John Thorrington has endured something of a whirlwind the past month, balancing his finals at Northwestern University – where he just completed his MBA – with his appointment last week and initial steps as Los Angeles FC's executive vice president of soccer operations.
The former MLS midfielder hasn't had time to catch his breath, but that's just fine. He can't imagine anything better than this.
Thorrington, 36, has been preparing for such a post since he was just out of his teens, and this one's a real plum: A new team boasting a prestigious, well-heeled ownership group that wants to make history, and he "can't overstate how excited" he is to be part of it.
There's so much to do in the 27 months before LAFC makes its debut, from creating an academy to hiring a coaching staff and recruiting players, including a few big names that will stir Southern California's vibrant and multicultural fan base.
In fact, the work is already underway.
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“Two years sounds like a long time, but it's not,” he told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “I think it will be very exciting to build something from the ground up, but that does pose a significant challenge, to do that. I think that's not a challenge for everybody, but it's one I'm fairly excited to tackle.”
Thorrington's unique background is a plus. He was born in South Africa, moved when was 2 to the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles' South Bay – not far from the LA Galaxy's digs at StubHub Center – and left home at 16 to join Manchester United's academy.
He moved on to Bayer Leverkusen, forged a career at lower-level clubs in England, returned to America to play in MLS a decade ago, and spent nine years as a heady midfielder and winger with the Chicago Fire, Vancouver Whitecaps and D.C. United.
Since retiring in 2013, he's served as a special assistant to MLS Players' Union executive director Bob Foose and began work toward his MBA, which he was finalizing when LAFC introduced him as their chief technical figure on Dec. 8.
Thorrington said he's been interested in “the intersection of business and sport” since he was 21 and playing at Huddersfield Town in England's third tier.
“It wasn't an altogether pleasant experience, but I was at a club that was going bankrupt,” he said. “I had to lead the group of players, as the union representative, to find new owners and sort of negotiation with them, because we were creditors. It was an amazing experience, and that just piqued my interest in getting involved with something like this.”
Coincidence, of sorts, opened the door. Thorrington was studying for his MBA at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, which counts venture capitalist Henry Nguyen – LAFC's managing partner – as alumni. A mutual friend at the school introduced them, and a six-month conversation led to a job offer.
“We got connected with our shared interest in MLS, and the conversation sort of grew from there,” Thorrington said. “Frankly, the initial conversations with Henry were just hearing their plans and their ambitions for LA. I was just so excited, not initially thinking, 'Well, this will all work out for me.' I was just excited as someone who [wants to] help grow this game to the level that I think it can get to.
“To hear a group come into LA with these huge ambitious plans, I was just incredibly excited. That I'm able to be part of it in a role that aligns my interests and passions and expertise, it's just incredibly exciting.”
He's got plenty to do. His immediate focus, he says, is developing a “really solid” academy program that will serve as “the bottom layer, our foundation of our pyramid of our whole organization.” The plan is to have teams ready for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy season by next fall.
LAFC already have begun identifying potential players and coaches, at all levels, but Thorrington said there is no rush to have a head coach in place.
“Obviously, the sooner the better, but that decision will be made less on a timeline and more on when we find the right person,” he said. “We will have resources to achieve what we want to achieve, whether at the academy level or the first-team level, and the decision of who our coach will be will be made when the right person is available, not we're going to set a line and say the best person at such a date will be our coach.
“I can say there's been no shortage of interest. I've been amazed already in these few weeks, the communication I've had, the club has had with big, big names that are interested. I'm confident that we'll get the right guy, and once that guy is available, we'll get him.”
He says the interest has come from within the US and abroad.
Thorrington, when he was appointed, said he wanted to “assemble a team that will represent our city and our community.”
What kind of team would that be?
“I describe [Los Angeles] as the melting pot of the world,” he said Thursday. “I think it's an incredibly diverse, multicultural city, and there's great power when you take all these difference perspectives and blend them into one. We will be a team that will represent many different cultures.
“It's not just words – it is our mission to unite LA around soccer. That will certainly be our mission.”
Thorrington said he wants a “very creative” side that is “aesthetically pleasing to watch” with a style that is “underpinned by a very aggressive” approach.
“I use this term – it's a term a coach of mine used to say – to play with 'controlled aggression,'” he said. “I think that sums up the ideal in my head of what our team will play like.”
Bringing in big-name players is, of course, part of the plan.
“It's no secret that LA is a city of stars. It'll be part of our player-identification and recruiting criteria,” Thorrington said. “I would say that we are going to be very careful and very intentional in who those stars will be. We're going to make sure they're coming to our team and to our league for the right reason.
“I've seen the good and the bad [of that in this league], and every decision will be made with an interest in them having a very positive impact on the field for us and commercially for us, and also the league. Everything that will be tied to the LAFC brand will be made with that in mind.”