MIDLAND - A familiar face ... and one of the architects of the club’s rise to national prominence ... will return to guide Sockers FC in the 2019 National Premier Soccer League season. The Sockers named Johnny Clifford the team’s new head coach.
After an outstanding 2014 on the pitch as a defender, Clifford served as the Sockers’ assistant coach in 2015 and 2016, a span that saw the club
advance to the national semi-finals (at that time in the Premier Development League).
The Glasgow, Scotland, native is also (and will remain) the head coach at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, where he guided the Rattlers to a 10-5-3 record (the school’s best mark in 16 years) in his first season.
Before becoming head coach at St. Mary’s, Clifford’s entire coaching career had been spent as an assistant under former Sockers head coach Matt Barnes, who led the team for four seasons (2014-17).
In addition to his two seasons as a coach with the Sockers (2015-16), Clifford served on coach Barnes’ staff at San Francisco State University (also in 2015-16) and at St. Mary’s (2016-17) before succeeding his former boss as head coach of the Rattlers.
At each stop, the club made remarkable turnarounds. The Sockers went 6-6-3 in the 2015 season, while playing in the PDL’s toughest division, followed by a 10-4-3 season in 2016, culminating with a Southern Conference championship and a berth in the national semi-finals. During that season, Clifford was in charge of recruitment for the club, a critical element for success at soccer’s premier amateur level.
After helping lead San Francisco State (NCAA Division II) to its first back-to-back winning seasons in 35 years, Clifford arrived at St. Mary’s just four days prior to the opening of the 2016 season, one in which the team went 5-10-2. The Rattlers then went 10-9-1 in 2017 (at the time the school’s best season in 15 years) and continued the turnaround with the 10-5-3 mark in Johnny’s first season as head coach.
Before coming to the US to play college soccer, Clifford played professionally from 2002-05 in his native Scotland (Livingston FC) and had five additional years of semi-pro experience in the Scottish lower leagues.
He was a two-year captain (2011-12) at South Georgia State College (Douglas, GA), earning NJCAA Second Team All-America honors (National Junior College Athletic Association). He then spent the following two seasons at Benedictine College (Atchison, Kansas), leading the Ravens to a conference championship and an appearance in the NAIA Sweet 16 (2013).
In addition to leading the university’s soccer program, Clifford earned a master’s degree (Educational Leadership) from St. Mary’s last May.
The Sockers also announced that former PDL All-Star Isaac Sanchez will return to the club as first assistant coach. Sanchez was a member of the Sockers over parts of four seasons (2014-16 as well as the 2017 playoffs) and, in 2015, became the franchise’s first-ever PDL All-Star (he was one of just 11 players selected from among more than 60 PDL clubs).
Sabas Ruiz, who coaches youth club soccer in West Texas, will serve as the Sockers’ second assistant coach.
The Sockers enter their 11th season and their third as members of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). The club will also be bidding for a fourth consecutive trip to the postseason, a run which has included appearances as a national semi-finalist (PDL, 2016) and finalist (NPSL, 2017).
“ It’s a great day for our organization to be able to bring in a former player and assistant coach as our new head coach.
“ Johnny has given a lot to our club over the years, and the combination of his Sockers’ playing experience as a center back and coaching knowledge gained from his days under Matt Barnes will certainly help in his transition to first year NPSL head coach.
“ We believe that we will continue to be in the mix again this season for a conference championship under Johnny.”
Jeff VonHolle General Manager / Soccer Operations