Matt Lamale works with Menace Academy member Austin Lane at Aliber Soccer Complex in October 2017.
We've spotlighted Tomas Boltnar, J.R. Fernandes and Ben Brackett, and here's our fourth feature in this series.
Matt Lamale can pinpoint the exact moment his passion for soccer began.
He was 12 years old, navigating his way through the Iowa youth soccer scene. One day at training, Lamale’s Olympic Development Program coach told him he played like Michael Owen.
“Who is Michael Owen?” Lamale thought to himself.
He found out that Owen was a striker for Liverpool FC at the time. The first Liverpool game Lamale watched happened to be the 2001 FA Cup Final against Arsenal. None other than Owen himself netted the two goals that won the game for Liverpool.
Lamale was hooked.
From there, the new Liverpool fan’s passion only grew. As he went through high school soccer at West Des Moines Valley High School and college soccer, he didn’t have it easy, but the passion for the game has always remained the same – and now it’s not only impacting Lamale, but his 13U Menace Academy team, too.
Lamale had four knee surgeries by the time he was 23 years old.
His first ACL tear was when he was 17, when he was playing for Menace Academy at the U.S Youth Soccer Regional Tournament in 2004. He was committed to Creighton University at that point, but because of the injury, his scholarship was revoked and he found himself at Marquette University for his freshman year of college.
In the first game of the season, Lamale shattered his ankle.
After a year of rehab, Lamale transferred to Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. His first and second years found him injury-free.
The summer before his third year with the Duhawks, Lamale tore his meniscus. He was able to compete that season, but in the conference final, he suffered his second ACL tear.
In 2011, he entered his fifth and final collegiate soccer season.
And he tore a groin.
Lamale was able to return to the team and play in the NCAA Division-III Sweet Sixteen, his final game as a soccer player. The injuries had taken their toll, and Lamale was ready to move on to coaching – but not before a tryout with Sporting Kansas City a year out of college.
As luck would have it, he tore his meniscus before the tryout.
“I understood I wasn’t good enough or reliable enough to play professionally, so I was like, ‘I have to get into coaching,’” Lamale said. “I realized that was my career. Let’s focus on the future now.”
Lamale was in Boston before his MLS tryout, coaching with the Vogelsinger Academy, the longest running soccer camp in the country. When Lyle Hunt, the Des Moines Menace’s youth programs director, asked him to coach back in Iowa, Lamale didn’t hesitate.
“I love the Menace,” he said. “It was my favorite club, even before I started coaching. I guess I’m biased, but still, when I played with the Academy, I got to train with some of the Premier Development League guys, and that’s what I love about the club. We get so many opportunities that no one else gets.”
‘I’m lucky to have these experiences’
Going through the injuries and rehabbing that Lamale went through was not easy. It took a toll on him not only physically, but mentally.
He saw a sports counselor in college who helped him work on mental toughness and staying on track as a student-athlete.
Lamale often thinks about what would have happened if he had gone through injury prevention methods as a young player. Would he be in professional soccer? Maybe, maybe not.
With his Academy team, though, he doesn’t ever want to think about the ‘what ifs.’
“This is important to me,” Lamale said. “So I’m meeting with a physical therapist who can work on injury prevention for my team. Then, they might have less of a chance to go through what I went through. It was a difficult thing to experience, and it has shaped who I am as a person and as a coach.”
Lamale hopes his players can reap the rewards of preventative measures rather than experience the problems he had in college. For him, it’s all about player progression – he wants them to progress at the fastest rate possible, and if they can do that on the field, as healthy players, even better.
“I’m lucky to have these experiences as a coach,” Lamale said. “I can tell my players about what happened and how important it is to stay healthy and take care of your body.”
‘This is my passion. This is what I care about.’
Lamale really does love the Menace. His eyes light up when he begins talking about the opportunities the club provides to the youngest players all the way up to the first team.
That fire was bright, even when he was an Academy player.
“Menace is the pinnacle of soccer here,” Lamale said. “The PDL team is the highest you can get in Iowa, and growing up, I got to watch them play and learn by watching the games. I never went crazy at PDL games and ran around like the kids do now. I sat on the bleachers, and I watched. I took in every single minute. That’s kind of how I fell in love with it. And it’s where I realized that I could maybe be a coach one day.”
His favorite aspect – well, one of many – about the Menace is a common one: diversity.
“Growing up, playing soccer for Menace Academy, I played with people from all over the place,” Lamale said. “It was awesome. I learned to appreciate the differences, and I want to learn what they’re about, what their story is. Now, as a coach for Menace Academy, I love asking kids where they’re from or where their parents are from, to learn a little background.”
When Lamale learns the background of a player, he catches a glimpse of who he is and how he learns.
After he understands what is behind a player, he can begin coaching him.
More often than not, Lamale finds himself working on players’ confidence. Not just on a team scale, but on an individual scale, too.
“I pull each one aside and talk with them about where they’re at, where they want to go, their strengths, their weaknesses and everything in between,” Lamale said. “If they realize the coach is focusing on their strengths, their confidence will build. Their weakness isn’t going to limit them as much as they thought it would.”
Sometimes, it’s as simple as saying, ‘Good job,’ to a player who has done something good. And other times, Lamale finds himself with a player on the field, two hours after practice has ended, still working on drills.
It doesn’t matter. This is just what he does.
“This is my passion,” Lamale said. “This is what I care about. You see kids make the same mistake over and over again, and then you start to coach them day after day, and you start to see them do it right. And then, all of a sudden, you see it click. There’s nothing compared to that feeling of seeing a player get it.”
Born: Oct. 14, 1987
Education: Bachelor’s in International Studies and Bachelor’s in Political Science at Loras College
This story by Anne Rogers was posted Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.