Pirates on the Pitch: Q&A with Head Coach Andreas Lindberg

As a part of Clarity Stripe’s Q&A series, various members of the Clarity Stripe team interview Andreas Lindberg, head coach of the 2021 Big East Champion Seton Hall Men’s Soccer team. They talk about key moments in the Big East Championship against Georgetown, what this season has been like, the program’s turnaround, and much more! The transcription of the interview is below, and has been edited for clarity. 

B.J. Schecter: So, I’m B.J. Schecter, I run our sports media program here, I’ve been a lifelong journalist at lots of different places and here before us we have sports media students.

Lots of people that work in student media here at Seton Hall, WSOU, The Setonian, Pirate TV and so you have a veteran group of people. So, we’ll get right to it—again congratulations on your success—this being your third season.

I’ll start off with a question before kicking it over to our students: How have you built this program? When you took over the program was not very good and now you guys are Big East Champions for the first time in 30 years.

Coach Lindberg: Yeah, it’s a lot of hard work getting to it obviously, but I think any program you run—in any organization, really—starts with people, right? So, I had to go on out and recruit a staff, really, assemble a staff, and once I thought, you know, felt good about that, we started recruiting players.

The style that we have is probably different than the style of the previous coaching staff , so I had to start recruiting players to fit the way I wanted it to run and the way we wanted to play.

But it’s all about really getting the right players. You can’t make chicken salad with chicken poop. So, it’s the same, you got to get the right players for it.

B.J. Schecter: Great, well in our limited time here I’m going to turn it over to the students and we’ll fire off as many questions as possible. Alright, Jorie, you’re up first.

Jorie Mickens: Hello coach, thanks for coming into our class, and congratulations as well. I saw on social media that you guys took a day trip to Washington D.C. and did some sightseeing before the big game. Do you think that helped your team calm some nerves heading into such a crucial part of your season?

Coach Lindberg: Yeah, I mean I think it’s important that sometimes you got to be able to turn off, that you’re not just always “charged” so to speak. Playing soccer, or any sport, a lot of times you have to be aggressive. You have to have those right moments, but I think it was important for our team because we have so many international players and I think it’s important to honor American culture and American history. I thought it was very important to go there and that was something we discussed prior to that. It was a very popular trip. Unfortunately not as long as we’d hoped for, but I also didn’t want the guys to be on their feet for too long. But we did an hour and walked around and saw the historical sights and monuments that we wanted to see so that was a great trip for us.  

Ben Harris: “In that final game (against Georgetown) there was, of course, an incredibly clutch, game-saving stop from your goalkeeper Andreas Nota. What did that save mean and what kind of impactful moment was that in defining this Big East Championship season?” 

Coach Lindberg: Yeah it’s massive! It’s one of those things you’re going to look back on, which we already have, but many times. Quite frankly, when I came home the next day and watched it with my family again, and I saw that save, you know it was a big moment and it was emotional just to watch it. We talked as a group on Monday and people were sharing some of the most powerful moments that they had, and I think that one came up quite a lot. It’s a big-time credit to Andreas Nota, he was probably the only guy on the field that wanted to have a penalty kick against him because he wanted to be the hero, he loves the limelight, so you know he feels like he’s the man now even more.” 

Cameron Mendler: In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, you guys are matched up with Air Force. What have you seen so far when scouting them and how does your team fare against them?

Coach Lindberg: I’ve watched all the goals they have scored throughout the year in video clips and I watched one half of their conference final, so I have a bit of an idea of who they are. We have to go and look a little bit more in detail, so we haven’t done too much but I have a general idea of who they are and how they play and what we need to do. I would like to see more before we come up with a proper game plan. 

Dalton Allison: Hi coach my name is Dalton and I am a senior at Seton Hall. Congrats on the championship. On the pitch, just like anywhere else in the world, communication is key. Throughout this crazy year, there have been opportunities for that line of communication to break. How have you guys been able to keep an open line of communication and stick together as a unit this season?

