Kusek column: Soccer just one of many languages for MSUB's Balog

2013-05-28T20:00:00Z 2013-05-29T00:01:04Z Kusek column: Soccer just one of many languages for MSUB's Balog The Billings Gazette
May 28, 2013 8:00 pm

Last season, when senior forward Thomas Chameraud got frustrated, he would sometimes mutter something in French under his breath.

Standing near the playing field, Alex Balog would only shake his head and chuckle.

Balog would smile, knowing only he and the player from France understood what was being said.

This fall, it will be even tougher for Montana State Billings men’s soccer players to vent their aggravation in another language.

Because most likely, it will be one of the six that Balog converses in fluently.

The multi-lingual Balog was introduced Tuesday afternoon as the sixth head coach in the history of the Yellowjackets’ program. He replaces Dan McNally, who left in February to become an assistant coach at the University of Cincinnati, a Division I program.

MSUB is the only NCAA men’s soccer program in the state.

“I’m honored and excited to continue the work that Dan McNally started,’’ said Balog, a lean 32-year-old native of Belgium. “We want to take the program to the next level, which means winning the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.”

Balog inherits a team that finished 11-5-2 last year. He was an assistant for two seasons before becoming the interim head coach on Feb. 15.

In that time, he coordinated all of the spring workouts and recruited 15 new players to MSUB for next season.

“I had to perform exactly like I was the head coach,’’ Balog said. “If there was any doubt, the players would catch on. I was here sometimes at two, three in the morning making phone calls to the international players.

“I had to make the situation (his interim status) clear right away. But I had to believe I would be given the chance to become the head coach. I tried to be positive. But that’s how I am. Not just for now, but in my life.”

Balog was chosen from a field of 67 candidates. The MSUB search committee narrowed the list to five phone interviews and had two on-campus visits before selecting Balog last week.

Balog picked up his language skills as the goalkeeper for Christian Brothers University in Tennessee and playing professionally in Belgium, Greece, Hungary and England.

He joined the MSUB staff in 2011 after coaching stints in Alabama.

“I thought this would be a good opportunity to get my foot in the door as a Division II head coach,’’ said Balog. “I know the team, I know the city, I know the challenges. There are a lot of good things in place here to be successful.”

Along with English and French, Balog can hold meaningful dialogues in German, Hungarian, Dutch and Greek.

“It’s an advantage when it comes to recruiting,’’ he said of the language skills.

And on the field, Balog added. “When I made an adjustment in French last year with Thomas, it might take the other team five minutes to catch on,’’ he continued. “If I did it in English, the other team would know right away.”

Balog will need to tap into those various forms of dialect when camp begins in August. If everybody shows, the Yellowjackets will feature players from eight countries and seven states.

However, Balog’s true test will not be speaking soccer in so many different ways – soccer is a universal language -- but getting the players to play soccer on the same page.

“We open with a 12-day road trip to California,’’ he said. “I really believe that will set the tone for our season.

“The players we have coming back and the players we brought in are all good soccer players. I can’t wait until our season is started.”

And he’s also brushing up on his Spanish.

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