Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Plight of the MLS Equipment Manager

Behind every great team...are great people. Or so they say. Every training session, scrimmage, media session and match played there are people working behind the scenes to see that it all runs smoothly. In what will be an the first in a series of articles looking into the "Plight of..." these people, we have one who is nearly invaluable to the successful efforts of a Major League Soccer team: the equipment manager. 

Mike Flaherty of Sporting Kansas City is the official "Kit Man" for his club and he offers us a glimpse into his daily routine. He also lets us know the difficulties that come with the job and why Kei Kamara really can be a pain sometimes. Without further adu the Plight of the MLS Equipment Manger.

MLS Reserves: Can you describe your daily tasks as an equipment manager for a Major League Soccer team?

Mike Flaherty: “Well, I come in around 7:30am for a 10am practice. The first thing I do is double check that all the players training gear is out and available for each player and the balls are at the correct pressure for training. The training gear includes all undergarments and outerwear that is appropriate for the weather forecast for that day. Once that is completed, next it is time to assist the coaches in setting up the practice area for that day’s training.”

“Once all of the coaching tools such as cones, balls, bibs and mannequins are out and in the proper place, it is time to go back inside and check email and start looking at what may need to be ordered while also being available for players and coaches who may need something. That is the best time to make sure I have ordered all the boots, runners, coaching tools and anything else that the players and coaches may need. Then, of course, is training where I assist in the flow of training by collecting coaching sticks and cones as the training session transitions out of marked areas. I also try to help keep the balls restocked for the drills and assist any way needed. Sometimes that means serving a ball, acting as a passive defender or realizing my age but being an AR in 11v11.”

“After that the work begins as I assist the rookies in cleaning up the field and wait for the players to turn in their training gear. Then it is time for laundry and, since we don’t dry most of the gear (to help it last longer), I start putting the gear out in their lockers for the next day’s training. If I can get this done in a timely manner and the other technical staff is available, then we get the chance to maybe play a little.”

MLS Reserves: What are you responsible for specifically and what problems can arise from those responsibilities?

Mike Flaherty: “Hmm. Well, basically I am responsible for preventing nudity. I look at it like I am there to present the players in our crest and maintain that image at a high standard. All of us on the support side of the technical staff are there to allow the players to play and the coaches to coach. We are there to see problems in advance (if we can) and do all we can to eliminate those problems. For example, making sure a small tear in a players training jersey is repaired or replaced before it tears at training and causes an interruption in training.”

MLS Reserves: We often see players trading jerseys after the match. This suggests that the team must purchase a huge quantity of jerseys each season. How do you keep up with that demand and how many jerseys are ordered in general?

Mike Flaherty: “Adidas does a good job of setting our jersey allotment and keeping us outfitted throughout the season. I talk to the other Equipment Managers every year about how many jerseys they allow players to have and it seems to be about five, so that is what we allow for the players to trade or give out in the season. After that I make them buy the jerseys to replace them.”

MLS Reserves: What types of this go wrong for you that you're tasked with fixing?

Mike Flaherty: “Players boots are the biggest issue. As technology makes the boots lighter, it also makes some of them less durable. Most players at this point have found a boot they like and are not usually open for change. That often means you have to find a temporary solution to solve a problem until the player can get another pair of boots. Usually, each player has extras in their locker unless they are not contracted in which case the team outfits the players with boots.”

MLS Reserves: How hard is it to keep up with player requests for jerseys to give out after matches or other types of charity?

Mike Flaherty: “With us playing in LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, we do have a soft spot for charities and try not to deny a charity request if it is received. Sometimes it is a little daunting and it feels like we get hundreds of requests but with the help of Sporting Style (our merchandise division), we make it happen. The same goes for players.”

“If they are asking for the shirt for a charity and have a letter or contact for that charity, we try to help without taking away from their allotment. I have heard from other Equipment Managers that they have had “shirt off their backs” events in which they had to give out all 18 game-rostered players jerseys. That can make managing the jerseys a lot more difficult and I am sure will cost charities those items later.” 

MLS Reserves: Beyond jerseys, what is it that you need to keep up with on a day to day basis?

Mike Flaherty: “The most time consuming task is keeping up with our vendors and tracking orders for the team, players and coaches.”

MLS Reserves: How do your responsibilities differ between practice at home or practice on the road?

