Last month, FC Dallas goalkeeping coach Drew Keeshan ventured across the pond for a 10-day trip to England where he got to see a number of sessions with Premier League side Everton FC before moving over to Hull City to complete his experience.
"The experience in general was a different class with the way I was treated," Keeshan said. "I went to Everton for five training sessions, Hull City for three. Then, I was supposed to go to (Aston) Villa but they were down to two 'keepers that were training -- Brad Guzan and Brad Friedel. They were keeping their training sessions very low key because they could not afford another injury. Instead of going there and watching them doing stretching, jogging and very light stuff, I came home early. The goalie coach at Villa is going to videotape an extended session that they do and send me that. That will give me a different idea of what the goalkeeping coach does."
Keeshan spent the bulk of his time at Everton and saw the facilities a Premiership club can offer.
"They are world-class," he said. "It's a new facility that they built last year that is closed to the public, very private and away from the city a little bit. When you get in there, everything is top of the range and I don't think the players want for anything. Chris Woods is the goalie coach there. He was an international for England and played over here for the first year of MLS with the Rapids. He was very aware of what the MLS was all about and keeps an eye on what's happening on this side of the water. He's a class guy. I've had a lot of 'keeper coaches in the States who have mentored me as I was getting into the coaching part of the game. From looking at Chris, it's another level, what he does. A lot of it is unique. I guess that's why he's at a club like Everton. He's very highly thought of in England."
His trip was a success due largely to FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman, who not only tapped into some of his European contacts to make it happen but also felt that the experience would pay big dividends for Keeshan both in the short and long term.
"All of us (the FCD coaches) sat down at the end of the year," Keeshan said. "I had an opportunity to do certain things to get a coaching license but Schellas thought this was something that would benefit me more both in the short term and long term. I think he knows that I didn't want to take a break. I had been to Brazil, have seen the CAP facilities twice and know what they're doing coaching-wise with the goalkeepers and wanted to get a fresh perspective."
One thing that wasn't lost on Keeshan was how rare of an opportunity he had to get up close and personal with two clubs in the EPL.
"I had never had the opportunity to do that in a hands-on situation and it's very rare to get that opportunity," he said. "It's very difficult to get into these clubs these days. It's not something that is possible. I was very lucky that Schellas had a contact, Steve Round, the first assistant at Everton. He has a great relationship there and Steve was able to open the door for me there with David Moyes and the OK would have to come from him, the manager."
Keeshan tapped into his own network of fellow coaches to help set up his visits to Hull City and Aston Villa.
"I spoke to Mark Prudhoe (of Hull City), the goalkeeping coach there and a really good friend of mine," he said. "He opened the door for me there. It was the same at Aston Villa, where Seamus McDonagh the goalkeeping coach and a good friend of mine, opened the door for me there. They were more than happy to have me there and welcomed me."
Before leaving the States, Keeshan admitted he thought he would mainly be present to observe training sessions, but his experience was much more hands-on, a big positive.
"I thought it would be more of me being on the side observing but it was very hands-on," he said. "They always wanted feedback on what I thought about certain things like what their sessions were about and the goalkeepers they worked with. It was very much a two-way conversation about everything. It was a very good learning experience in that regard that we were able to bounce things off each other."
Keeshan just completed his first season of coaching in MLS and he admits that he did get asked about the league as well as about a couple of FCD players while overseas.
"The Everton players more so than the Hull City players because they had been over here a couple of times and had played in Dallas before," he said. "They've also got an American 'keeper (Tim Howard) and are a little more aware of MLS than at Hull. I spent more time at Everton and they became more comfortable with me and talking to me.
"Phil Neville, the captain, asked me about Kenny Cooper because they were at Man United together when Phil was on the first team and Kenny was in the reserves. He was interested in what Kenny was doing. Chris Woods asked about Josh Lambo because he has been there and trained with them. They were asking about him, how he was doing and wanted me to pass on their regards to them," Keeshan continued. "When I went to Hull, it was a little different. They had just come off a 4-1 defeat, so it was a little bit more somber mood as one would expect. I was there three days and took in three sessions. One of the 'keepers, Boaz Myhill, who is the starter, is an American-born player and he keeps tabs on MLS as well. They're aware of the league."
During his stay at Everton, Keeshan got cleated by Howard during the early part of a training session.
"At the start of the session, we were doing four-v-one in the middle," he recalled. "Everything was hands-on, so I was obviously involved in that. Tim (Howard) was in the middle and I won't say I made them on purpose, I made them by mistake and the other 'keepers started giving him a hard time. So, the next 50/50 ball that came to me, I ended up on the deck. I loved the intensity of that. Tim Howard is an intense guy. He works very hard to improve his game session by session. The sessions that I watched, he never took a rest. He set the tempo of the session and did that on a daily basis."
Steve Hunt is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.