Jacksonville Armada U23’s coach leading the way for success
By Nick Flores/NPSL.com
Jacksonville Armada FC U23 head coach Tommy Križanović has had quite the career. From Jacksonville University to being drafted by FC Dallas in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft to moving to Europe and then returning again to Florida to finish out his playing career with the Jacksonville Armada in the NASL. He now coaches one of the top sides in the NPSL, and it’s hard to find someone with such a resume.
Križanović’s playing career lasted from 2007-2016, and he feels he has learned a lot during his time as a professional.
“The experience was great, I learned a lot from players, coaches and in general everyone involved and I think it obviously shaped me as not only a player but especially later as a coach and person,” Križanović said.
Having returned home to the states following a stint in Germany, Križanović took time to start coaching at the youth level within the U.S. Development Academy Program. Following some time spent as a youth coach he then decided to lace up his boots again and start playing with what was then known as Jacksonville United in the NPSL.
“It’s funny, when you play you never really stop playing no matter how old you are,” Križanović said. “Before the idea of playing again even came up, the thought of playing in NPSL with some local guys came about and what used to be Jacksonville United playing in the NPSL transformed into the Jacksonville Armada to compete in the NASL.”
After hanging up his boots in 2016 he spent several years as an assistant coach of the Armada U23’s before being named head coach in 2021.
“You know I was coaching within the youth system then went back to playing in the NASL, and it’s funny how the two connected for me,” Križanović said. “I think if I can give any advice to players in general it would be to try get involved in coaching early and try to get licenses or even be involved with a smaller youth group. The game itself from a coaches or perspective allows you to see the game in a different perspective and in return you become a better and more well-rounded player. Doing so, I probably started learning more as a coach than I ever did as a player.”
Starting with a youth group can be a great experience for any aspiring coach. Križanović has had the opportunity to work with the U.S Development Academy Program, as mentioned before, and he now serves as the MLS NEXT Academy and Technical Director for his youth club Jacksonville FC.
Križanović is grateful for the opportunity and the experience his club Jacksonville FC and the Jacksonville Armada have given him in regards to developing players. Being involved within the MLS NEXT you really get to make a difference and help players achieve their goals. From U.S. Soccer Development Academy to now the MLS NEXT, the league has and continues to evolve and give players a platform not only to showcase themselves but even more make an impact at the college, pro, and national team level.
“The MLS NEXT has high standards in place with player development being at the forefront. From the competitiveness to the coaching standards in place, you can see a direct result in the amount of players that come from the MLS NEXT and are in today’s national team and youth national teams.”
The development of American talent has certainly improved within the last couple of years seeing as more and more players are making it onto the world stages. Players are going through the ranks here in the states, earning moves to European leagues and showcasing that the United States has a lot of talent to offer.
Recent examples include former FC Dallas academy graduates Weston McKennie, Bryan Reynolds, and Ricardo Pepi. Those are just to name a few from one club but the amount of talent that is being developed in the U.S. has grown immensely and Križanović has seen it firsthand.
“More players are moving to Europe to play and more players are moving up the MLS structure as well so it’s been a fantastic ride and it continues to be so,” Križanović said. “(Being) the MLS NEXT director at Jacksonville FC and the Jacksonville Armada U23’s head coach is kind of connected to what I do and believe in as far as player development and how we try to provide a pathway for our players here in Jacksonville. I see it daily, and it allows me to not only work with the most talented players in the area but also outside.”
This growth that Križanović has gone through as a coach has led him to back-to-back Gulf Coast Conference championships.
In addition to becoming back-to-back conference champions, Križanović also won the Gulf Coast Conference Coach of the Year award last season. Križanović has seen a lot of success during his time as head coach of the Armada U23s, and he feels this success is the standard his side has set.
“The group has again set goals for this year whether short or long-term,” Križanović said. “We talked about how we can set a higher bar for ourselves and discussed what we want to do differently. We’ve made some changes and sometimes those aren’t well received in the beginning but we stand behind what we do. We feel like this season we’ve been consistent because of these changes that we’ve made. It is certainly a standard.”
The Armada U23s are a team who wants to keep the ball and press their opponent over the 90 minutes which can be draining for anyone that they face.
They play a brand of football which is attack-oriented and exciting to watch as well. They have scored the fourth most goals of any team in the NPSL this season with 31 and have conceded just 10 for a goal difference of plus-21.
Since Križanović has taken charge, the team has been a powerhouse within the conference, and they will look to continue their regular season dominance in the playoffs. The end goal for Krizanovic and Armada U23 is winning the national championship, and they have a great shot at doing it.
Winning a national championship with the side would mean everything not only for Križanović and his side but for the Jacksonville soccer community as a whole.
“It would be a great achievement,” Križanović said. “I mean I think not only will it bring the title back to Jacksonville but I think it is very important because of the history of the club. At the end of the day everything that is being done is being done for the community and the many good players that are from here or have been a part of Jacksonville. I’ve been here so long because I believe in the players here. Young players who have big aspirations and dreams and we want to try and help and provide for them so that they can aim high.”
Time will tell if Jacksonville can become national champions this season and continue their but one thing is certain: Križanović has revolutionized the club during his tenure.
Photo Credit: Louis Llerandi/Jacksonville Armada FC U-23