Greg Vanney can’t spare much of it, but he tends to be gracious with his time.
As an assistant coach for Major League Soccer’s Chivas USA, Vanney always is on the go year-round. But he tends to take time to talk about soccer, particularly about the development of younger players.
Vanney grew up playing in an era and area that wasn’t as polluted with some of today’s misplaced youth soccer priorities. Back when he played for Tempe Marcos de Niza and with the Tempe Soccer Club, having fun and competition were the objectives.
That freedom helped mold Vanney as a player and his coaching philosophies. He ran with what he learned as a youth to help him carve a 13-year professional career, becoming the state’s first bona fide soccer star in the process.
For his accomplishments at Marcos de Niza, azcentral.com named Vanney to its Arizona High School Sports Hall of Fame this year. Marcos de Niza was one of the state’s earliest soccer powers, winning two championships and sharing another before Vanney graduated in 1992.
The titles and scoring 83 career goals were nice, but Vanney also took pleasure in the games he played with his friends before school and during lunch. There was a group of more than 15 athletes Vanney grew up with and still stays in touch who pushed him just as much as he pushed them.
“As a player now you show up to a training session, and I see it because I’m involved with it now, but you don’t think about the game,” Vanney said. “You do what you are asked to do. When I played with the guys (at Marcos de Niza), you had to create your own situation, your own games. And we had millions of them. It forced you to be creative.
“When I was in high school, that was the most fun I had as a player.”
A couple of coaches and his family, including his parents Bill and Jeanette, also played key roles in Vanney’s development.
Bill helped start high school soccer in Arizona while working as a Marcos de Niza administrator. Growing up, Vanney also followed the soccer footsteps of his brother, Jim, Gilbert Perry’s boys coach.
Former Tempe Soccer Club and long-time Yavapai associate head coach Hugh Bell and former Marcos de Niza coach Jack Smythe also played instrumental roles in Vanney’s career, he said. Backed by a strong foundation, Vanney used his left foot, high soccer IQ and propensity to analyze every video shot of him to develop into a versatile player.
The 38-year-old played all over the field during his 10 years in the MLS, three years of first-division soccer in France and the 65 appearances he made for the United States men’s national team. During his days as a professional, Vanney prepared himself to become a coach, writing lessons plans for a club he formed in the Valley.
“One of my objectives has always been to bring a higher level of soccer and help the game grow,” said Vanney, who also became the first director of the first soccer academy, Real Salt Lake Arizona, that was attached to a professional team in the U.S.
Dedicating as much time as he has to soccer isn’t easy, but the support he’s received from his family in Arizona and California allows him to thrive in soccer, he said.
Vanney and his wife, Amy, whom he met during his senior year at Marcos de Niza, live in Southern California along with their daughter Kaia, 8, 4-year-old twins, Dylan and Mason, and Christian, 14 months.
“I can’t do this without them,” Vanney said.