A familiar face at the Academy

Catching up with U17 head coach Jason Di Tullio, a few months into his new job

It was a normal, Thursday afternoon at Centre Nutrilait. On the left pitch, Academy director Philippe Eullaffroy and his U19 side were preparing for this weekend’s games. The Philadelphia Union was visiting Centre Nutrilait as part of the US Soccer Development Academy, a tough opponent that was sure to put all three of the Academy’s teams to the test.

On the field to the right, head coach Jason Di Tullio and the U17 side were preparing to face the same opponent. Di Tullio and his men hadn’t lost a game all year before falling 3-2 in a tight game against the Pennsylvania representatives, although they remain first in their division with four wins in five outings.

“We have individual qualities at every position,” said Di Tullio. “Every single person that’s here deserves to be here. There are two players at every position, so every week, I have a decision to make regarding whom to start, and the players know that. That’s what I love about my job right now: I have options. There are players with massive qualities and now it’s about bringing that fight and that grit every single day in training. Our sessions are tough, but that’s how you learn how to train, because if you train hard, you play hard.”

For Di Tullio, this new position means returning home; the Montreal native was a player with the club from 2002 to 2007 before announcing his retirement from the game. He would return in 2011 as the Academy opened, taking over the U16 side before earning the same position with the U18s, eventually getting the call to become assistant-coach with the Impact’s first team, a position he held from 2015 to 2017.

“When I got the call, first from Philippe Eullaffroy and then from Patrick Leduc, I was excited, shocked – I experienced many emotions,” explained Di Tullio. “Being away from the club after being here for so long – I kept following it, but you see it in a different way. Everyone knows I want to be on the field. I want to smell the sweat, feel the intensity, and inspire every player that I can. It’s a dream come true to be back and I’m fortunate.”

Now, two and a half years later, it’s like he’s never left.

“It’s exactly what I expected and more,” added Di Tullio. “The Academy has grown since the last time I was here. They’ve brought in new methodologies and new ways of working, and that’s just credit to Phil [Eullaffroy, director of the Academy] and his staff. They’re constantly thinking of how they can improve. When I see the quality of the players, on and off the field, the first thing that jumps out at me is the progression.”

Di Tullio is vocal on the pitch, something we had already become accustomed to; if he likes what he sees, you’ll be sure to hear him shout “I love it!”, and he’ll intervene during the play if something needs correcting.

Working with young players is an area in which Di Tullio has a lot of experience; other than his time already spent leading the Academy’s teams a few years ago, the former Impact man had opened the École de Soccer Di Tullio-Ribeiro following his retirement, while his time as first-team assistant-coach saw many young Academy players make the jump to the first team.

“At this age, they think they have a lot of time,” added Di Tullio. “We need to be patient as a staff. We have a very talented group at the U17 level, but it lacks a lot of maturity in its game on and off the field. They haven’t suffered yet. On my end, I’m trying to bring some of that tactical discipline and maturity into this group.”

With a record of four wins and just one loss to start the season, the Impact U17 is definitely in good position. Next up, the Impact’s teams in USSDA will head to Maryland to take on the Baltimore Armour in Ellicott City, this weekend.