Coach Lindberg: It started in March when the pandemic hit, and we had a lot of Zoom calls. Before then, we didn’t even know what zoom was. We broke down videos, we did quiz nights, we did different kinds of stuff. The door is “always open” to the staff. I like face-to-face and interacting, but we can’t do that right now so this is the new way of life.    

B.J. Schecter: Coach you mentioned the players, how is this team built? I know that there are a lot of international players from your native Sweden, but also players from Israel, players from different parts of Europe, how did you build this program and find all these players and put them together? Not just the players but the chemistry as well?

Coach Lindberg: Yeah, the number one thing where it starts with is the talent as a soccer player, right? So, if you don’t have the talent level, then it doesn’t really matter how good of a person you are if you don’t have some minimum requirements of some form of talent.

And then two is, once we know—we identified that talent, it comes down to how are you as a person? Recruiting, you know I’ve been doing this for 20-something years now, has really changed. Everybody can put together a highlight tape, we can get a highlight tape from anywhere in the world, it takes us five minutes to kind of get some form of interest. But most of the time it’s a hard no right off the bat.

But then after that first initial, “You know what, there’s something there we like,” We now want to see full games. It’s like 90 minutes—two hours—to watch one full game and then we want another. We watch multiple games of the same player, and then obviously setting up interviews with the players.

We can meet with the parents and the player at the same time, that’s a great way of doing it, checking references from club coaches, high school coaches, and anybody else in the soccer world to see if it’s a good fit.

And one of the things that we are really looking for is a positive attitude, energy, and that they bring something to the table. I hate to say it but kids these days—I’ve had families in the office and I’m asking, you know, “Joey” if they play other sports in high school and Mama “Smith” answers, “Oh he’s a pitcher for the baseball team.”

Well, I didn’t ask you, Mom, I asked “Joey.” I want “Joey” to answer, and it becomes really uncomfortable in the office right off the bat. But that has happened many times. But that’s very, very important that the kids are outgoing, they’re mature, they are going to be here for four years, not mom and dad, and that they’re good people.

We really pride ourselves that we have good people and in 95% of the cases, really strong students as well.

B.J. Schecter: What sort of skills do players need, not only to play at this level but play for you specifically?

Coach Lindberg: I mean we want everybody to be comfortable with the ball, so the passing is there. They need to have some form of a fitness level to be able to play at this level because American soccer is very athletic, very physical and you need to be able to have both those skill sets.

B.J. Schecter: You mentioned American soccer, so what do you think, right now, some of the big differences are at this level, you know between American soccer and European soccer or soccer overseas at the higher levels, and is that gap being closed between American and abroad?

Coach Lindberg: I think the big one is maybe the tactical understanding, “typically.” There are also so many different ways in Europe. You play one way in Croatia, and another way in Sweden, that we mentioned, and a completely different way in Brazil in South America.

One of the things typically I think that players in America have been a little bit behind are the tactical understandings of the game. And then physically, American players are very far and advanced. I do think that the gap is changing because more and more American coaches have played the game at a pretty good level.

So, I think that the future for America, when it comes to the national team, is very, very, good. I think that the MLS is now competing at a completely different level than when I came over here 20 years ago. A lot of the best American players are now playing in the top leagues in Europe, and I think it’s important for them to be playing like a Champions League type of level to really take the national team to the next level, too.

Alex Leyboldt: Hey coach, thank you so much again for joining us, and congratulations on the Big East Championship. I had noticed that this season that the team had been much more efficient defensively compared to last. With that in mind, were there any tactical changes that have made the team improve, or were upgrades made to the team?

Coach Lindberg: Yeah, it definitely starts with the upgrades that were made defensively, but we did switch formations during this season. Switching from a 4-3-3 into a 4-4-2 gives more support for the wing-backs on defense because they don’t need to advance as forward. Our formation allows for us to play the ball out wide on the attack without the threat of the opposition getting past the defense down the wing.

