His father was a soccer player. And a coach. So it was only natural for Karl Dodd to take up the game as a kid.
Now Dodd, a former professional A-League defender from Australia, is the head coach of the Matao, Guam’s national soccer team, making changes and leading the way.
Just over two weeks ago, the Matao faced elimination on their home soil. It was in the first round of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023 Preliminary Joint Qualifications. But instead of being cut, the team beat the Bhutan Thunder Dragons 5-0 (with help from a hat trick by Jason Cunliffe), and advanced to the second round.
The Matao had the Dragons on their heels throughout the game.
“That’s our philosophy. We are not here to take the back foot,” Dodd said. “That’s what we are changing here. In the past, the philosophy for Guam may have been defensive-minded, but we need to be on the front foot, take the game to them and keep constant pressure on them.”
Started as a ball boy at age 2
The victory over the Dragons has a long and rich backstory, and one of its strands took root decades ago and far from Guam. The seed was planted when Dodd was a youngster, watching his father coach.
“I’ve been taken down the fields as early as I could remember,” Dodd said. “I was a ball boy and just helping out at my father’s training sessions when I was 2 years of age. I was always around, so I think it was just brainwashed into it.
“I love the coaching side from watching my father as a head coach. I love that part of the game, probably more than being a player. You can only play for a certain period of time, and I made the most of that, so I’ve been chipping away at the coaching side.”
Dodd started playing when he was 5 years old. He played in the A-League for the Queensland Roar and the Wellington Phoenix. Dodd also made an appearance for the Falkirk Football Club in Scotland. Then, after suffering a number of injuries, he retired professionally at age 31.
Learned strategy by listening to his elders
“I spent a fair bit of time rehabbing some major knee injuries early on. I had a good spell and then it caught up with me towards the end. It just got to the point where it wasn’t worth it and I wasn’t the same player,” Dodd said.
Dodd started coaching early and got a coaching badge when he was only 19. He coached kids and worked his way through all the age groups, learning their strengths and limitations, and, in the process, gaining an understanding of what he could expect from each.
“I’ve always enjoyed that side of it,” Dodd said. “My father would involve me with discussions about tactics on what he would do during different situations. I spent a fair amount of time at the clubhouse after the games and I would listen to the coaches talk. As a young boy I would listen and listen, I probably heard them talk for over a thousand games. I just enjoyed that and the tactical side on why they did things.”
Hesitation, then a leap of faith
Then the head coach position for the Guam National team came up. At first he was hesitant because this was international competition and he didn’t have experience with international football.
But then, Dodd said, “I got the confidence to throw my hat in the ring. And I got an interview and it came down to four people. I think I did well enough in the interview and I went with myself.”
Dodd was named the Matao head coach in January 2018 and with the 2019 FIFA qualifiers coming up, he immediately knew he had to make changes to the national program.
For the rest of the story, check this Sunday's Post!