Keeper of the Hive

Former Montreal Impact Goalkeeper Greg Sutton Brings Wealth of Experience to Concordia

After retiring from a senior career that saw him suit up for eight different teams over 14 seasons, Greg Sutton was named head coach of the Stingers men’s soccer team in 2013. Photo Laura Lalonde

He was late. Practice was over. About 10 minutes had passed since the scheduled meeting time. Greg Sutton, the second-year head coach of the men’s soccer team at Concordia and a former professional goalkeeper, was doing his job—talking with one of his players.

What appears like an insignificant conversation to most people is actually an insight into the 37-year-old Ontario native’s coaching methods.

“I think in this game now, especially in this day and age, soccer is a game about man management,” said Sutton. “It’s not so much about tactics on the field but how you manage the players off the field.”

In a career that began in Major League Soccer with the Chicago Fire in 1999 and ended as a Montreal Impact player in 2012, the former Canadian international player acquired a wealth of experience and expertise that will serve him well in coaching a new generation of Concordia soccer

Besides playing alongside soccer legends like World Cup winner Thierry Henry and Mexican international player Rafael Márquez, who he simply refers to as “good guys,” Sutton also played under high-profile coaches who he could analyze and now emulate.

Most notably, he was a goalkeeper for Bob Bradley, the former United States men’s national team coach, in his rookie year in Chicago.

However, Sutton says he learned more from the coaches he disliked than the ones he liked.

“I learned more from my poorer coaches,” said Sutton. “You learn a lot from kind of the bad things that go on and what you don’t want to do.

“As a player, you know what you can respond to,” added Sutton. “I knew what motivated me and I knew what motivated some other guys on our team that maybe had a different type of personality.”

In 2013, Sutton became Concordia’s full-time head coach after initially serving as an assistant coach since returning to Montreal in 2011.

Teaching soccer in some capacity was always something he thought he might do following retirement, and he says doing so at Concordia was a great opportunity.

“I really enjoyed my time in university,” said Sutton, who played at St. Lawrence University in New York. “I felt like I really could have an influence on these kids knowing what it’s like to study and play at the same time.”

Winless after three games, the team’s goals for the remainder of the season remain the same: win the provincial championship and go to nationals.

“That’s something I think would be great for our program, especially for the guys in their fifth or fourth year,” said Sutton. “They’ve been part of this program when it wasn’t so great, and so it would be nice to give them something to go off on a good note.”

After tying “one of the best teams” in the country—Université Laval’s Rouge et Or—in their second game, Sutton’s players are seemingly adjusting to his management.

First-year goalkeeper Wes Aucoin said it’s “great” to have Sutton as a coach. In particular, he benefits more from someone who knows his position extensively.

“You see him as a leader,” said Aucoin. “He helps me, encourages me, and improves my game every day.”

Other players, like fourth-year defenceman Stephen Meterissian, find the experience of having a retired professional, especially one known for his time in Montreal, more nostalgic.

“Actually, I have his soccer card at home signed by him,” said Meterrisian. “I was like six or seven years old [when he played] for the Impact.

“It’s fun to see people ask me, ‘who’s your coach?’ And I go, ‘Greg Sutton, the goalie for the Impact.’”

As a former professional, Sutton hesitated to confirm whether his squad has any pro prospects, citing slim odds of “one in a thousand” student athletes continuing their career post-graduation. But he understands what is required to reach the highest level in North American soccer.

“If there is a university in Canada, or in Quebec for that matter, that can get kids to the next level, it would be our school,” said Sutton. “Just for the fact I recently retired, so I’ve been there and know what it takes to get to the next level.

“I can identify the talent.”

A common narrative in sports is the retired player turned head coach yearning from the sidelines to be on the field once more. With a daughter and son waiting at home, Sutton says those are days he no longer fawns over.

“I don’t miss playing,” said Sutton. “I don’t miss jumping around and diving on the ground.

“But if there’s something I miss, it’s the relationships with the group of guys that I played with,” he continued.

“That stuff meant a lot to me, but the day-in, day-out grind, I don’t miss that one bit.”