Quakes Academy: Paul Holocher

If you care about the San Jose Earthquakes, you should care about the academy. One day we will have 11 Tommy Thompson’s on the field. Skilled players who LOVE this club, who are all from the Northern California . If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will.

The Quakes took a huge step towards achieving that goal when they announced the signing of coach Paul Holocher to manage the academy’s U18 and U16 teams on July 28, 2015. I’ve personally known about this for weeks, but for the sake of not potentially ruining anything, I let this one play out before reporting on it.

Here is a little bit about Paul and why this signing will have such a huge impact for our youth development system.

Paul Holocher the Player

Paul was born in Seattle, he played his youth soccer in Washington. He then went on to play college soccer at Santa Clara University under Steve Sampson–who would coincidentally later replace him as the head coach of Cal Poly–and won a national championship in 1989 (co-champions with University of Virginia). After 4 years at SCU he played professionally with the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks, Admira Wacker (Austria), Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Monterrey Bay Jaguars, San Jose Clash! (1996), and the California Jaguars before eventually retiring at the age of 28. He also had 1 cap for the U.S. Men’s National Team in 1996.

Paul Holocher the Coach

Coach Holocher began his coaching career at UC Santa Cruz where he led them to a 109-24-8 record. He also took the Slugs to the 2004 Division III championship game. Paul is well known in the Santa Cruz soccer community having founded a youth soccer club named Catalyst SC. After 8 years at UC Santa Cruz, Paul took his talents to Cal Poly where he turned that D1 program around and led them to some of the best years that program has ever seen. He coached Cal Poly for 7 years before parting ways to become Director of Development at Maui FC in Hawaii.

Why Quakes Fans Should Be Very Excited

One might ask why we should be excited for this change in management with the academy. What can Paul Holocher do that Steve Wondolowski and Marquis White couldn’t? Didn’t we have the best season in our academies history this year?

With all do respect to Marquis and Steve, the team was so successful largely because of talent alone. Don’t get me wrong, Steve and Marquis did a great job here and their ability to lead the boys to success should not be understated, but it was clear to everyone involved that the club needed to move on. A chance to get a coach with the experience and soccer savviness that Paul has cannot be passed up.


For me, this is the most exciting part of having coach Holocher managing our academy teams. Paul runs the Dutch / Barca 4-3-3. Why is that important? Why does it matter?

It’s very important for many reasons. The 4-3-3 is a very possession oriented system with a high emphasis on keeping the ball, knowing when and how to move without it, and getting the ball back as quick as you can. Paul made a trip to Spain to observe Pep Gaurdiola’s training’s with Barcalona and came back a changed man. He fell in love with the Barca style of play and system. He’s made it his mission to implement this type of beautiful soccer to the teams he manages ever since. Not only is the 4-3-3 a good system to run for it’s beauty, it’s also a super effective style to play, ESPECIALLY for the Earthquakes youth teams. In my opinion the 4-3-3 only works when you have the best players and we definitely have the most talented players, not only in California, but also nationwide. Marquis and Steve ran the traditional English flat 4-4-2 which worked well for the most part (due to the raw talent of our players), but it really limited the players. When you have the best talent, it’s better to let them be free and creative, while still keeping their shape and working hard. The 4-3-3 is a formation most players prefer and is a very common system taught in Europe for it’s easiness on the eye and effectiveness.

You can get a really good understanding of Paul and his system from listening to this* interview he did a few years ago with http://www.johnpranjic.com/. (Listen to it, you won’t regret it!)

What type of players benefit from the 4-3-3?

99% of players benefit from the 4-3-3, but you need to have the right players for it.

The Keeper:

No change for the keeper, only difference might be that the keeper must be ready to help organize the back 4 if a fullback is caught up field, because the 4-3-3 utilizes overlapping fullbacks.

The Center Backs:

Same role as always. They will just have to make sure they’re wary of their fullbacks potentially being caught up field.

It will be interesting to see what kind of Center back Paul prefers. Smaller with more pace, big guys, or average size guys. Usually when you press a lot, it forces the other team to play long ball, so he will probably want another big guy next to the already massive UC Irvine commit, Armon Ojuola.

The Fullbacks: 

This is where we should expect to see a lot of change. Under Marquis and Steve, our fullbacks were actually center backs playing in that spot. This is a tactical decision that can be bad or good. Obviously when you put CBs in that spot, the defensive side is very solid, not only because they stay at home and don’t get caught up field on counters, but also because of that, the wingers have more freedom. The cons of CBs in the fullback spot are that you don’t get anything from them going forward, and that really hurts your attack.

Like most things, it really depends on the circumstances for what you should do. I strongly disagreed with playing CBs in that spot because we played a flat 4-4-2 which already has great defensive shape – no need to be even more conservative. You normally see teams who play that formation with two-way overlapping fullbacks. Another reason is because we played with a 9 and having 2 more wide players sending in quality service (not long ball, service) would create a lot more chances, especially because you also have a second striker in the box to not only possibly connect with the cross himself, but finish any secondary chances off deflections and such. In a 4-3-3 you can give your fullbacks the freedom to bomb forward because you have 3 CMs and they can fill in for them if there is a counter attack. You also have the 10 and wingers for your fullbacks to connect with.

