From player to coach. Domestic leagues to international tournaments. Youth academies to college to the pro’s. From men’s soccer to women’s.
Orlando Pride assistant coach Khano Smith’s journey has been unlike any other.
It started in the Bermuda Premier Division with the Carolina Dynamo. Two years later, he was with the New England Revolution, where he would go on to make 100 appearances between 2005-10.
The Revs were dominant in those days, making the MLS Cup Final three straight seasons from 2005-07, but they were never able to win it all. Smith played an integral role on those teams, and after all those postseason wins, one moment stays with him more than 10 years later.
“We were pushing for the game, going down in New York 1-0, coming back home and then we went down again, so overall we were down 2-0 [on aggregate],” Smith remembers of the 2005 Eastern Conference Semifinal against the MetroStars. “Once we got the first one we were like, ‘OK, we’re back in this thing,’ and then we got the second one.
“Once we got the second one, there was only one team that was going to win that game.”
And it was Smith that scored the winning goal. He took a feed from Clint Dempsey, worked past his defender and fired a shot to the far post. His 83rd-minute go-ahead goal secured passage to the Eastern Conference Finals and eventually the MLS Cup Final.
Smith’s season, however, was already over.
Just five minutes after scoring the game-winning goal, Smith hyperextended his knee.
“I went from pure elation to the worst feeling ever,” he said.
It’s just one of the many experiences that have shaped Smith’s unique perspective of the beautiful game.
After his first stint in MLS, Smith travelled across the pond to join Lincoln City in England. There, he befriended teammate and future Orlando City assistant Anthony Pulis. Years later, when Orlando City brass sat down to create the Pride, it was that friendship – along with his friendship with Revs teammate and Orlando City USL legend Rob Valentino – that brought Smith to Orlando.
“When Tom [Sermanni] got the job, he was looking for an assistant and he asked those guys if they knew anybody and they both recommended me,” Smith said. “A few weeks went by and I got a call from Tom and he wanted to know if I was interested. I came down for an interview, had the interview and that was that.”
Before that phone call, Smith first got into coaching with the Revs’ youth academy and then moved on to be an assistant at Southern New Hampshire University. The team went 19-1-1 in his only season there, and it gave him an opportunity to get his Master’s degree in sports management, which he continues to work on.
“I never saw myself really wanting to be in the college game but it was a good opportunity for me,” he said. “It was a really good opportunity to see the game from a different perspective on the college end.”
Little did he know that he’d soon be coaching some of the best female soccer players in the world alongside legendary coach Tom Sermanni.
Sermanni has coached both the Australian and U.S. women’s national teams, among many others. Coaching under him has offered Smith a chance to learn from one of the greats.
The Orlando City, OCB and Pride coaching staffs have offices at Sylvan Lake Park, creating a cauldron of coaching experience, and he takes advantage of every second.
“As a coach you can learn and steal ideas from anyone. I’m learning from those guys all the time, just picking pieces off everyone,” Smith said. “That’s what I really enjoy about this environment. It’s so many good coaches around that you can steal bits and pieces from everyone.”
Just like the thrill of that game-winner in 2005 stays with him, so does the sting of three straight MLS Cup defeats. It’s a feeling that drives him. And at 35, his playing days are behind him, but a long coaching career surely awaits, offering him a chance to build on his own diverse perspective and share his experiences with others.
“It’s still a burning desire that I didn’t win [MLS Cup],” Smith said. “Hopefully, one day, who knows? Wherever I end up, maybe in my career if I end up coaching in MLS again that will still be a burning desire for me to win one.
“But in the meantime, I’m happy where I’m at. I love being in Orlando. I love working with Tom, coaching the Pride. Love coaching the girls. It’s a great setup, we never want for anything here. I’m definitely happy where I’m at.”