There are very few coaches who can revitalize a soccer team the way Keidane McAlpine has turned around the USC women’s soccer program. Relationships and trust built by and for the team are more important than the way the team plays the sport — this philosophy sets him apart from other coaching powerhouses.
“When you’re not thinking about the grind and you’re just enjoying the time with the people that you’re with and you can smile even on the bad days,” McAlpine said. “It makes it easier to go and do the hard stuff because you look to the person next to you and say, ‘You know what? I’m going to work a little harder for them.’”
Much of this mindset stems from a mix of his own family upbringing, religious background and one of his most important mentors.
McAlpine started his collegiate soccer journey at Birmingham-Southern College in his home state of Alabama. He played four years of NAIA collegiate soccer before graduating in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in music business. McAlpine started on the school’s team for all four years and was named captain in 1996.
He says his experience as a player has contributed heavily to his success as a coach: starting, being benched, being injured, reaching national finals and even traveling abroad.
“There was just a wealth of experiences that I had there that helped me grow but also influence how I want a program and my ability to relate to the players,” McAlpine said.
After graduating, McAlpine started coaching his younger sister’s high school level soccer team, where he continued fostering his relationship with Jason Lockhart, a childhood friend who is now his assistant coach.
He then went on to work alongside Lorrin Etka-Shepherd, who coached the women’s soccer team at his alma mater. She has become one of the biggest influences on McAlpine’s coaching style.
Etka-Shepherd utilized McAlpine’s playing experience and ability to connect with players as a liaison between the coaching staff and the players.
“I was her voice,” McAlpine said. “She used me and my relationship with the players to get her words across. She taught me about managing in general. It was a great first experience.”
McAlpine soon became the coach of Birmingham-Southern after Etka-Shepherd retired in 2001. He on to coach there until 2005. His five years as the head coach prepared him for his subsequent success. In 2006, he joined Auburn as an assistant coach. Six years later, he moved on to lead Washington State in the Pac-12.
When McAlpine arrived in Pullman, Wash., he was faced with a team that lacked consistency in years past, with a .609 winning percentage in 2011 and a .305 percentage the year before.
McAlpine took the squad’s winning percentage up to .762 only two years later, earning him the 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year award. The team’s record that year was 14-3-4, tying the team’s most wins in a season and set the Cougars in seventh place nationally.
And while his two years with the Cougars were arguably two of his best coaching years at the time, McAlpine knew USC would be a perfect fit for him.
“Being from the South, there are a lot of things about [USC] that stood out,” McAlpine said. “I’m the son of two educators, so the academic profile of the school fit very well [and] the athletic tradition being from the South, being around programs that are frenzied with that, so to come down here and find a fan base that has a similar appetite for athletics was fantastic.”
When McAlpine arrived in Los Angeles in 2014, the USC women’s soccer team was at a low point. It had been three years since the team had posted a winning record. However, McAlpine was more than prepared to overcome the challenge. In his first season as head coach, he revived the program to tout a record of 12-6-3. Since then, the Trojans have yet to dip below a .600 winning percentage and have recorded two .800 seasons.
Those numbers are impressive for any coach, but they become astounding when you consider the fact that McAlpine has only been with the Trojans for four years. McAlpine insists that it is his coaching philosophy that has made him and his teams so successful. Rather than focusing heavily on the technicalities of the game and ruling with an iron fist like some coaches, McAlpine opts to practice trust and enhance the relationships among players and coaches.
“I try to continue to teach and recognize that the women that come to play for us in college are still unfinished products,” McAlpine said. “I try to allow them some space to be themselves, to have some fun still. And I try to find people that just like to play and create an environment around that which gives them flexibility.
McAlpine plans to attack the 2018 season in the same way he attacks every year. After an early exit in the 2017 NCAA tournament, new standards have been set, and while the Women of Troy will focus on improving technical skills like finding consistency in putting shots on frame, the theme of the offseason has been focusing on the trust aspect from player-to-player — something that began to falter at the end of the 2017 season.
“I think the trust and consistency goes back to our unity and our togetherness and we felt that that was a bigger contributor to even the small details in putting shots on frame — having the trust in each other to be in the right place and to get to the right place,” McAlpine said. “We started this past January trying to rebuild our culture, rebuild what we are about. We as a staff look at it and ask, ‘What got us there in the first place? Let’s go back to year one and start this process over.’”
McAlpine feels that the training and bonding that has taken place in the offseason will put the Women of Troy in a good place this season. With a lot of young talent and several championship winning veterans, McAlpine and Co. hope to reconcile their troubles from the end of the 2017 season to produce another solid regular season and make a championship bid.
“This year’s team is going to be super exciting to watch because we are more technical, because we are a year older, with players who were around that national championship year,” McAlpine said. “I think this team has the ability to play some exciting soccer and I think we have an opportunity to win a lot of games.”