The Defensive Midfielder (6):

Under Paul, our D-Mid will be used a little differently. Marquis and Steve used their 6 in a double pivot with a box to box guy (8) next to him. Under Paul, they will have more of a defensive role, staying back, winning balls, stopping counter attacks, following opposing players making runs into the box, and filling in for the center backs and fullbacks if necessary. This gives everyone around him more freedom.

The Box to Box Midfielder (8):

Like the other CMs, the 8 will have to work his tail off, but it will pay off at the end. Like a box to box mid in a 4-4-2, the 8 will have to be everywhere, constantly buzzing around and making himself available for the ball as an outlet for his teammates. He will be roaming around winning the ball, preventing counters, and starting the attack. He must be the most fit guy on the team. The only difference is that in a 4-3-3 the 8 is in a bit of a more advanced role and will have to contribute in the attack. But his most important job is making sure the ball keeps moving.

The Central Attacking Midfielder (CAM/10):

This is probably the most complicated position in the footballing world. Some formations don’t have 10s at all (Empty Bucket flat 4-4-2). Steve and Marquis had Amir Bashti kinda playing that role, but more of a Dempsey type Secondary Striker who can also be very creative in a 4-4-1-1. In the 4-3-3 the 10 is mostly a pure midfielder, super creative, keeps the ball moving, and can make that final killer pass. He should also be able to shoot from outside the box. Also because he has 2 CMs behind him, that gives the 10 more freedom to attack rather than only create. 10s help you not only have more creative options, but it also prevents you from getting over-run in the midfield, and he also makes it easier to keep possession, which is very important. Expect to see a new kid in this spot. Rudy Castro from the De Anza Force has signed with the Quakes U18s. He led De Anza U16s in scoring last year with 13 goals.

The Wingers:

With 3 center-mids rather than your traditional 2, it gives your 11/7 (wingers) more freedom. They still get back, but they don’t have as much defensive responsibility as wingers in a diamond or flat 4-4-2. They will run a little less under Paul because of the possession, which should preserve energy for those killer 1 v 1 attacks. Expect to see Ivan Valencia and Rei Dorwart thrive under Paul.

Center Forward:

Your CF also gets the same freedom as the wingers because of the 3 CMs, the only con is that there’s only one of them. This will mean the 10 will have to do a lot of work not only controlling the midfield, but also being able to be like a Secondary Striker. You can play a target man, or a speedy CF in this system, that’s really up to the coaches preference. For the 18s we’re going to see either Kaya Fabretti or Philip Hausen. They’re “finishers” rather than speedy guys, which I think is perfect for a 4-3-3. Most coaches prefer their speed on the wings, you need somebody up top who will finish off the chances up top. Both of these guys have shown their ability to score. Philip had a very injury plagued year last season, but he still scored 4 goals in 9 starts. He’s scored 25 goals in 43 starts in the past 3 years for the U18s. Kaya is younger–also eligible to play for the U16s again– and has recently committed to UCSB, which has one of the best soccer programs in the country.

Holocher’s 4-3-3:

He wants to run it just like Pep’s Barcelona teams. Own the possession, attack as a team, defend as a team, move the ball around, let the ball do the work, and be patient. When we lose the ball, get it back as quick as you can, preferably within 6 seconds. I really think Paul will be successful at implementing this system with our academy, and the results will show. High pressure is a very useful tool in youth soccer in my opinion. The back-line’s of youth teams do not have the passing ability/quality (for the most part) to handle the pressure and that will result in a lot of turnovers that will benefit the Quakes who will then look to keep the ball and ultimately score. Even Quakes first team back-line in MLS can barely handle high pressure.

Home Field Change: 

As anyone who follows the academy knows, the team has played their home games all over the place. Last year they played home matches at Mustang Soccer Complex, Cal State East Bay, Earthquakes Training Facility, Spartan Stadium, Independence High School, Avaya Stadium, SJSU Grass Soccer Field, and Mount Pleasant High School. Just to name a few.

According to my sources, we should expect to see the majority of home games played at SJSU’s Grass Soccer field. This is great news because IT’S GRASS! Very nice grass too, a little lumpy in some spots, but one of the best fields of any California USSDA club.

Get to know Paul even more from this article by Trent Merfeld:


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2 Responses

  1. luis valencia says:

    excellent work friend, congratulations

  2. Great article.

    While you make a great case to hire Holocher, I was very surprised to see such a radical change in the Quakes academy coaching staff after such a successful 2014-15 campaign.

    The U18s, U16s and U14 all qualified for their respective post-season playoffs. Indeed, the U18s finished champions, and third in the country, and looked very poised in their playoff game at SJSU. Chris Leitch has done a fabulous job as director.

    Marquis and Steve have a high standard for Holocher to meet – it’s going to be fun to watch.

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