This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in October 2003.

(Update: Andre Luciano completed his 13th season as the Northern Arizona University women’s soccer head coach in 2013.)

Luciano’s passion a plus for NAU soccer

By Ed Odeven

You walk into his comfortable Skydome office and immediately realize he’s a soccer fanatic. You see the team portrait of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup-winning team. You notice the framed photo of a 1975 Sports Illustrated cover, the one featuring the legendary Pele.

He is Andre Luciano, NAU’s third-year head soccer coach.

“I’m an absolute soccer junkie,” Luciano told me the other day. “You are going through the house and Fox Sports World is on all the time and it drives (NAU assistant coach) Tracy (Grose) nuts. It drives my wife nuts, but soccer to me is a lifestyle. It’s not a game you can just turn off. It’s a game of highs and lows. I think soccer is an analogy of life, the way I look at it. So it’s ingrained in me.”

Luciano deserves a lot of the credit for rebuilding the Lumberjacks soccer program. This team has never had a winning season — its best season was 1998, when it finished with an 8-11 record under the program’s original coach, Tracy Custer.

Today’s NAU match is one of the biggest in the history of the program. With a win or a tie at Weber State, the Lumberjacks will clinch the Big Sky Conference title and earn the right to host the conference tournament next week. The Lumberjacks have never placed higher than third (which they’ve done three times) in the league.

NAU, which has a 7-7-3 overall record, 4-1 in league play (it lost Thursday’s match 4-1 to Idaho State in snowy conditions), began the season at 1-4-1. Luciano did not push the panic button. He simply reminded the players of their potential.

“I think the turning point was the road trip (in late September) to Boise State,” Luciano said. “We had a tough tie against Boise State and a tough loss against Utah State and I remember sitting on the bus and I actually challenged them to be better than their record indicates. From that point forward, leaders have popped up all over the place. It’s not just one or two players — it’s 22, 23 players — each having a hand in how the program is turning around.”

It’s turning around because the players have bought into Luciano’s crede that strong defense needs to be a central characteristic of this team, because the Lumberjacks have more balanced scoring this season and because the players are more experienced. Sierra Cristiano, one of five senior captains, leads the team with 12 assists, Jesyca Rosholt is numero uno with seven goals and Brandy Johnson has chipped in six more. Sophomore goalkeeper Andrea Berra has had a stellar season, playing in all 17 matches and posting a 1.33 goals against average.

Luciano, who was born in Rome and moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil, as a baby, admits he’s an extremely competitive person and he expects a lot from himself as a coach. But he said he’s come to understand what coaching is really all about.

“It’s not about the wins or losses,” he said. “It’s the relationships I build with the players and how much I educate them about what life is really about and what the world is really about.”

It’s no surprise that Luciano developed a life-long love of soccer. Remember, he was living in Sao Paulo, and his father’s restaurant was just a few blocks away from the soccer stadium.

“We were always around celebrity soccer players,” said Luciano, who speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Czech, Slovak and Russian. “Half the players were always around when I grew up. Pele used to come to my dad’s restaurant and Zico, who’s my favorite all-time player for Brazil, used to swing by. So when you’re a kid and you see these guys it’s just ingrained in your life and you can’t get rid of it.”

Now, Luciano, who starred as a goalie at Yavapai College (one of the school’s first-ever soccer recruits who helped guide the Roughriders to the 1990 NJCAA title) and Indiana (the Hoosiers made the Final Four and Elite Eight with him starting), can’t get rid of his passion for turning NAU into a perennial Big Sky power.

“I have a tremendous amount of pride, and for us to come out and (start) 4-0 (in conference) reaffirms what we are trying to do here, and what we’ve been trying to do for 2 1/2 years,” he said Tuesday. “I think the biggest reward is seeing the smiles and the looks on the kids’ faces.”