Not many people go straight from Div. III to a successful career in professional soccer. Dan Calichman ’90 is an exception.
Calichman, now an assistant coach for Toronto FC in Major League Soccer (MLS), played professional soccer for 12 years. He played in Japan right after graduation and joined the MLS at its inception. An inaugural member and captain of the Los Angeles Galaxy, Calichman spent five years in the MLS, during which he was capped twice for the U.S. National Team in 1997-1998.
After coaching men’s soccer at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps for 13 seasons, Calichman made the leap to coaching professional soccer when he accepted his current post in 2014.
He credits a combination of luck, hard work and his brother’s fortuitous connections for helping him enter pro soccer in 1990.
“My brother was in Japan teaching English,” Calichman said, “and he befriended this man [who] turns out to be the coach of Mazda Football Club. Strictly based on their friendship, this coach flew me out to Japan for a tryout and everything went from there. So my brother likes to remind me, I owe most of my success to him befriending this fine gentleman, Bill Foulkes, who took a chance on an American kid.”
That last-minute trip to Japan for tryouts came right before spring break Calichman’s senior year, so he was excited to have secured “a really good job that I’d always wanted.” Calichman became the first American to play in Japan’s J-League, where he stayed for four years.
When he returned to the U.S. in 1994, American professional soccer was undergoing a major transition. The MLS was planned to begin in 1995, but the project was delayed a year.
“I took classes at Harvard because I wasn’t sure MLS was going to happen,” Calichman said. “I was fortunate enough when MLS started to be sent out to Los Angeles to the LA Galaxy.”
Calichman, a central defender, played several seasons for the Galaxy before a broken leg derailed his run with the club. From there he bounced between clubs, from the New England Revolution to the San Jose Earthquakes. After enjoying a year with the United Soccer League’s Charleston Battery, Calichman retired from soccer.
He and his wife decided to move back to her hometown of Pasadena, Calif., where he had lived while playing for the Galaxy. He was soon hired in 2002 as head coach at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, and he had his three children during the 12 years he worked there. While he enjoyed college coaching, he missed the professional game.
“I missed a lot of things,” he recalled. “I had a successful career in LA and I thought for sure that I would end up working for the Galaxy, but life is funny that way – it just didn’t happen.”
The opportunity came in 2014 when Greg Vanney, a friend and former Galaxy teammate of Calichman’s, became head coach of Toronto FC. Vanney called Calichman asking if he was interested in a job as an assistant, and Calichman took the job after consulting his wife. “I’ve been in Toronto ever since,” he said.
“Toronto FC as an organization couldn’t be any better,” he added. “And with just how far the league has come, I wake up every morning very excited to go to work. I feel very lucky to have done so for most of my life.”
A history major, Calichman captained men’s soccer and men’s lacrosse at the College. His teammates, coaches and classmates helped him develop the mentality necessary for a successful career in sports.
“You have to be really strong of character,” he said. “It’s something that I would credit to Williams, to [then-Head Coach] Mike Russo, to the players that I played with as just being phenomenal people and holding that level of character as important.
“I think about Williams all the time. I’ve got such strong ties. You just knew that these people were not only wonderful people, but they were going to be so successful in whatever they did … It was a magical four years.”
Throughout his soccer career, Calichman’s love for the game has been a constant.
“What I love about it is the flow of the game. When the whistle blows there are no timeouts. There’s 45 minutes of work, and after halftime you’re back out there for 45 minutes. The coach can’t call timeout, tell you what play to run or what you need to do, so it’s up to the players to solve the problems.
“What I love about sports is that feeling of competition. There’s a winner and a loser. I really strive to be more on the winning side than the losing side, but I love to compete.”
Calichman was fortunate to make his passion into a career. “Sometimes the stars align,” he said. “Sometimes doors open, and sometimes through a little bit of luck and hard work you kind of make things happen. It’s been a nice ride.”