Yesterday, Tormenta FC owner Darin Van Tassell spoke with us about the success his club achieved in 2016. Today, general manager Ben Freakley tells us about his role, what he learned last year, and what he is looking forward to in 2017.
Thanks again to the club for speaking with us at Soccer Down Here.
Jon Nelson: What attracted you to the job in the first place? A lot of folks think of themselves as “builders,” was that part of your attraction?
Ben Freakley: Darin Van Tassell attracted me to the job. I had met him while coaching his son in our youth club long before any of us had the idea that we would add a PDL franchise. Darin has a contagious energy and vision. My original role was set as GM. As we got close to the start of the season, Darin and Jeremy (Aven) came back to me again and asked if I would like to be GM and head coach.
I never looked at myself as a “builder.” I knew that the ownership group put an incredible amount of resources into the franchise and didn’t want to let them down. As far as the team goes, I just wanted to give them a clear vision of who we were trying to be and plan training sessions that would reflect that vision on game day.
JN: Any role models that you may take your style and/or coaching approach from?
BF: Richard Rose and Ralph Lundy have been the two biggest coaching role models in my life. I have had the opportunity to learn from some amazing coaches along the way, but those two stand out the most. Richie’s approach and detail in training sessions is magical, and Ralph’s ability to get the most out of every player is something that has always stayed with me. While they are both very different coaches, they both share a deep commitment to their players. I am grateful to have been able to work with both of them.
JN: What was it like assembling a squad from scratch?
BF: It was a great deal of work on two levels. First, I had to tell the story of who we were trying to be rather that who we were. We were starting from nothing, so it was paramount that we got that first group of players right. Secondly, between tryouts, video and phone calls there were a lot of players to see. Selecting 25 players was difficult, because there were so many to choose from.
I enjoyed the process immensely. Through it, I was able to build relationships with the players before they arrived for the season as well as speak with some very successful college coaches about their players, programs and goals for the future. Seeing them all report to Statesboro to start training was a reminder that this process takes time and deserves attention.
JN: And to see the side come out for that first match?
BF: I thought to myself, “This is awesome.” We were on the road, and it was a tough environment. There had to be 1500-2000 people in attendance, and there were a couple fans that were beating the hell out of some drums the whole game. All week we had talked about defending, and we got a shutout in our first ever game. And a week later we played our first home match, and over 3100 fans were there cheering for the Magenta and Blue… and that’s when I knew we were on to something special.
JN: What was the biggest surprise last season?
BF: Not really a surprise because I have always believed he is a special player, but James Brighton is a name to know. He was raised up in our youth club for 6 years and is the leading goal scorer in the USSF DA now with Atlanta United. We put James on the roster because we want the best youth players in our club to have that opportunity in the PDL. James made the 25 man roster and scored some great goals for us this past season. He is the most professional youth player I have ever worked with and he will be a pro someday. He is hungry and humble, and I am excited to see where his career goes. He took his shirt off after he scored his first goal ever…I guess that was a surprise.
JN: What was the biggest takeaway for you as a coach?
BF: Less is more. Whether it is giving instruction in training, a pre-game talk, a post-game talk or the length of training sessions, less is more.
JN: Who should folks look out for as players both from Year One and looking forward to Year Two?
BF: Jad Arslan is coming back, and he is a ball of fire in the middle. He played with Tony Annan (Academy Director with Atlanta United) as a youth player and now plays at West Virginia University. We are excited to have Jad back, and his training mentality is contagious.
Peyton Ericson from South Carolina is also coming back after being named PDL All-Eastern Conference last year. He is another one of Tony’s kids from Atlanta and is a very athletic center back.
Sam Lofts led us in goals last year and went on to lead Lander in goals this season as well. His movement off the ball is nice, and he finds the ball at the right time enabling him to do his job.
Team captain Ayao Sossou is back again and will be our team’s oldest and most experienced player – he’s a fan favorite as he coaches for us in the club during the year and does a great job with the youth players. The newcomers arrive with some great stats from their college teams and endorsements from their coaches. We’re looking forward to the additions.
JN: What is the biggest challenge for you in Year Two?
BF: On every level, outdo Year One. Win more games. Get more players in the PDL spotlight. Add to the fan base. Qualify for Open Cup.
JN: To see the club recognized at the league level for their accomplishments in Year One. how cool was that?
BF: That award is a testament to Heidi Jeffers. She is our Vice-President for Franchise Development and works nonstop on all things Tormenta FC. Between marketing, sponsorships, social media, player interviews, coaching interviews, ticket sales and merchandising… she really does it all. She is exceptionally smart, and I was thrilled to be sitting next to her when we won that award just to see her and Darin smile.
JN: With tryouts around the corner, what kind of player are you looking for?
BF: There are so many players available for PDL. We get inquiries from everywhere. To be good in the league, a player has to be able to do his job very well. To be great in the league, a player has to be able to transition.
One of the things I learned most last year is that the better players could transition in the game to the attacking or defending side of the ball without delay. That’s important to me. I don’t want guys that can just attack well or defend well. I want guys that are going to commit to winning the ball back together as a team with enthusiasm. I want guys that are going to put their head down and run into the box to score a goal because it’s a numbers game, and one or two in the box is low percentage from an attacking standpoint.
Most importantly… I want guys that are going to be high character role models in the community. We are a community team, and our fan base has a great range. I want for our fans to fall in love with our team for the quality of the young men that make up the roster.
JN: Describe Tormenta’s style and approach to play. Is there a certain “attitude” you think you have and in the players you’re looking for in Year Two?
BF: We want to balance attractive and effective soccer. The attitude we talk about in training at the PDL level is having a hunger to “master” the things learned along the way. Our mission statement is only three words: Pros Start Here. As a result, attention to detail in all aspects of the game is critical. We will approach each game as its own opportunity and blend who we are with what we need to do on the night.
JN: Looking into your crystal ball, how would you like to see things grow and evolve going forward?
BF: I would love to see these guys playing in the Open Cup. I believe we have the facilities, fan base and community support to host PDL playoffs which would be great for Tormenta FC. I believe we are close enough to some bigger soccer markets that will also afford us affiliate or partnership opportunities in the future. Lastly, I would love to see Tormenta FC playing games against USL or MLS teams during the summer to give our players in the PDL other opportunities to grow and be seen.