‘Just inspirational’: Craig Harrington on his journey and life as a Chicago Red Stars coach

Chicago Red Stars assistant coach Craig Harrington. (Image Provided by Shaina Benhiyoun Photography)

by Sandra Herrera

 

Last year, the Chicago Red Stars expanded their coaching staff to include two First Assistant Coaches, Gary Curneen and Craig Harrington.

Harrington took the time to chat with Second City Soccer about his journey to the Red Stars and how he has integrated himself into the team’s culture, a big factor that drew him to the position in the first place.

 

Coaching History

Having played with Oxford United FC and Swindon Town FC, Harrington’s coaching experience started in 2010 as Head Coach of MLS club LA Galaxy’s youth academy until 2013. Harrington lead the U-16 team to the 2011-12 USSDA SoCal Division Championship and was part of LA Galaxy’s senior staff that won the 2011 and 2012 MLS Cup titles. Under his coaching, a dozen players were called into U.S. youth national team camps.

After his time with LA Galaxy, Harrington was named Technical Director of the Turks and Caicos Islands National Team ahead of the 2014 Caribbean Cup Qualifying, a time in which the team rose to its highest-ever place in the FIFA rankings at the time.

After leaving his post with TCIFA, Harrington, who holds a U.S. Soccer Federation ‘A’ License, sought another coaching challenge that would eventually lead him to Chicago.

Red Stars Era

While trying to continue his coaching career and push ahead with the right professional juncture that would come next, the opportunity to work with Head Coach Rory Dames and a club like the Red Stars is what drew Harrington to coaching in NWSL.

“I think ultimately it was to work for Rory [Dames] and be part of his coaching staff,” said Harrington. “The Red Stars are well renowned throughout women’s soccer, as well as the organization. Then you got the lure of Chicago, the city.”

Having two young daughters, Harrington wanted his next move to be one that wouldn’t just have an impact on him but his own family as well.

“Just hearing about what Rory was doing and what he’d achieved so far with a super talented group that he has put together. I wanted to see if the opportunity could come up,” said Harrington. “Also having two daughters and having such a diverse collection of strong independent women as role models on top of everything? It’s just inspirational. That was definitely a big factor.”

The announcement of both Harrington and Curneen as first assistant coaches to the team came during the offseason after the 2017 season saw the Red Stars fall in the semi-final for the third consecutive time. However, the mentality of the team wasn’t one Harrington found as lost or downtrodden, but rather vibrant and united.

“I felt welcomed from day one. From the players, the staff, the front office staff, I felt like I had been here for a long time,” said Harrington. “I remember feeling like that in preseason, just how it all seemed to flow and fit. I think that’s a credit to Rory and how welcoming he was and how easy he made that transition and how trusting he was from day one. Especially for a new person that he didn’t know personally coming into his coaching staff and trusting to help him take the team to higher heights.”

Harrington mentions that coming into the club and being able to transition into just being ‘coach’ has been an easy process due to the club’s practice and general culture, something that is referenced often by both current and former players.

“The culture was in place before us,” says Harrington. “I think that’s also due to the usual players like Mautzy [Alyssa Mautz], and Vanessa [DiBernardo], and Gilly [Arin Wright]. You can go back to the Shannon Boxes, and the Chups [Lori Chalupny] but it’s the rawness of the people I aforementioned that is truly what the Red Stars brand is. And Rory and Arnim have been in the forefront of leading that.”

Whether you’re a coach, player, or staff, Harrington feels the club’s foundation has provided everyone involved with the opportunity to grow.

“That culture is already there. You’re a product of the environment that you’re in. And that’s already set there, that makes it easy. I think it makes it easy for good people to come in to. Being one of the top teams in the entire world in women’s football, I think it’s just really easy to come in and fit in from day one, that there is definitely a creation or feeling of a family when you’re there,” said Harrington.

“We have that within our coaching staff as well. I think that happens because we spend so much time together. Yes, the staff, but also with the players. We have so many different experiences. We had some great moments in our careers and we’ve had bad ones as well, but, putting that together I think both collectively and individually you start to create that bond.”

New Season

Having experienced a year with the squad, with both the joys and heartaches that a season can bring, Harrington is optimistic about the outlook for the Red Stars for the remainder of the season.

For much of the first half of the Red Stars season, the team found itself nursing various injuries while trying to adapt to a new formation. With week 8 approaching and nearly a third of the season in the books, Harrington believes the team is in a better place than they were last year.

“I think we’re just in a healthier state this year.  I also think last year because of those injuries – the players that are going to contribute this year – got a lot more minutes than they may have done in past seasons because of the start we’ve had and the injuries that we’ve had to certain key players,” said Harrington.

Asking the team to play into a 4-3-3 versus their usual 4-4-2 diamond that held an emphasis on defense has placed Chicago Red Stars in the top four of the league’s table and provided some thrilling goals so far this season.

“You definitely have to have a change in that mentality in that kind of style of play in what we’re asking of the players. Obviously, there’s still that DNA of, we want to defend, we want to be difficult to play against, but we also want to be more expansive going forward, and we want to score goals. We want to entertain the crowd,” said Harrington.

“We have talented individuals across the frontline. We got one of the best one-v-one defenders in the league. I think it’s just the players’ buy-in and their work rate, along with the staff – both collectively and individually – that everyone’s fully on board with what we want to do.”

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