Written by: Carlos Funes
Photo by: UCI
Yossi Raz has had quite a remarkable soccer career, or football as he sometimes tends to call it. With 13 years of experience in coaching, Raz has an assortment of accolades to his name but it’s the ones you can’t find with a Google search that are some of his most proud.
Raz started his collegiate career as a player at Cal State Northridge, earning All-Big West Conference First-Team honors in each of his four seasons as a midfielder for the Division l team. Raz netted 28 assists to rank himself fifth on the all-time career list and was also named Big West Scholar-Athlete of the year in 2002. That’s just as a player – the now head coach of the University of California Irvine men’s soccer team was California Collegiate Athletic Association Coach of the Year in 2014 after leading the Cal Poly Pomona men’s soccer team to conference regular season and tournament championships.
But what separates Coach Raz from other successful collegiate coaches? It’s his diversion of focus on the task of soccer itself, focusing on the “student” part of the esteemed title “student-athlete” while managing to achieve positive results on and off the field.
“If it’s just about football then there’s no point in doing this work in this capacity,” says Raz after asked what being a college coach is all about.
As head coach of UCI one would expect his primary goal to be that of a winning season with some trophies to take back to Anteater Stadium in Irvine, but Raz is a man with a bigger picture and a sound coaching philosophy.
“Football is for young players to develop as leaders of other organizations,” states Raz. “The big picture is very simple. You use soccer as a tool to learn about life, you use soccer to enhance who you’re going to be as a human being, you use moments in soccer to develop you as a soccer player but more importantly to shape who you’re going to be and better your character.
Even though character development is one of his main focuses, the UC Irvine men’s soccer team is having a storybook season. He has won the 2018 Big West Season Championship with a very respectable 11-5-2 on the season, with a 5-1-1 record in conference play and also the Big West Conference Coach of the Year award, showing Raz’s prowess as a tactician on the field as much as he is off it. One could easily find that his coaching ability has helped star players such as ten-year MLS veteran Sean Franklin, best known for being a vital component of the LA Galaxy squad that won back-to-back MLS Cups in 2011 and 2012. But one cannot find the distinction of how proud he is of his players that have found success in much different fields than soccer without speaking to the man himself.
“I have so many success stories that I’m proud of – from a player that became an engineer that was recruited by NASA and is now working on his PhD at UC Irvine to another young man who is volunteering with UNICEF, going across the world teaching English in parts of the world that are not as blessed economically,” said Raz. “Whatever they’re doing, the fact of the matter is that they all chose something that they love, that they’re all devoting their time to be the best they can be, that they all like getting up earlier than everyone else, caring for others and they don’t cheat or cut corners – that’s a big success story for us.”
Coach Raz’s players’ life success is a testament to the work he has put in throughout his own life. Born in Israel, and a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, Raz came to the United States to simultaneously further his education and follow his dream of playing soccer at a higher level. This led him to be recruited by Cal State Northridge men’s soccer head coach Terry Davila to join his team in 2001. Amidst having to assimilate to life in California and having to constantly work on his new second language of English, Yossi never let his foot off the pedal and managed to collect All-Big West academic accolades every year he was eligible. Even though he was a stellar athlete he always knew there would be a life beyond being a player on the field.
The truth is that most players will not go onto play professional soccer. They might not even receive a scholarship to play in college. But under Coach Raz’s tutelage and under other coaches like him, they will learn some valuable life lessons and become better people for it, similar to the lessons of AYSO. He understands his position in the vast soccer landscape – coaching the new generation of players, making sure that they are prepared for life while valuing honesty, hard work and attention
AYSO has been fortunate enough to have Coach Raz share his coaching philosophy as a speaker at AYSO Residential Camps in 2016 and 2017. AYSO Residential Camp, a camp with the goal of a balanced on field and off field learning experience, was the perfect setting for his teaching. Hand-picked to be an instructor for the core level of 12-16 year olds, Raz understood the goal of AYSO and is thankful for the mission that AYSO accomplishes.
“AYSO is unbelievable because of all the people that volunteer their time. AYSO is one of the best organizations in the world,” states Raz. “How many organizations in the world are so big and so successful, and built on volunteering? I’d like to say thank you for bettering the pyramid of soccer in America. You’re giving all these kids the opportunity of playing soccer because you give your time – I think it’s amazing.”
Raz has clear objectives as to what he believes should be the goals for working with our future generations of soccer in America and he admirably works to give back to the sport that has given him so much.
“The main objectives are to enjoy and develop. These are kids and we need to let them enjoy the game as kids. The better ones will develop and possibly go on to play and some others will stop, but they will still have that base and they will be fans of the game, coaches of the future and make the beautiful game in America better.”
AYSO thanks you Coach Raz for your work in the world of soccer and for being a great example of player development and positive coaching for the growing culture of soccer in America.