Wheaton College grad coaching against Fire Saturday
Sometimes a friendly little push can go a long way.
Joe Bean's push not only sent Jake DeClute into the coaching profession, it propelled him all the way to Major League Soccer as an assistant for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Saturday DeClute will be found on the Toyota Park visitors' bench as his Whitecaps play against his hometown Fire with friends and family in the stands (7:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet).
"I'm real excited," he said with a laugh. "I'm trying to convert them to Whitecaps soccer, at least for a night. It's going to be tricky."
DeClute remembers meeting Bean, the legendary Wheaton College men's soccer coach, at a downtown Wheaton sporting good store. DeClute was just 5 years old at the time, but when he graduated from Wheaton Warrenville South High School, it was only natural for DeClute to go play for Bean at Wheaton College, where DeClute helped the team to the 1997 NCAA Division III championship.
Then DeClute took Bean's suggestion and job offer to become a Thunder assistant coach -- "he sat me down and he said, listen, you really need to be a coach" -- and the team won the national championship again in 2006 with DeClute on the sideline.
"He didn't make it like telling me everything to do, he gave me an opportunity to coach and express my ideas," DeClute said. "That was like the best internship you could ever have because ... he gave you a lot of freedom to make mistakes but also to be successful too. He is an unbelievable guy in my life."
It wasn't the last time DeClute found a mentor in the coaching profession.
A fortunate phone call a few years later got DeClute some summer work as an assistant in the lowest division of U.S. Soccer, the Premier Development League, at the Cascade Surge in Oregon. The head coach was Martin Rennie, and the two of them formed a bond so strong that Rennie decided whenever he had the chance to hire an assistant coach on his own, he would hire DeClute. DeClute followed Rennie through the American soccer bush leagues, spending summers with Cleveland City and the Carolina RailHawks, even after he left Wheaton College for the head coaching job at Gordon College in Massachusetts.
"Here I end up working with this guy through a phone call and he's a great coach and taking me where he's gone," DeClute said.
Rennie got the chance to bring DeClute along again last summer when the Whitecaps, struggling through a dismal inaugural season in MLS, hired him for the 2012 season. Rennie called DeClute, who with his wife, Erin, didn't hesitate to move to Vancouver, where he also works for Arlington Heights native Tom Soehn, the Whitecaps' director of soccer operations and a former Fire player and assistant coach.
"He's done a real good job here of getting the team rolling in Major League Soccer," DeClute said of Soehn. "He's such a big Chicago soccer guy. The first time we really met was actually in Vancouver, but we have a lot of mutual connections back home." Rennie and DeClute have vindicated Soehn's decision to hire them. The Whitecaps arrived in Chicago on Thursday tied for third place in the Western Conference, much improved from 2011's ninth-place finish. DeClute coordinates the Vancouver defense, working closely with a back line that includes former U.S. national team player Jay Demerit. He also is the scouting coordinator.
He's a long way from Wheaton and the uncertainty of wondering what to do with his life.
And he remembers without Joe Bean's friendly push, "I never would have made it here."
Follow Orrin on Twitter @orrinsoccer
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