John Ellinger may be a rookie head coach in Major League Soccer, but his hiring by Real Salt Lake has been referred to as "brilliant" by several executives around the league.
Not only does Ellinger have a unique eye for the game, but when it comes to the youth players in this country, he is the foremost expert, having spent the last decade as head coach of the Under-17 U.S. National Team. During that tenure, he groomed future stars like DeMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan and Freddy Adu. He was also an assistant coach on the 2000 Olympic team.
His first-hand experience with the youth players in this country will only help Salt Lake down the road as MLS teams continue putting more emphasis on younger and younger players, like the rest of the world.
More than anything, however, Ellinger is a player's coach.
That's why Real Salt Lake was able to acquire U.S. National teamer Clint Mathis, who made a promise to Ellinger five years ago that if Ellinger ever became a head coach somewhere, he'd love to play for him.
That's why Brian Dunseth is in Salt Lake. The captain of the 2000 Olympic team was playing in Sweden when he heard about Ellinger's hiring, and the news gave him extra incentive to return to the MLS.
"It's never about playing head games with me," said Ellinger. "Whether it's being straightforward or blunt, I always let my players know what the problem is and how to deal with it."
And the players love that honesty.
Many of the players will also love his attack-oriented approach. For as long as Ellinger's been coaching, he's prescribed to the philosophy of going forward assuming his defenders were organized in the back.
It doesn't hurt to have a strong goalie either. That's why Ellinger wasted no time in asking Peter Mellor to be his top assistant. A former professional goalie in England for 17 years, Mellor has been Ellinger's right-hand man at the U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., for nearly a decade. They've been coaching together since 1992.
"He has the experience of working with young goalkeepers, but he still hasn't forgot what it's like to manage older players," said Ellinger.
During his tenure with U.S. youth national teams and Olympic teams in the past decade and a half, Mellor coached future standout keepers Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller and Tim Howard, amongst many more.
His task with Salt Lake is to mold D.J. Countess, 22, into the team's goalie of the future.
In addition to assisting Ellinger, Mellor will also be the head coach of RSL's reserve team.
Ellinger's second assistant is no stranger to the MLS. Brian Johnson played in the midfield for the Kansas City Wizards from 1996 to 2000, starting 34 games. Following his stint in the MLS, he played two seasons with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of the A-League.
He spent this past season as an assistant coach on Ohio State's men's soccer team.
"Besides being knowledgable, you want individuals of good quality on and off the field," said Ellinger. "You want guys who have a history of getting along with players in a positive way."
RSL's third assistant is no stranger to Salt Lake City. During the five years the Utah Blitzz were in existence, coach Chris Agnello guided the minor league team to two national championships and five national semifinal appearances.
"With our fourth coach, we wanted someone local, someone who has a relationship with various groups in the community," said Ellinger.Agnello's role is a part-time position.
Real Salt Lake coaching staff
Previous Club: U-17 U.S. National team
Previous Club: U-17 U.S. National teamNote: Was Ellinger's top assistant with the U-17 national team. Has worked with all of the U.S. National Teams, men and women, since joining U.S. Soccer in 1992 as a part-time assistant. Was a professional goalie in England from 1963 to 1980.
Previous Club: Ohio State UniversityComment on this story Note: Spent the past two years as an assistant with Ohio State. Johnson played collegiately at Fresno State, and he then spent five years as a professional with the Kansas City Wizards from 1996 to 2000. Kansas City won the MLS Cup in 2000.
Previous Club: Utah BlitzzNote: Prior to joining RSL, Agnello served as head coach, general manager and co-owner of the Utah Blitzz in the Pro Select League. During those five years, the Blitzz won two national championships.