John Thorrington was playing with Huddersfield, in the third tier of English soccer, when it became clear to him that his most important contribution to the sport he loved would come off the field.
The team had gone bankrupt and appeared headed for dissolution when Thorrington stepped forward to represent the players in negotiations with prospective owners. The talks succeeded in keeping the team alive.
“From that day on, that piqued an interest in me of this intersection of business and sports,” Thorrington said.
On Tuesday the fledgling Los Angeles Football Club gave Thorrington a bigger stage on which to explore that intersection, introducing him as its executive vice president for soccer operations.
Thorrington will be in charge of player and personnel decisions for LAFC, which is scheduled to join Major League Soccer for the 2018 season. And in that role, he becomes the club’s first hire responsible solely for the on-field product.
Although Thorrington had a 14-year playing career in Europe and MLS, he has no experience in a front office, having spent his brief post-playing career working with the players union. But he’s earned a good reputation in MLS circles for his intelligence and leadership and that ultimately proved more important than his lack of experience, said LAFC President Tom Penn.
“We didn’t want to feel the need to get a splash over substance,” Penn said. “We want substance and he’s going to deliver splash.
“This is the next step in our process. We want to be world class in everything we do. He is, in our opinion, a world-class executive.”
Thorrington, 36, was born in South Africa but grew up in the South Bay, where he attended the Chadwick School on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. After his junior year, he left school to sign with England’s Manchester United but didn’t play in a first-team game before leaving after three years with the team.
That touched off a journey that saw him spend time in Germany and with two struggling lower-division teams in England before he returned to the U.S. to play for three MLS clubs and, briefly, the U.S. national team, He retired as a player in 2013.
And though he says he learned something at every stop on that journey, perhaps the most valuable lessons will be the ones he picked up in Vancouver, which he joined ahead of its first MLS season in 2011.
“I know how difficult it is as an expansion team. I lived it, I was part of one,” he said. “And that’s what makes this foundational period all the more important. So we are going to start from the bottom and build up.”
Tuesday’s announcement took place in the boardroom used by the Coliseum Commission, about 100 yards from the soccer-specific stadium the team will build on land currently occupied by the Sports Arena.
Penn says the review process for the demolition of the Sports Arena and the construction of the new stadium is on track and should be completed by May. That will still leave LAFC facing an aggressive construction schedule to get its $250-million facility built in time for the 2018 season.
Building the team could require an equally aggressive approach given that, 14 months after its founding, LAFC has no players, no coaches and a stadium project that is still more than five months away from the start of construction.
Thorrington said it’s far too early to discuss a coach or the kinds of players he’ll eventually be pursuing, but he does know what kind of game he wants the team to play.
“It’s going to be a creative team, it’s going to be a dynamic team, it’s going to be an ambitious team,” he said. “But it will be underpinned by this substance, which will be a relentless team that plays with controlled aggression.”
The team said it will soon open a youth academy to begin building that philosophy, although exactly when or where that facility would open was not revealed. In some ways all that uncertainty makes the soccer part of LAFC little more than a vision at this point.
“We are going to establish what we want to be as an on-field product. And that will be the filter through which we will make every soccer-related decision,” Thorrington said. “If you see the foundation right, it makes your job easier. And so that is my focus.”
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