Jukka Masalin, Ian McIntyre’s lead general, helped Syracuse become a premiere program

first_img Published on October 31, 2017 at 10:02 pm Contact Nick: [email protected] | @nick_a_alvarez Eight years ago, Ian McIntyre and Jukka Masalin lounged at a hotel restaurant in Orlando, Florida, in the middle of another week-long recruiting trip. The pair had spent 12 hours watching high schoolers and were poring over notes when McIntyre’s phone rang. The voice on the other end of the line gave McIntyre a glimpse of his future as Syracuse’s head coach.The then-head coach at Hartwick College in Oneonta returned to the table and asked if Masalin, who had spent two years with McIntyre at Hartwick, would to join him at SU. They wanted to build a premier program upon a culture they felt reflected both of their aggressive, hard-working personalities.“I didn’t really have to think about it,” Masalin said. “I moved around more in my life than he has. I thought it was a clear step for us to move forward … I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”When McIntyre hired an assistant, he didn’t want someone who he coached or played against. Masalin fit the description. Overall, the culture the pair wanted to implement has yielded results in the form of a 62-30-11 record after winning five games in their first two years at Syracuse. Many current and former players credit Masalin and his “behind-the-scenes” work with a large part of the team’s success.Ten seasons later, their eighth at SU, McIntyre and Masalin have turned Syracuse into a nationally recognized program, though this season may not reflect it with the Orange (6-8-3, 0-6-2 Atlantic Coast) entering the ACC tournament Wednesday as the lowest seed. With a litany of underclassmen in starting roles, McIntyre and Masalin aren’t done fostering the environment they spoke of in that hotel restaurant. Because to close this season strong and engineer a resurgence for the program next year, McIntyre and Masalin will face their toughest task yet.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“We thought we could build something here,” Masalin said.Jukka Masalin (center, grey) has coached for eight years at Syracuse with head coach Ian McIntyre (left, blue). Josh Shub-Seltzer | Staff PhotographerOn Oct. 3, an hour before SU played Akron, Masalin stood inside a circle of players as he led them in core and leg stretches. Masalin, 44, wore a gray Nike shirt with an SU patch on the chest and blue shorts. He has stretched with every team he’s coached, and if not for Masalin’s thinning blond hair, he could be mistaken for one of the players.“I enjoy getting guys ready for something,” Masalin said. “I prepare them mentally. It’s almost like me being a part of it still.”At one point, he was employed as an assistant coach with three different Finnish youth teams. Masalin knew he would never be able to sit behind a desk, so he searched for a full-time coaching job. During what would be the final year of his career in 2003, Masalin received a job offer from a former teammate who was then the general manager of the Atlanta Silverbacks of the United Soccer League. Masalin obtained his green card and moved to the United States.“The whole game itself,” Masalin said, “you feel like you owe something to it… You just want to be part of it, you want to give back.”Masalin has built up SU’s program by giving chances to players that remind him of himself. Sometimes he has personal friends scout European players. Most of the time he relies on organizations such as College Scholarship USA, a company that connects potential student-athletes with schools in the U.S. Former forward Emil Ekblom, who scored 18 goals over two seasons, came from CSUSA. The bedrock of SU’s program — Julian Buscher, Juuso Pasanen and Oyvind Alseth — were all recruited by Masalin.The core pieces of the 2017 team were also brought in due to Masalin’s recruiting. Mo Adams, a sophomore captain, received a phone call from him days after SU’s 2015 season ended in the program’s first College Cup appearance. Goalkeeper Hendrik Hilpert met Masalin in Germany and was persuaded to join the Orange. Sondre Norheim, a freshman defender, Skyped with Masalin after connecting through CSUSA.“There’s a lot of players that get chopped off at the age of 17 or 18,” Masalin said. “They start thinking, ‘What am I doing next?’ Up until then, it’s all soccer. They think they’re going to be a pro player.”Syracuse has gone 62-30-11 with Jukka Masalin on staff. Josh Shub-Seltzer | Staff PhotographerAbout three weeks after the Akron matchup on Oct. 21, Masalin prepped his team for a clash against then-No. 7 Clemson. After hugging each of the players, Masalin returned to his usual seat on Syracuse’s bench, the one closest to McIntyre. During the game, the Orange head coach stalked the sidelines, and shouted directions at players while Masalin remained silent.“In coaching,” Masalin said, “everything comes first and you come last. I don’t have to perform on the sidelines. Our job is done before the whistle blows. I was fiery and feisty as a player, but I still got a little of fire in my belly while I’m on the sidelines.”When Masalin stopped playing and moved to the USL in 2003, he struggled to adjust. He had won two league championships in Finland and viewed the transition as a “step-down.” He doubted he would stay in the states and thought about getting a Finnish coaching license and moving back home.Part of his doubts stemmed from the fact that the USL was a struggling league. Masalin joined the Rochester Rhinos and coached in New York for two years after his previous team folded. Prior to the 2008 season, the Rhinos went bankrupt. His last duty as an assistant was to call then-Hartwick head coach, McIntyre, and cancel a preseason game.“I’m calling you up first of all to say we’re not playing a game anymore,” Masalin remembered saying. “And, do you need an assistant?”With “nothing to lose,” Masalin drove to McIntyre’s office for an interview. In a four-hour long meeting, the two discussed their playing careers and spoke about an ideal culture for a successful collegiate program. At the end, McIntyre offered Masalin a job.“I wanted something fresh and Jukka represented that,” McIntyre said. “You surround yourself with players and coaches you want to go to battle with each and every night. … I’m delighted to have Jukka right by my side.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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