Mike Flaherty: “Practice on the road is the same, it just takes a little more coordination with the other Equipment Managers to make sure that the staff and players have all the tools necessary to run the same training session that we would at home. Some teams help you, others of course try to make it harder on you but persistence usually pays off.”

MLS Reserves: How do your responsibilities differ between match days at home or on the road?

Mike Flaherty: “Match days on the road are more work in a shorter time. It cuts out the laundry, but there is the unpacking and packing of the uniforms and equipment out of 25 bags. I get to the stadium about four hours before the match and try to set up the locker room to leave a feeling of home and make it as much like our locker room as I can, which can be close to impossible in some stadiums.”

The Sporting Kansas City locker room. Can't take that on the road.
“Then after the game, it is time to clean up as the players are showering and changing; all of this depending on how fast guys want to get out of there …to celebrate the win… can make it a time crunch because you don’t want to leave them waiting on the bus for you.”

MLS Reserves: How many hours do you put in home/away on practice or game days? For example, what time do you arrive/leave by comparison to the players?

Mike Flaherty: “We usually put in 6 – 10 hours on training days, 13-15 on games days at home, 10 or so hours on away games and 2-6 hours on the teams day off. Our players are there about 4-6 hours a day with the fitness requirements. I think it is about the same on game days but it depends on treatment schedules.”

MLS Reserves: What else should fans know about the role of an equipment manager that I might not have covered? Have some fun with this one and let us know the things you do that fans may not realize.

Mike Flaherty: “All the Equipment Managers who have been around are in their jobs because they love being part of the team. I think it takes a team-oriented person to be able to do this without banging your head on the wall. Wanting to be around the players because they’re famous soccer players wears off sooner than you think, but then you realize you want to be around them because they are good guys and they have become your family...dysfunctional as it may be!”

“I think my favorite part of it is walking out with the team on to the field and feeling the excitement and energy of the stadium. Knowing at that moment there are people in the stadium who want to be you down on the pitch… Of course, 2 ½ hours later when you are putting away smelly boots and washing nasty towels all I can think is I wish I was them sitting at the bar reliving the game.”

MLS Reserves: Lastly, who is the worst player on the SKC roster at making your life difficult? This is  a fun question, not a villifying one, so enjoy it. Who teases your or makes your job tough just to be fun?

Mike Flaherty: “This is such a tough question because they all make my life difficult! I think Aurelien Collin can be a handful because he is such a good, genuine guy and he wants to make everyone happy so he is always giving something away or angling to give something away. Then there is the Monday Collin jersey printing day where I listen to his jailhouse lawyer skills come out as he explains how the little boy who looked sick and was begging for his shirt, shorts or shoes and he felt he needed to give it away. Too bad the girl next to the little boy caught the jersey!”

He just wanted to donate a jersey guys..
“But there is also Kei Kamara who is always pranking people and wants you to help him pull it off, then turns around and drags you down with him. Now I have to watch my back for him and all his victims!”

I thank Mike for taking the time to answer a few questions on his day to day. You can find Mike on twitter @KitManSKC


  1. Great interview! Shows that there are interesting, stable, good career jobs in the sports business -without being on the pitch.

    Looks like an awesome job - I have to do a lot of those duties with my kids and don't even get a "thank you" :)

  2. Here is a video of what it is like to be D.C. United's equipment manager. http://www.football.fr/footballfr/cmc/scanner/divers/201213/l-affluence-de-mls-toujours-superieure-a-la-ligue-1_122938.html?sitemap

    1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdgdVaDksX0 Here is Mike's video too...

  3. Sorry. Wrong link correct one here. I apologize. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtY7WbicxRI

  4. Kansas City is very lucky to have such an efficient, diligent, and caring Equipment Manager. Keep up the good work, Mike and Kansas City Soccer.

  5. Mike you're AWESOME!!!! Don and Carol

  6. Mike does a great job and we are so lucky to have him around.

  7. Mike - Your Mom and Dad are very proud of you! Keep
    up the good work! Joe & Judy

  8. People who also don't know him, Mike has a great sense of (dry) humor, but also knows a lot of Kung Fu grips. He also cried watching Dinner for Schmucks so he has a sensitive side as well. The complete package.

    1. maybe they are not Kung Fu grips... maybe he is just a cuddler

  9. Mike is awesome. A lot of times we are more excited to see him on game day then the actual players...


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