SAO PAULO (AP) — On a side field at Corinthians’ training complex on the eastern edge of South America’s biggest city, the sun was setting and the shadows were growing long as Dan Gaspar worked with goalkeepers on saving close-range shots.
The 58-year-old from Connecticut is at the World Cup, soccer’s pinnacle. But for the most part, his players speak Farsi, not English.
Gaspar is in his third season as goalkeepers coach of Iran, which opens Monday against Nigeria.
“I believe they find me more interesting. In three-plus years working in Iran, I have never have had any issues as a result of my nationality, Portuguese-American,” he said. “I have been impressed by the Iranian hospitality and kindness.”
Gaspar was coach at the University of Hartford from 2005-11, leading the Hawks to 36 wins, 46 losses and 21 ties and finishing no higher than third in the America East Conference. That stretch interrupted a longtime career as an assistant to Carlos Queiroz, the Mozambique-born Portuguese.
The pair worked together with Portuguese soccer’s governing body starting in 1993, then moved on together to Sporting Lisbon, Major League Soccer’s New York-New Jersey MetroStars and Japan’s Nagoya Grampus Eight. Gaspar was goalkeeper consultant when Queiroz coached South Africa during qualifying for the 2002 World Cup and worked for Portugal’s national team under both Queiroz and Luiz Felipe Scolari, currently in his second stint as Brazil’s coach.
Gaspar also assisted Queiroz in 1998 when he was commissioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation to write the Project 2010 report suggesting how the sport should be developed in America. Gaspar provided Queiroz with much of the background on soccer’s growth in America.
Gaspar says he learned from Queiroz’s “demanding and obsessive” attention to details, and the pair have “unconditional trust.” When Queiroz was hired by Iran in April 2011, Gaspar followed.
“I am who I am professionally as a result of the opportunities that coach Queiroz has given me,” Gaspar said. “There are times we don’t need to speak because after so many experiences we understand each other so well. When I first had the opportunity to work with him, it was a rude awakening to the world of the winning business. I came from the U.S. environment, where in most cases it was about the business of soccer. The business of soccer and the business of winning are two completely different mentalities.”
Gaspar has made four to five trips annually to Tehran, flying from New York with layovers in either Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Frankfurt, Germany; or Istanbul.
Gaspar is deferential to his boss. He wanted to check first whether he should go ahead with an interview. Gaspar preferred to exchange questions and answers by email rather than talking at Iran’s practice field.
He said cultural differences have taken time to learn as he’s commuted from the northeast U.S. to the Middle East. In Iran, a thumbs up is interpreted as the equivalent of a raised middle finger in other parts of the world.
Iran’s staff also includes people from Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Cape Verde Islands and Finland.
“We have a good translator who is with us and mirrors our statements and actions well. But even when someone delivers instructions in the same language on behalf of the technical staff member, the message may lose its precise meaning,” Gaspar said. “You need to be patient in order to be effective. Also, it’s difficult for someone to deliver your message with the same emotions, and the timing is crucial as well. It’s not just translating word for word, it’s also important for a translator to be knowledgeable about the soccer terminology.”
He can converse easily with defender Steven Beitashour, who is from San Jose, California, and plays for MLS’s Vancouver Whitecaps. Beitashour, whose parents are from Iran, attended U.S. national team training camps in August 2012 and the following January but never got into a game.
A 2,000-1 shot to win the World Cup, Iran also has first-round games against Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina. After the World Cup, the future is unclear.
Gaspar trained Tim Howard and Nick Rimando, two of the American World Cup goalkeepers, when they were with the U.S. under-17 team in 1995. He’d like to get another opportunity on home soil.
“This would allow me to fulfill another lifelong dream, that of returning to the United States and my home from overseas,” he said, “so that I am able to share my unique experiences and knowledge, and help develop and define further a true American soccer culture. I always believed this was my destiny.”