Kimberley Sargenti: Hi coach, congratulations! As you said a few minutes ago, the difference in skills between international players and American players, is not just skills but style. How do the international players shift into the American style? Is it difficult for players on the team to co-mingle with their different styles? 

Coach Lindberg: I don’t think so, I think the key there again is we have good people and that we recruit the person and we don’t recruit the nationalities that they are. They need to fit into Seton Hall and how we do things and it’s amazing to see, you know? We have, what is it, I think 12 different nationalities, we speak 20 different languages on the team. We have five or six different states, we have different religions, we have different races, different backgrounds. It’s tremendous that once you put that blue jersey on with the Pirate logo it’s like a neutralizer. You’re there to play the game and everyone is buying in and quite honestly that’s the biggest strength that we have as a team. It’s the unity that we have and the work rate, and the people are really playing for each other. You can ask anyone on the team, I see some of the interviews and how they talk about their teammates and about the program. That’s what I am most proud about. That we’ve been able to create this culture that we really said three years ago when we got hired, this is the culture that we want to do and now we’ve seen the fruits of it. 

Liam Plate: Going back to the Big East Championship, that was the third time you played Georgetown. You had lost before and had tied them before, so what was the biggest difference in your game plan for that third matchup against the Georgetown Hoyas?

Coach Lindberg: Yeah, we didn’t really change the game plan. We kind of stuck with the same thing and quite honestly, I think that the final was the one we deserved to win the least, which is crazy. The game that we did win was the one I thought we deserved to win it the least. That’s just typical for soccer. It’s such a small scoring game. One mistake, one big play on either side of the ball makes the difference. I think the game at home was really disappointing that we didn’t win the game and the first game where we lost in overtime, we had two penalty kicks called against us and we had a shot hit the post with two minutes to go and it’s a game of inches. This time, you know, Nota makes a big save and we score two great goals in transition. But yeah, we didn’t actually change much in the style of how we wanted to play. We started with things we think we did well in the first two games. We were like “You know what, the third time’s the charm and it’s the final. Let’s go and do it.”

B.J. Schecter: Just one final one for you Coach and we’ll let you go. Just a broader, big picture, how would you describe your philosophy? Not only with the team tactically, chemistry-wise, because you had to come here and you changed the culture. From a losing culture to a winning culture, so how would you describe your overall big picture philosophy and approach?

Coach Lindberg: I am a people person and I think that it’s like in any team. You’re managing young men, and everybody wants to win, and everybody wants to play. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen all the time. You’re going to go through losses and you’re going to have, every week, 15 to 16 kids that are not happy with you because they are not starting or they’re not getting the playing time that they think they deserve.

I think one of the things that we do well as a staff, and one of my strengths, is honesty. You just have to be brutally honest with the players without being rude and without being mean. But if you’re not honest with them they’re going to call your BS out pretty quick. We need to have fun together, like I say my door is always open come talk to me.

“Coach, why am I not playing?” We have honest conversations about why they’re not playing, what they need to do to improve, and then try to get everybody involved. Even the players that aren’t playing, that they feel like they’re part of it and that they feel that they’re important. 

I think it’s like that in life, I really don’t think there’s any in coaching a soccer team to a basketball or taking it into business or taking it into the world, it’s no different. You’re managing people and people are different and the biggest thing is to get them to buy into what you believe in and that’s a sales job.

I’m selling them to come to Seton Hall. Once they’re here they need to be happy and feel there is some love and some mutual respect. I really think that’s important. There is some part of me, I’m an X and O guy, you got to get the tactics, they would call me out if they see I have no clue what I’m talking about, they’re going to be able to call me out real quick.

But to me, it’s just about managing people, really.

B.J. Schecter: Got it. Well, we really appreciate your time today Coach and again congratulations on a terrific season. Best of luck in the NCAA tournament, we will be following you very closely and probably providing more coverage on your team than anybody. 

Coach Lindberg: Thank you and good luck to everybody. I loved your questions and thanks for all the messages, really appreciate it. Thank you guys and good luck.