LA soccer club's 24/7 'mom' loves his job
Taking a call in the middle of the night because someone can't find their keys might not sound like a scenario that comes with a dream job.
But for Mitchell Monihan, solving such problems is all in a day's (or night's) work.
And the 26-year-old loves it.
His title is player coordinator for Los Angeles Football Club. His title does not capture the nature of a job that is all about making life easier for the MLS team's players.
He jokes that he is like the team mom for LAFC, the newest club in MLS.
"It's essentially whatever I can do to take the stress off of them and have them solely focused on playing soccer," Monihan says.
This week will be special for the West Linn High and Oregon State graduate who grew up rooting for the Portland Timbers. The Timbers visit Los Angeles for two meaningful matches in four days against LAFC — a league game at 3 p.m. Sunday and a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
"It's hard, having been in the Timbers Army and rooting for them for so long, for me to be switched where I want to beat them both games," Monihan says.
But there is no waffling on his new loyalty. Monihan points out that LAFC's roster has gotten stronger since the expansion team came to Portland on May 19, and fell to the Timbers, 2-1. With LAFC second in the Western Conference and Portland — on an 11-match unbeaten run in league play — in fourth place, the matchup is intriguing.
Monihan will take it in from near the LAFC bench, as he did on May 19 at Providence Park — a somewhat surreal day for Monihan, who had family and friends watching from the stands.
"I had dreamed growing up of playing for the Timbers, wearing a Timbers jersey, scoring a winning goal against the Sounders ... it was an emotional trip being able to go back home," he says.
Monihan's path to MLS started at OSU. He played for the men's club soccer team and, along with twin brother Ian, was co-president and financial officer for the club. That experience gave him a glimpse at the business side of sports.
Monihan is the son of Pamplin Media Group publisher Brian Monihan. After graduating with a marketing degree and emphasis on sports marketing, Mitchell Monihan worked briefly in sales for the company before pursuing his career in pro sports.
Monihan reached out to people working in the sports industry, conducting informational interviews.
"I found out there is no one, exact route to get into the sports world," he says. "I did find out it was a lot about who you knew and not what you knew."
During the 2015 MLS season, Monihan was a member of the Timbers Street Team, a group that attends community events and activities to promote the club and the sport. His hope was he could land an opportunity in the Timbers marketing department, but there were no openings.
His break came two years ago, when he saw a Craigslist ad about a new San Francisco professional soccer club. At first, Monihan thought the ad was a joke. But after a month of interviews, he was hired as the San Francisco Deltas' manager of team administration.
The Deltas won the North American Soccer League championship last season (beating Giovanni Savarese's New York Cosmos in the finals), but by midseason the Deltas' ownership announced the team would cease operating at the end of 2017. Everyone started looking for jobs. Monihan was recommended to LAFC, and now works for a club that is creating buzz for its striking new stadium, its attacking talent and the work of former United States men's national team coach Bob Bradley.
"If someone told me when I was watching him coach the men's national team that I would be working with Bob Bradley every single day, I would not have believed it," Monihan says.
Every day is every day. Days off are rare during the season, and no day is typical.
Many days for Monihan start at 5:30 a.m., with his own workout at the club's training facility. While working out, he and the club's director of sports science will talk about any injuries or other player-related issues that might require scheduling a doctor appointment.
When the players arrive, Monihan puts on his concierge hat, checking on needs that include things such as getting a credit card or cell phone for a player's wife or arranging family travel.
While the team trains, Monihan spends his time trying to solve as many of the players' problems as he can. Many days, there are more requests for help after training.
Working closely with team administrator Geoff Huber, Monihan plans for the road trips, focusing on the transportation. He schedules flights and buses. He also works to make sure required paperwork is in order when the team acquires international players.
On travel days, Monihan arrives at the airport at least 90 minutes ahead of the team to make sure boarding passes are printed for all 37 in the travel party, tags are printed for 35 equipment bags, and each coach and player is assigned their preferred seat.
Monihan speaks a little Spanish, and intends to keep learning that language. Fortunately, LAFC assistant coach Marc Dos Santos is there to translate. Dos Santos, who reportedly was among the finalists for the Timbers coaching job, was the Deltas' head coach and speaks six languages.
During games, Monihan is stationed near (but not on) the bench. He is ready if coaches or trainers need anything, say, grabbing a pair of shoes from the locker room.
Glamorous work it is not. But for Monihan — who dreams of becoming a general manager in pro sports — the people he meets and the relationships he can build are worth the long hours.
"My dream job would be the general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers. But I see this career path leading me to be a general manager of a Major League Soccer team," he says.
Daily contact with players, their agents, the coaching staff, general manager John Thorrington and assistant GM Will Kuntz is a tremendous learning environment for Monihan. Kuntz, knowing Monihan's ambition, has suggested "about 1,000 pages of light reading" such as the collective bargaining agreement with the players union and studying minutia of the MLS operating rules.
Monihan does not know where his career arc might next take him. Perhaps he will work on the soccer side, cutting video for coaches or working with the youth academy. Maybe it will be a bigger role with a smaller organization.
"The goal is to try to be an assistant GM somewhere where I can learn even more," he says. "I'm very fortunate to get in at a young age and have a long time to work toward that goal."
The goal makes having to solve problems at all hours worth it. After a recent match at Houston, a player not on the road trip called Monihan because he lost his keys at an Ikea. In San Francisco last season, a player who had only his phone and could not find his locker after a workout at a gym ended up spending the night at Monihan's home.
For all of those quirky challenges, it is the people — and the experience of being part of a team — that Monihan most relishes.
"My favorite part of the job is that I get to work with a bunch of different people from a bunch of different backgrounds," Monihan says. "Being able to work with our coaching staff and our players, you really get to see them for who they are outside of how they're portrayed by the media.
"Being in close contact with our players and their families is very rewarding. You get to know them on a personal basis, and I get to work in a sport I grew up loving my entire life. Every single day, 24/7, it's all about soccer. It's been a really good ride so far."