Korytoskiziggy_guatemala Courtesy of antigua-gfc.com
Americans Abroad

Ziggy Korytoski: A Yank Coaches in Guatemala

The Boston-born soccer coach has followed an unconventional career path to date, and his new gig—manager of the Guatemalan top-flight squad Coatepeque—is no exception.
BY Jon Arnold Posted
October 21, 2013
7:52 PM
IT DOESN'T TAKE Ziggy Korytoski long to make up his mind. He met his wife in the Northern Mariana Islands while he was coaching the tiny archipelago's national soccer team, adding that it was “love at first sight.” The couple wasted little time establishing a relationship.

Seven years later, a different admirer expressed interest in Korytoski, and once again he was quick to respond to the attention—positively.

Best of all, his wife didn’t even mind.

Korytoski, an American who was a college assistant before moving to Guatemala to coach a professional team, has moved up the ranks and accepted a job at Coatepeque. It's a huge opportunity the ambitious Boston native hopes will one day boost him to a job working in South America or even MLS.

His new admirer: Ronaldo Samayoa, president of Coatepeque, a Guatemalan soccer club recently promoted to the country's top division. The president recently moved back to Guatemala from the U.S. after spending 40 years in the States. The manager had ended up in Central America after a recruiting trip as a college assistant turned into a job at the helm of Antigua, a club in the lower divisions. Samayoa had approached Korytoski previously, but last week the time was finally right for a move. Korytoski was presented Wednesday as the new manager of Coatepeque.

“I just didn't feel the confidence in the board in the long term for my family,” Korytoski said of leaving his previous club. “What we were really asking for was the stability. Not more money, just stability. We kept pushing it off, let's wait, let's wait. Finally this other opportunity came up, and with the stability there it was an easy decision to move to the Liga Mayor, the top division. I've been working for this my whole professional career.”

Korytoski guided Antigua, a club based in the Guatemalan city of the same name, to promotion to the second level of the Guatemalan soccer pyramid and among other successes helped boost attendance from a crowd that resembled a matinee showing of The Lone Ranger to one that was among the better numbers in the lower leagues. Both his rebuilding job and the work he did to get more people in seats intrigued Samoya, who wants to tear local fans away from their television screens showing La Liga matches and get them into the stadium for the real thing.

“Ziggy knows marketing. Ziggy knows the community,” Samayoa told ASN. “He wants to get involved within the community, and that's what I'm all for also. That's why I made this hiring because I want to have the best fans, the No. 1 team in attendance here in Guatemala.”

Coatepeque is currently succeeding in that venture, averaging about 4,000 fans for each match, despite a poor record to date. Like most managers who take over mid-season, Korytoski’s task will be to reverse course with the team he inherited.

“They've got the largest attendance base in the country,” Korytoski said during a recent phone interview. “It's a team that's at the bottom of the table right now, in the relegation zone, and the question is, 'Is this team good enough to survive in Liga Mayor?'”

Staying in the first division is important in any country. Sponsorship dollars and other revenues come in much greater quantities at the top. In Central America in particular, it can make a massive difference, not only financially but also in the fairness of play.

In the Liga Mayor, Korytoski said, referees are accountable to CONCACAF and FIFA and generally officiate matches fairly even if they might not meet North American standards. Unfortunately, things are murkier in the lower tiers, with referees much more susceptible to manipulation with no governing body to keep things level. WIth Antigua, the club would often request Liga Mayor referees, but those officials command higher fees and are in constant demand.

It’s just how coaching in Central America goes. While the Boston native said it’s the same game, there are some unique challenges to managing a squad in the region. Player management off the pitch takes an added importance when players and their families are so dependent on the game.

“People are fighting for their jobs, they're fighting for their families knowing there are some clubs that are so far behind in payments because sponsors don't pay if the teams aren't winning,” he said. “You're dealing with a team and you just want to take dinner home to your kids. I think that's the biggest thing that we witness and that I recognize here. There's instability in the professional game anywhere, but particularly down here.”

If Samayoa has his way, Korytoski won’t have to worry about some of those things any more. He’s already noticed a difference in the few training sessions he’s observed Korytoski run. The recently promoted club has its eye set on jumping into Guatemala’s elite and making the CONCACAF Champions League.

“That is my goal in the next two, three years—to go to CONCACAF and to play there,” Samayoa said. “There would be no other reason for me to come here. I like to win. I'm competitive and I hired a competitive guy. We want to establish ourselves as a top team.”

The coach sees regional success as part of his long-term goal as well. He’d eventually like to coach in South America, Mexico, or perhaps Major League Soccer, but for the moment he is 100 percent focused on the task at hand.

“I'd like to make Coatepeque a winner first,” Korytoski said. “I'd like to take a team into CONCACAF. I think Champions League would be a fanastic opportunity. I think I'm one of the few American coaches to be coaching abroad and to be able to go back and be able to go up against some of the teams in MLS and Canada and Mexico around CONCACAF would be a fantastic opportunity.”

It won’t be easy, with his first match coming Sunday when his new club hosts Comunicaciones, the table-toppers and one of the most successful clubs in Guatemalan history. His new charges have played well, equalizing the match after the Cremas scored an early goal, but couldn't keep the champions from adding another and winning, 2-1. Next up? Muncipal, the country’s all-time winningest club, currently in second place.

Playing such tough teams could be a blessing in disguise for Korytoski, who said it will give him a chance to see which of his players are able to perform at the level that will be required not only to get the team out of the wrong end of the table but to achieve the lofty aspirations leadership has put on Coatepeque.

Plus, Samayoa said, he won’t take a cue from El Tri and give a quick hook should there be an adjustment period.

“We'll be competitive, we would've been even without Ziggy, but with him we'll be a little bit more [competitive]. "If not, if the people have not assimilated to his new style, if we lose, we're fine,” he said. “We'll be fine. I like his project, the way he works, we'll keep him for a while and I know for a fact he will change not only the culture but our standing position.”

Jon Arnold is an ASN contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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