He’s been around for a long time.
He’s seen the likes of Sam Adekugbe, Alphonso Davies, Theo Bair, Michael and Matthew Baldisimo, Marco Bustos, Matteo Campagna, Thomas Hasal, and many more pass through the youth system at Vancouver Whitecaps FC and watched them make their professional debuts after years of coaching them.
Now, Rich Fagan takes on another new challenge as head coach of the ‘Caps new League1 BC team, helping provide another path for the next generation.
Fagan's love for the game came about when he was growing up in Scotland as a youth, with his family being long-time Celtic FC fans and playing football in the streets with his friends.
"Where I'm from my dad is a Celtic supporter, his dad's a Celtic supporter, it runs in the family. His brothers, all my uncles, even on my mom's side," explained Fagan, "Celtic was a huge part of how I grew up, it's a club I still support today and that's really how I fell in love with the game."
On the coaching side of things, Fagan began coaching as a volunteer for a local club by the name of Alouette Selects at the U-14 level.
"I asked Neil Cook, the head coach at the time, if he needed help assisting and he allowed me to come in and support him, that's really where I got my first taste of [coaching]," recalled Fagan, "That was a U-14 boys metro team, I was also volunteering with the U-14 girls team as well. So I was trying to just get as much experience and as many coaching hours as possible."
From there, Fagan continued to get involved locally with the BC Soccer provincial program as an assistant coach and with Surrey FC as both a head coach and an academy director.
Fagan then joined the 'Caps in 2010, where he's had various coaching roles around the club since then.
After his maiden season with the organization, Fagan went on to be the head coach of the club's U-16, U-17 and U-19 sides, as well as the head coach of Whitecaps FC 2 back in the USL days.
“It was awesome, we didn't have the best season [with WFC2] in terms of wins and losses, but if I look at that particular group, we were very young. They did really well in terms of effort, learning to be pros and playing against older, senior players," said Fagan.
"It was an unbelievable experience. I believe nine of them are playing at a higher level, several of them in MLS as well as overseas. So we may not have won every single week, but I think it served it's purpose in terms of preparing players for regular first team football.”
A feeling that has remained intact throughout each of his coaching experiences is seeing his former players make their first team debuts for the ‘Caps.
"For me, it's probably my favourite part of the job, the feeling you get as a coach when one of your players makes his debut for the first team. It's unbelievable," said Fagan,
"I've been fortunate to work with a lot of good players in my time at the club. I think I've helped prepare players to the next level in several ways, different age groups. We've had a lot of players come through the academy, signed homegrown contracts to debut in the first team, to then move on to different teams. So I feel like I've been involved in quite a few careers."
Fagan will continue to get the opportunity to be involved in more future careers as he prepares to coach the new 'Caps League1 BC team in its inaugural season.
Throughout the years, football in Canada has grown immensely and with the addition of League1 BC, the trend upwards is sure to continue in the coming months.
As Fagan mentions, the league will provide another opportunity to young players looking to make their way into a professional career.
"It's really important, it gives the players another avenue, another platform to perform and it's not something that we've always had. If you look at the Lower Mainland next year, we'll have League1 BC semi-professional teams, we'll have a Canadian Premier League team which is going to be based out of Langley, and then we're going to have an MLS first team, as well as an MLS NEXT Pro team," explained Fagan.
"It just gives more options and more platforms for players to showcase their abilities and I think for us, it's a really important piece because a lot of the U-19s maybe aren't quite ready to take a step, into MLS NEXT PRO for example, so it buys the players a little bit more time to help their development and better prepares them for that next step when they're ready."
The system the 'Caps coaching staff have in place on a daily basis is also an important part of how the club is now structured, providing regular opportunities for players to get pushed upwards, and for training at every level to maintain high standards.
"The first team, WFC2 and the L1BC team all train at the same time, so if Vanni has certain needs and requirements from Nick [for players], Nick then has certain needs and requirements from me, so it's very fluid," explained Fagan.
"At the moment, each of us have played with a back three, so player profiles are very similar, principles are also very similar, so if the players leave my group and they go into WFC2, they have a good idea of what the expectations are tactically and then when WFC2 go into the first team, they also have a very good idea of what Vanni would expect tactically. So between the three of us, I think we have a very fluid working relationship and players benefit from it big time."
As he gets set to lead the 'Caps in the inaugural League1 BC season, Fagan is excited to see his players develop as they take the next step in their careers.
The team will consist primarily of U-19 players from the academy, a few academy alumni, and potentially some high-performing U-17 players.
"It gives those players an early taste of what it could be like to make the next step and play in MLS NEXT Pro," mentions Fagan, "Obviously it's a little bit different, but it's something that's a little bit closer."
Fagan and the 'Caps League1 BC team will open up their season on Sunday, May 22 against Victoria Highlanders at Ken Woods Field in UBC. It will be the second of a doubleheader. Kickoff for the women's match will be at 10 a.m. PT, followed by the men's match at 12:30 p.m. PT.