Daniel Visser is a name that you should get accustomed to hearing about. He is truly one of the country’s top up-and-coming young coaches. This isn’t just our opinion, but rather that of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), the world’s largest soccer coaches’ organization. Visser was part of the 30 Under 30 program announced by the NSCAA earlier this month.
“Of course, I’m honored to have been chosen,” Visser commented. “But honestly, I’ve never really thought about the program as recognition. I didn’t apply in hopes of receiving some honor or resume builder. I applied because I wanted to grow as a coach and meet new people working in this profession. More than anything, I look at the 30 Under 30 program as an opportunity to become a better coach. So I’m excited about what the next year holds!”
Despite his young age, he has a lifetime of experience already under his belt. His playing career at Messiah College was actually quite legendary. A talented midfielder, Visser was a two-time team captain and received regional All-America honors in 2007. He helped the Falcons to an overall record of 89-6-2, including three national titles and a fourth trip to the NCAA Final Four.
Visser’s coaching career began at Division III Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. During his two years at Eastern, the Eagles went 21-11-2 and had 11 student-athletes earn all-conference honors.
His next stop was Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts. In his two seasons as head coach with the Division III Lions, Visser compiled an 8-26-1 record. The Lions went 3-14-0 in 2013 before improving to 5-12-1 in 2014.
He then spent a season as assistant men’s soccer coach at the United States Naval Academy under Dave Brandt, who just happened to be his coach back at Messiah College. The Naval Academy proved to be a very special place to coach.
“The Naval Academy is an incredibly unique and special place and I’ll always be grateful for the time I spent there,” Visser continued. “We were always really focused on what we were doing as a team, but there were constant reminders about the significance of what our guys would be doing upon graduation as Navy and Marine Corps officers. As much as anything, I developed a deeper appreciation for our armed forces and all that goes into protecting the freedoms I too often take for granted.”
Visser now works for Brandt once again, joining his mentor as an assistant coach for the USL’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds. He credits Brandt for much of the success he has experienced in the beautiful game.
“Dave Brandt has had the biggest impact on me as a coach. I played for Dave at Messiah from 2004-2007 then coached with him at Navy for a year and a half prior to moving to Pittsburgh. At both Messiah and Navy, Dave had a clearly defined vision for what he wanted the program to look like on and off the field; he created a standard for the team to measure itself against then relentlessly held players to it. My playing days at Messiah opened my imagination to the possibilities for what a team could be.”
Another mentor who impacted Visser as a coach was Mark Wagner at Eastern University. He was a graduate assistant coach under Wagner for two seasons from 2011-2012.
“Coaching at Eastern was my first experience working on a college staff and it introduced me to all the little things that go on behind the scenes to make a program go — things I just didn’t see as a player. It was during my time at Eastern that I solidified my desire to pursue a career in coaching.”
Making the jump to the professional ranks at such a young age is a massive and impressive accomplishment. It was an easy decision for Visser, someone who was more than ready and capable to make the transition.
“The primary draw to Pittsburgh was the opportunity to continue working with Dave. But I think also, it was an opportunity to experience soccer at a higher level. When I was in high school, my coach, Wayne Rasmussen, advised me that a person’s 20s are for gathering as many experiences as possible. I never forgot that.”
Joining the Riverhounds is joining a work in progress. Brandt and Visser inherited a team that was struggling so much that head coach Mark Steffens was fired. Steffens started the season with a 1-4-3 record, the same record former head coach Justin Evans tallied in 2014 when the club fired him. There are many positives for the Riverhounds, including a beautiful riverside stadium, a great foundation of young players, and a strong partnership with MLS side Columbus Crew SC.
“I am really excited to be here,” Visser said. “I played for Dave at Messiah, coached under him at the Naval Academy. I fully believe in where the club is going and I’m looking forward to being a part of that. I know it’s been a bit slow going this year, but progress takes time and I think we’re going to get there.”
It is a slow process; transforming a roster and a club doesn’t happen overnight. It isn’t easy, but Brandt believes in Visser and knows he is up to the challenge.
“Dan is somebody I’ve known now for 12 years. I’ve coached him and watched him grow in terms of his coaching career. He’s somebody who I think is a really sharp soccer person. He has some strengths where we need them and I think he will compliment Niko Katic and I really well.”
The Riverhounds are currently digging themselves out of a hole at the depths of the Eastern Conference, where they sit in 13th place with a 2-12-4 record. But they know have hope, a sense of direction, and a winning philosophy. It’s obvious that Visser’s thoughts on teamwork and development are very much ahead of their time.
“I spend more time thinking about the development of the team as a whole and how individuals fit into that construct. Looking at the team as a whole, I believe it’s the coach’s job to create a collective identity for the team and instill a sense of pride in that identity. A clearly defined identity enables the coach to recruit players who possess a predisposition to share in that identity then inspire them to align out of intrinsic desire — resulting in an intentional culture. The team identity acts as the foundation for a process which, when done with discipline and enthusiasm, leads to excellence.”
And excellence is what has brought Visser to the attention of so many people. He has repeatedly gotten the job done at the collegiate level and now has moved on to a new challenge.
We’re guessing that Visser is going to do an excellent job as he knows nothing else other than excellence and success. We think that the Pittsburgh Riverhounds will be his next success story, which will be one of many.