Kazbek Tambi, Director of NYCFC Girls Academy, joined the club in 2017 equipped with a wealth of soccer knowledge and experience.
Growing up in Northern Jersey surrounded by a diverse group of nationalities, the one thing they all shared was a love of soccer. Tambi used to play pick up games with his brothers and other kids around his neighborhood, which sparked his passion for the game. He would find himself watching soccer on the weekends and trying to surround himself by the sport in any way possible.
“Watching things like the World Cup, with players like Pelé who was one of my idols and a world-renowned figure back then,” he said. “Watching that high-caliber World Cup kind of soccer got me even more motivated and excited, and ultimately dream as a kid to play at the national level and play for my local big club, the Cosmos.”
That was just the beginning for Tambi, he went on to play at the collegiate level at Columbia University. As the team’s captain, he lead them to four Ivy League Championship trophies. His success in college caught a lot of attention, earning him a spot on the 1984 US Olympic team, and his dream to play for the New York Cosmos came true. Eventually, Tambi parted ways with playing on a pitch, but his passion never faded. True to his childhood self, he wasn’t ready to get away from the sport… he may not have been playing anymore, but he knew he still wanted soccer to be a part of his everyday life. He decided to shift gears and went to law school at Seton Hall University, while becoming a youth coach.
“Year after year my passion for coaching grew more and more. The program I was a part of started developing a bunch of national team players, and one thing led to another and I ended up being the United States U-17 women’s national team coach and I took them to the first ever U-17 World Cup.”
“Some of the players that were in that group are now part of the current USWNT squad headed to the World Cup. I introduced many of those players to the national team level as 16 and 17 year olds, and now 10 years later they’re going to the World Cup and representing the United States which is a thrill for me to see.”
For Tambi, it is a rewarding experience to see his former players grow and succeed at the senior national team level and he has since gone from being their coach to now their biggest fan. “Morgan Brian, Lindsey Horan, Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis are just some of the women I was lucky enough to bring into the national team program as teenagers and kick them off at the youth national team level who are now on the final World Cup squad. We got their career going at the youth level, whether it was youth World Cup or youth qualifications. Big games for young people. I’m really, really proud to say I had a little bit to do with their success and I’m their biggest fan. I’m be glued to each of those games. Not just for them, but as a former United States coach I have a greater appreciation for what goes into that whole operation,” said Tambi.
Tambi has seen success in his role as a coach, which made him a perfect fit for the NYCFC Girls Academy.
“NYCFC represents the highest level of soccer on the men’s side in this country playing in MLS. When I heard that there was an interest from NYCFC to get involved in the women’s game, with their pedigree in the men’s side, I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to build something special on the girls side. And we’ve done that. We’ve been very successful in the league over the last couple years with some of our groups earning first place finishes, and maybe more importantly on the individual basis we’ve developed good players. We’ve had 7 or 8 players called up to the national team within the last year and that to me is an even bigger accomplishment than the wins and losses. If we can produce players that can move on to the top ranks of college soccer, earn scholarships, maybe earn an acceptance into an academic program that they otherwise might not have without soccer, if we can get kids into the national team program, those are all fantastic things that we’re aiming for,” Tambi said.
In his time as the United States U-17 Women’s National Team coach, Tambi was always looking for more from his team. His philosophy for the game didn’t end at physicality and skill, it was more than that.
“I was always looking for players that had a baseline of physical ability because that always has to be there in order to compete at the highest level, especially for the United States who is always one of the physically strongest teams at the World Cup,” Tambi said. “Beyond that, I was looking for players that had real soccer brains. Players who had great knowledge of the game who I thought could play a higher level, a higher brand of soccer that we’ve seen before at the youth level where we could connect passes all over the field and be brave with the ball and not rely purely on physicality, but combine that with great knowledge and playmaking. That was always a bigger ingredient I was looking for. And then there are those players who have continued into the professional game, and are still with the national team. All of those players, beyond the physicality, have always had that element of a great soccer knowledge.”
In an effort to get more of his players interested in watching soccer and developing that soccer knowledge, Tambi would sometimes give small homework assignments. He would ask his players to watch soccer matches, no matter the league, and focus in on a player who played the same position as them. The girls would then write a paragraph about that player noting their skills, strengths, and weaknesses. His philosophy was watching those different styles of play exposed them to the game more which would in turn give them new tips and tricks to try out on the pitch themselves. This is just one example of the tactics that he has brought and incorporated to the NYCFC Girls Academy.
Since Tambi has been involved in the game, he has seen many developments surrounding women’s soccer.
“At the top end on the women’s side, players are more dedicated than ever. Many of them have gained a real passion for the game, similar to the boys who dream of excelling and getting to the highest level of becoming a professional player. We all know that it is a difficult task to make it to the first team, maybe less than 1% of youth will end up there, but that should still be a dream for everyone. Over the years, I’ve seen that kind of passion and dreaming from more girls than ever. In terms of mentality, that enables them to show up to training with a great excitement, energy, and the capable of improving a lot. It all builds on itself and before you know it, we’ve got some great players,” Tambi said.
Now with the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup approaches, he will be seeing many familiar faces. Women whose development he has made a direct impact on and maintains connections with.
“Kaz played a major role in my youth development and I'm sure he will do the same for the players coming through the NYCFC Girls Academy,” USWNT midfielder, Morgan Brian said.
Not only is he excited to watch some of his former players represent the United States on the biggest stage, he also views the tournament as a learning tool for the young footballers in the NYCFC Girls Academy who will be rooting for their idols. “With each round, the excitement and passion for watching them play grows across the whole country, including our girls. That can go a long way with helping what we just talked about, in terms of girls gaining the passion and greater appreciation for watching the game with this World Cup coming along. Our girls will be glued to the TV sets watching their role models play ball. I think it’s going to have a big, big impact on girls soccer across the country,” he said.
With the 2019 Women’s World Cup kicking off on June 7th, and the United States set to play their first match on June 11th, Kazbek Tambi wishes the USWNT well in their quest to bring the trophy back stateside, “All of us here with NYCFC and World Class are going to be cheering them on. I know a lot of people who will be in France in those stadium cheering them on too. We’re really hoping that they can go all the way. In respect to where they end up, we hope that everyone feels that they played their A-game. Anything is possible, especially in a tournament structure like the World Cup. I know we have the talent. Everyone should play to their strengths, be really positive out there, and put on a great show on top of the winning part of it all.”