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Youth Academies announce new coaches

By LouCity, 03/16/20, 2:00PM EDT


MONDAY, MARCH 16, 2020 – As Louisville City FC and NWSL Louisville prepare for their new Youth Academies this summer, Soccer Holdings’ Executive Vice President for Development James O’Connor and Youth Academy Director Mario Sanchez announced major additions to the coaching staff Monday.

“I’m thrilled by the team that we are building, every individual has had so much professional success,” O’Connor said. “They all share a very wide range of experiences which will help shape and grow our young talented players. It is such an exciting time for all of us to be involved in this project and I can promise every parent that your child will be in the very best hands when it comes to developing your child and their soccer talent.”

Soccer Holdings announced five new full-time staff members and three staff coaches on Monday. The new hires join O’Connor, Sanchez and Kristen Wallace, the Academy’s Executive Director, as the new Youth Academies prepare for tryouts coming up later this Spring.

“We are extremely excited and proud of the coaches who have joined our program,” Sanchez said. “Each of these coaches has vast experience in youth and collegiate soccer and most importantly they are great people.  We understand the importance of having great coaches who will not only be teaching the game at a high level but who are great role models.  Each of these coaches understands what it takes to make it to the next level, whether that is for the collegiate game or for the professional game.”

Soccer Holdings has announced the following full-time staff:

Simon Bird, Louisville City FC Academy Director

The Lincoln, England, native was a star at the University of Louisville from 2001-04, earning Conference USA Player of the Year in 2003, and had a six-year professional career in England before returning as a University of Louisville Assistant Coach from 2009-12. A fixture on the local soccer scene, Bird has worked as Oldham Soccer Club’s Director of Coaching and Kentucky Fire Juniors Boys Director. Bird holds an A License from the U.S. Soccer Federation and is a Qualified Teacher for High School Physical Education and Sports Science.

Tim Nowak, NWSL Louisville Academy Director

With over 20 years of coaching both girls’ youth and women’s collegiate soccer, including 17 years as an NCAA Division I and Division II head coach or assistant, Nowak brings a wealth of experience to the NWSL Louisville Academy. The St. Louis native and Western Illinois University alum arrived in Louisville in 2001 as an assistant women’s soccer coach at the University of Louisville.  Nowak has also coached collegiately at the University of Arkansas, Eastern Illinois University, Bellarmine University, and Western Illinois University.  Since 2010 he has been part of the girls’ youth program at Kentucky Fire Juniors and Mockingbird where he has been influential in helping to grow the game for local young women in the Louisville area. Nowak holds a USSF C License and a United Soccer Coaches Association Advanced National Diploma.

Brock Hickam, Junior Academy Director for Boys and Girls

The Murphysboro, Ill., native began coaching at his alma mater, Southwest Baptist University in 1994 and has been a youth or college coach ever since. Holding a B License from the U.S. Soccer Federation, Hickam has a National Youth License, a Grassroots Instructors License and has diplomas from the United Soccer Coaches Association in the Curriculum Development, Director of Coaching and Advanced National disciplines. Hickam has worked with the Chicago Fire ETP, Kentucky Fire Juniors, and Indy Premier Soccer at the youth level.  

Thabane Sutu, Academy Goalkeeping Director

The Maseru, Lesotho native, has coached goalkeepers at the top levels of American Soccer with Orlando City of MLS and Louisville City FC of the USL Championship. Sutu, who played professionally in Lesotho with Arsenal and in Egypt with the club Al Ahly, has been coaching top-level goalkeepers in the Louisville area for nearly two decades first. Sutu was inducted into the Kentucky Soccer Hall of Fame in 2018 for his work with Louisville City and his time with United 1996, winning Kentucky’s Coach of the Year in 2006 and a state title in 2009.

Craig Jones, Academy Director of Soccer Operations

A successful head coach at Hanover College and a longtime assistant coach at Bellarmine University, Jones has been working with elite local soccer players for nearly two decades. A native of Washington where he played for Western Washington University, Jones earned his Master’s in Sports Administration from Louisville in 2002. In addition to his experience coaching collegiate soccer, Jones has more than a decade of experience coaching at the youth level with United 1996 and Kentucky Fire Juniors. He holds a USSF A License and a National Youth Coaching License.

In addition to the full-time staff, the new Youth Academies have announced Hylton Dayes, Luke Spencer and Shaun Francis as staff coaches.

“Adding in coaches like Hylton, Luke, and Shaun will give our future players and families even greater resources to help them reach their dreams and aspirations,” Sanchez said

Hylton Dayes, Academy Staff Coach

The winningest men’s soccer coach in University of Cincinnati history, Dayes guided the Bearcats through transitions from Conference USA to the Big East and American Athletic Conference during his 19 seasons in Cincinnati. The Kingston, Jamaica, native is a Hall of Fame member at his alma mater, Wright State, has been a coach for more than two decades. The 2003 Conference USA Coach of the Year, Dayes led the Bearcats to league titles in 2003 and 2006, mentored three NSCAA All-Americans, three CoSIDA Academic All-Americans, and 39 all-conference selections during his tenure. Dayes is married to University of Louisville coach Karen Ferguson-Dayes.

Luke Spencer, Academy Staff Coach

The star of Louisville City’s 2018 USL Championship Final win, Spencer is a Louisville City legend. Born in Augsburg, Germany, Spencer played prep and collegiate soccer in the Cincinnati area at Xavier from 2009-12 before being drafted by the New England Revolution of MLS and then playing with FC Cincinnati. Spencer came to Louisville City in 2017 and immediately fit into the club’s competitive atmosphere. Spencer helped coach the club in 2018 during a coaching transition and is going to help coach the Youth Academy while playing for Louisville City this season.

Shaun Francis, Academy Staff Coach

The Mandeville, Jamaica, native played at the top levels of North American soccer for more than a decade at the MLS, USL Championship levels. A gifted defender, Francis played with the Columbus Crew, Chicago Fire, San Jose Earthquakes and Montreal Impact of MLS before coming to Louisville City FC in 2018. Prior to his impressive professional career, Francis helped Lindsey Wilson College win the 2009 NAIA title. In addition to his professional experience, Francis has been a frequent contributor to the Jamaican National Team since his first call-up in 2010.

The new coaches will begin working for Soccer Holdings immediately preparing for tryouts, which will be announced by the end of March.

The Youth Academy will start at U-8 (local youth born in 2013) through U-19 (local players born in 2002) in both boys and girls. Each gender and age will have a coaching staff vetted to properly teach the group to reach their full potential.

“We are still in the process of evaluating and meeting with other coaches who are interested in joining the club,” Sanchez said. “In the near future, we will be making further announcements on our entire coaching staff and specifically which age group each coach will be responsible for during the 2020-21 season.”

Once players are selected for a youth academy team, the season will run from late July until mid-May for pre-high schoolers and late Fall through late May for high school players so that players will still be available to play for their local schools. Travel for the teams will be based on age-appropriate demands and league and tournament play.  

The academy teams will train and play at a new training center at Champions Park on River Road which will begin construction later this spring. On Thursday, March 5, the Louisville Metro Council approved plans to lease a portion of Champions Park to Soccer Holdings as part of a public-private partnership to rejuvenate the property into usable practice fields. The complex will include four turf fields and three natural grass fields.

For more information on the upcoming youth academies, please visit

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