Aug. 12—COLUMBUS, Ohio — The sport of soccer has taken Jamestown native Phil Boerger all around the continent through his playing and coaching careers.
Boerger graduated from Jamestown High School in 2007 and then played his first three years at the University of Evansville (Ill.) before transferring to Syracuse University (N.Y.). After graduating he had a few offers to play professionally that never went anywhere.
Boerger said he knew he wanted to be a coach when he was in eighth or ninth grade after his playing career was over. After that, he said he came back to town to figure out what to do after his playing career ended.
Boerger said when he came back to town, Sean Johnson, the University of Jamestown athletic director at the time, reached out to him about coaching the Jimmies’ men’s and women’s soccer teams and the experience reignited his love for sport.
After coaching at Syracuse and then the Jimmies, he coached at Georgia Southern University and Florida Gulf Coast University before he was hired in 2016 to be the goalie coach for Major League Soccer team Toronto FC‘s minor league team, Toronto FC II.
“I’m lucky that my wife (Whitney) is on board with this,” Boerger said. “She’s been with me different places, it’s been fun to see and experience different cultures. When I was a kid doing some youth national teams and regional team stuff I was lucky enough to go to a lot of different countries overseas in Europe and South America to play. So, honestly from then I knew I wanted to see different parts of the world, experience different cultures, even at Syracuse I studied sociology, I really enjoyed the cultures and different instances of people.”
The 33-year-old said his favorite memory during his coaching career is being in the organization when Toronto won the MLS Cup in 2017. He was the second-team goalie coach at the time, and he watched the final from the stands.
One of the most unique challenges that he’s had to face in his career came in 2020 when he was still with Toronto as the coronavirus pandemic closed the borders, canceling Toronto FC II’s season and forcing the main team to move down to Hartford, Connecticut.
“Basically my role in Toronto, I was second-team goalkeeper coach but I would assist the first-team goalkeepers,” Boerger said. “So, being around those guys, the first team every day and their staff was really good experience for me that I obviously am using now being myself in a first-team goalkeeper coach role.”
After spending six years in Toronto, Boerger moved to Columbus, Ohio, to be the second-team goalie coach with the Columbus Crew and was promoted this season to the first-team goalie coach.
“I was lucky enough to get an opportunity with (head coach) Wilfried (Nancy) and his staff when they arrived,” Boerger said. “He didn’t have a goalkeeper coach, the previous goalkeeper coach had been let go with the staff previously and I interviewed with Wilfried and I was fortunate enough to move up to the first team. The experience has been great. Columbus is a good city, it’s a good place for my family, so, yeah it’s good.”
Boerger said his favorite part of being a goalie coach is the experience of working with the goalies individually and figuring out how to get the best out of them.
“I think as Wilfried calls it here, the infinite game, in the sport, it’s an infinite game, you’re always looking to improve and learn,” Boerger said. “For me, it’s been like that when you do certain training sessions and try certain exercises and get the feedback of the goalkeepers or, ‘Hey, that was really good, we gotta revisit that, we can tweak this or that.’ Honestly, I’m learning every day, the group of guys I’m working with here in terms of goalkeepers, they’re open. I ask them for feedback, the same way they are for the feedback I give them every day.”
Throughout his career, Boerger has gone from Jamestown where soccer is not as popular as other sports to Columbus where the sport is a huge draw. According to Transfermarkt.us, the Crew is averaging 20,227 fans in attendance this season, good for 12th in the league out of 29 teams. He said the crowds were also very supportive when he was in Toronto as the parade for the team when they won the 2017 MLS Cup was packed with people.
“Obviously, the main sport here is Ohio State football but the fans, it’s packed and they’re loud and you go around the city and you see people wearing Crew gear everywhere and it makes you feel like you’re part of something a lot bigger than yourself, but to represent your community as a whole,” Boerger said.
Boerger said his coaching mentors are some of the coaches he crossed paths with including Toronto FC goalie coach Jon Conway and current Houston Dynamo goalie coach Tim Hanley.
Boerger said his advice to somebody from Jamestown that wants to get into coaching soccer in the MLS is to be dedicated to their craft.
“You have to fully immerse yourself in it,” Boerger said. “You have to truly enjoy it and love it and again I was lucky that first as a player, I told you, my parents are big supporters of me doing it, hours in the car. So again I’m lucky and grateful for that, just like anything if you really want to do and you put your mind to it, there’s a lot of luck involved. All of the jobs I’ve gotten are because I met somebody along the way who put my name forward and a lot of it is about connections. So, I’d say take as much in as you can, coach as much as you can, meet as many people as you can and that’s it.”