Rob Vincent’s playing career may have come to an abrupt end but that hasn’t killed any of his ambition.
“I’m aiming just as high as a coach, as I did as a player. I want to be as good a coach as I can be and coach at the highest possible level.”
The 27-year-old from Liverpool had to hang up his boots this year after an eight year playing career in America which took him from college soccer to the very top, DC United of MLS. A knee injury suffered last year may have called time on his goal scoring exploits on the field but he certainly isn’t done with football yet.
“Though I was hoping to be able to play for a lot longer, I’m glad that I could step straight into coaching and now it’s time for me to start climbing the ladder all over again.”
Climbing the ladder is something Vincent is certainly used to doing. Having spent time with boyhood club Everton and Crewe Alexandra as youngster, it was at Stockport County where he saw his professional football dream come to an end in England, not that he ever let that hold him back.
“The idea of coming to the US had always been in the back of my mind but then I started to hear about the possibility of playing college soccer if things didn’t work out in England.
“Once I found out I wasn’t going pro with Stockport, I started really exploring my options and coming to the US, I got a couple of scholarship offers and I just couldn’t turn the opportunity down.
“It was either that or play semi pro and have a full time job, which I didn’t want to do.”
The offer Vincent accepted was from the University of Charleston where he would combine college soccer with a degree in Sport Administration. The university’s athletic team was known as the Charleston Golden Eagles and in his first season in 2009, he was named as the freshman of the year for his division. It was the start of a successful college career.
“Playing college soccer was an incredible experience,” he says. “Something I would recommend to any young players who find themselves in a similar position to me when I was 18.
“I was very fortunate to be part of a successful program, with great teammates, on a beautiful campus. There were times when classes became difficult but I never got a point were I felt it was out of my control.
“I always felt very fortunate to still be playing football and getting a degree at the same time.”
During his four seasons playing college soccer for his university, the attacking midfielder also spent three summers playing in the PDL. The fourth tier in the American pyramid, the PDL was a great opportunity for Vincent to continue playing football throughout the summer holidays.
“The PDL was basically a way for the more ambitious college players to keep playing and maybe catch some professional coaches’ eyes throughout the summer,” says Vincent.
“The standard was generally pretty good. Every game was competitive, whereas every now and again in college you would get the odd 7 or 8-0.”
In his second summer with West Virginia Chaos, Vincent was named as the club’s youngest ever captain as he finished the 2011 season with nine goals and six assists in 16 appearances.
Once his degree was complete, the Liverpudlian had his heart set on a professional deal and that was exactly what he achieved when in 2013 he joined USL side Pittsburgh Riverhounds after impressing on trial.
His first two seasons with the then third-tier club were very solid, if not spectacular. He made 56 appearances scoring a respectable seven goals from midfield but no-one could have expected what happened in his third season with the club, well no-one except Vincent himself.
“I don’t really know how exactly it happened,” he says. “I certainly felt as though I had more than three goals in me, in each of the first couple of seasons. I got into some good positions and always felt like I should have been closer to seven or eight.
“I didn’t take pens or free kicks though and we also didn’t score many goals as a team.”
What the former Stockport man is referring to is his incredible 2015 season. After seven goals in two seasons, Vincent tripled that tally in a single season, firing in a remarkable 21 goals in all competitions. He ended the season as the third top scorer in the league and made the USL Team of the Season.
“Everything just clicked. Our new coach, Mark Steffens, changed the whole style. He brought in new players, a new philosophy of playing and moved me further up the field into a more advanced role and from game one, the goals just kept coming.
“I scored three or four pens [it was four], a couple of free kicks maybe, but I just kept finding myself in the right spot at the right time. Everything just went right for me that season.”
His scintillating season did not go unnoticed and in 2016, after another trial, Vincent joined MLS club DC United, finally completing the transition from college soccer to the top tier of football in America. It was a dream come true for the goal-scoring midfielder.
“Part of the reason I came to the US in the first place was because I felt my chances of still playing pro were higher here than they were in the UK and the aim was always MLS.
“For a while it looked out of reach but fortunately I caught the eye of DC United coach, Ben Olsen, when we played against them in the US Open Cup and they signed me at the beginning of the next season. It was a very proud moment, for sure.”
His move to DC wasn’t an instant success however, in fact he rejoined his old side Pittsburgh on loan for a single match after failing to break into the DC squad. But on his return, he finally got his chance and grabbed it with both hands.
“As with any step up, it took some time to get used to it. From day one of pre-season I knew I was good enough to play at that level but had to figure out a way to break into the team and stay there.
“It took several months but I got in to the team for about the last three months of the year. The team started winning and I kept my spot in the middle. We were able to kick on and make the playoffs so it was great to be a part of that.”
He finished the season with 21 appearances in all competitions and a couple of goals and could not wait to kick on in the following season.
However, it was not to be for the now 27-year-old.
Just two games into the new season, Vincent suffered a knee injury away to New York City which would ultimately call time on his professional football career. His retirement was made official in March this year but he quickly made a return to football, returning to Pittsburgh to coach in their academy.
“I’m enjoying working with the Riverhounds Academy. It is a great learning experience for me. Working with different age groups and having to teach all facets of the game, from basic technique with the younger players to working on tactical stuff with the older groups.
“I do ultimately want to coach professionally and maybe that would take me to another country. Right now, I just want to keep learning, getting better as a coach and not look too far ahead.”
It seems that despite the disappointment of injury, Vincent is still in love with the game which has took him thousands of miles away from home. Someone who could soon be making that same journey is Wayne Rooney. The England legend has been rumoured to be interested in making the move to DC himself, something that Vincent says will be a match made in heaven.
“I think the slower pace, compared to that of the Premier League, would suit him as he gets a little older and of course his intelligence and technical ability speaks for itself.
“I could see him playing anywhere from holding midfield to centre forward, to be honest, but with his ability in and around the box, you’d probably want him playing higher up the field.
“The hardest part for him will be getting used to the hot and humid DC summers.”
The former Everton youngster admits he is gutted he will not be able to take to the field himself alongside Rooney, if indeed he does make the move, but with his current role in the Pittsburgh Academy, he could be vital to bringing through the next superstars of the game anyway.