They preach the importance of teamwork, accountability, and preparation, telling their players that honing these skills will lead to success both on the field and in the real world.
“We want to use sports as a stepping-stone to help our student-athletes succeed in the future,” says Phillips. “If we relay the right message on the field, they’ll carry it into the rest of their lives.” Notes Gbandi: “We make sure that our players work hard and enjoy what they do.”
Both coaches see themselves as mentors with a wealth of wisdom to pass on to their protégés. They’re soccer lifers, with the resumés to prove it.
Gbandi led the University of Connecticut to the NCAA championship in 2000, the same year he won the Hermann Trophy as college soccer’s top player. After being selected first in the 2002 Major League Soccer SuperDraft, the backline ace went on to play more than 120 professional games with FC Dallas before moving overseas to lace up his cleats for a Norway club. His coaching accomplishments have been equally impressive, highlighted by consecutive NCAA tournament appearances as an associate head coach for Dartmouth University in 2014 and 2015.
Phillips shined as Clemson University’s goalkeeper from 2004 to 2007, concluding her collegiate career with a 1.09 goals against average and 22 shutouts. She went on to play professionally for several different teams—including the Boston Breakers, of the National Women’s Soccer League—and has been a part of Northeastern’s coaching staff since 2010, when she was hired as an assistant coach.
It’s safe to say that Northeastern has become Phillips’ home away from home: “I enjoy going to practice every day, even when we have the worst practice in the world,” she says. “When you have the right group of student-athletes, it’s easy to go to work.” For Gbandi, choosing Northeastern was a no-brainer: “It was an easy decision to come here,” he says. “It’s a great university, where academics come first.”
Northeastern’s captains see the pride that Gbandi and Phillips have for the university as well as for the sport of soccer. They enjoy playing for their new leaders, they say, noting that their coaching philosophies have empowered them to reach their full potential as students, as athletes, and as people.
“Coach Phillips has taught us a lot about being respectful members of society and showing up in the same gear and looking professional when we travel,” says captain Carina Deandreis, a senior midfielder. “It’s about building an image of ourselves and remembering these things as we grow up.”
Gbandi’s approach-and-then-retreat style of coaching—his way of hammering home technique and strategy at practice and then letting his players work through their mistakes in games—mirrors the real-world situations in which they might find themselves after Northeastern. And his charges wouldn’t have it any other way.
“In practice, he’s very good at giving us advice,” says captain Jonathan Thuresson, a junior goalkeeper, “but he understands that he can’t affect the games too much and leaves it up to us to figure it out.”
The men (1-2-0) and the women (2-3-1) have played competitive soccer to begin the 2016 season, but Gbandi and Phillips believe that their best play lies ahead. Both coaches are striving to bring more consistency to their respective programs, with an eye toward reaching the NCAA tournament on a more regular basis. Patience, as the saying goes, is a virtue.
“This year, we want to get better each and every day,” says Gbandi. “Long term, we want to reach the NCAA tournament and make the Final Four.” Says Phillips: “Our long-term goal is to get ourselves into the top 30 in the country every year.”
The women’s team will host Boston College on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Parsons Field, with a pre-game barbecue beginning at 12:30 p.m. Shuttle busses to the game will be leaving from Chicken Lou’s starting at noon, and will run every 15 minutes until game time. The next home game for the men’s team will take place on Saturday, Sept. 17, at Parsons Field, where the club will take on Drexel.