video worked.
* Originally published on April 27, 2020, by Mia Corbin