Alumni Spotlights are Q&A's with former Brandeis student-athletes, across a myriad of disciplines, as they reflect on their Brandeis experience and how it has shaped their lives today. Read more spotlight features here.
This summer, in conjunction with Homecoming 2022, we will be spotlighting a series of student-athletes who played for our Hall of Fame coaches and have gone on to be successful coaches in their own right. We hope you can join us for the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Gosman Sports Center on October 8, 2022. Discounted early registration tickets are now available for purchase!
Name: Ben Applefield ‘14
Position: U-12 Boy’s Soccer Development Coach
Institution: Inter Miami FC
A native of Avon, Connecticut, Ben Applefield was a four-year starting left back for the Brandeis men’s soccer team between 2010 and 2013. He graduated as Brandeis’s career leader in games played (83) and games started (82). As a senior, he was named an All-American by D3soccer.com after leading the UAA with 10 assists. Applefield graduated with six goals and 20 assists and was named the Harry, Joseph, and Ida Stein Award winner as outstanding male athlete as a senior.
After graduating from Brandeis in 2014 with a degree in history, Applefield started coaching youth soccer at his hometown club, Oakwood Soccer Club. In 2016, he earned a spot as an Under-11 coach at DC United in Major League Soccer. Since 2019, he has been an Under-12 coach for another MLS club, Inter Miami, with a promotion to head coach in 2021-22.
What drew you to Brandeis in the first place all those years ago?
Brandeis just checked all the boxes that I was looking for from a school perspective: the location, the size of the school, and the academics. And after talking with coach Coven and Gabe [Margolis, the team’s assistant coach at the time] as well, it just seemed like soccer was a good fit. It was a combination of all those things that made sense for me.
What other schools were you looking at?
I was looking at similar schools, from a soccer standpoint. Some smaller, high-academic Division I schools, plus the Division III schools you might expect from a soccer and academic standpoint.
What’s your favorite memory of playing at Brandeis?
On the field, there are two games from my junior year: in our game against Babson, it was the first time we had beaten them in a few years. It was an overtime game that we won, a back-and-forth, competitive game. It was at home, and it was a big coming-together moment for the team. It was a big accomplishment, a monkey off our backs kind of thing.
That was also the first year in long time that we made the NCAA tournament. It was always a goal of mine, at whatever level I played at, to make the NCAA tournament. We made it my junior and senior year. Our junior year, in the second round, we were playing against Vassar at home. It was the same, a really competitive game, 0-0, and then Sam Ocel scored with, I don’t know, it was like, 10 or 15 seconds left on the clock. [Ed. - It was 29.4 seconds left in regulation.] It was just an awesome moment to be a part of.
Off the field, some of the friends that I am closest to now, are the ones that I played with and met in my time at Brandeis. One of the things that coach Coven did really, really well was - and I don’t know if we were aware of it at the time - creating this team environment in which everyone was valued. It didn’t matter whether you were playing or not playing, or what your status was on the team, he cared about every single player and treated every single player the same. It was an example that he set that we always followed, consciously or subconsciously.
Being part of the team, from the first time you come in as a freshman, you already felt like you had a group of people that you were friends with, that you were comfortable with, that you could lean on for support.
How about some memories of coach Coven specifically?
I just remember in any situation, talking with him - and it could be before practice, in the locker room, at your end-of-the-year meeting - it didn’t matter if it was formal or informal, he had this way of making you laugh and connecting with you. Even if you had a bad day, he had a way of putting things into perspective and making everything seem OK. His humor, laughter and lightheartedness always came through. Even now, we talk on the phone every so often, and it’s impossible not to laugh and have some fun with it at some point. That’s part of what makes him such a special person.
What made your teams of the early 2010s so successful?
[The coaches] did a great job of recruiting and building the team, so there were a lot of good players that complemented each other well. We were prepared well, for individual games and for the season as a whole. That’s from the soccer side of things.
I think also, from a relationship standpoint, during the times that we were the most successful, there was this intangible connection between everybody on the team. There was a lot of trust and support for each other. If there were times when it was a tie game or the game was going against us, I was always confident in myself and confident in the people around me that it was going to be OK. We were going to manage and find a way to be successful.
What ultimately led you into coaching as a career path?
During the time I was at Brandeis, it became clear to me that soccer was my kind of thing, and I knew I wasn’t going to play professionally, but that I wanted to stay connected to the sport, and coaching seemed like the most logical pathway.
Between my sophomore and junior year, I had a lot of conversations with Coven and Gabe about how to go about it, learning from their experiences. So I started working with the club that played for in Connecticut, the Oakwood Soccer Club. That’s where Gabe saw me first from a recruitment standpoint. I coached there for a couple of years before moving up with Major League Soccer clubs. Coven helped connect me with the former general manager of Inter Miami, which is how I got down here.
How did you gravitate towards working with the age group, 10- to 13-year-olds?
There wasn’t anything particular behind it, it’s just kind of the way it worked out for me. I was really interested and focused on working in the MLS environment. In transitioning from Oakwood to DC United, they were looking for a U11 coach. And I took it, because that was the step that I wanted to go in. Similarly, moving from DC to Miami, they were building their whole Academy from scratch and were looking for a U12 coach. I had experience working with the age group and was interested in the ambition that the club was showing in building from scratch.
So what exactly does a development coach for this age group do, especially within the setting of an MLS team academy?
From a big picture standpoint, from a soccer perspective, is to develop professional players, who will eventually feed into the professional club. That starts at 11 or 12, and there’s a full pathway within the academy, to the reserve team to the professional first team. In theory, there’s a pipeline for them to reach the professional team.
From our perspective, we have 150 players in the academy. There’s a very small percentage of them who are going to turn professional. So we show them other pathways. They will likely be going to college if they aren’t ready to be professional, so we show them the benefits of the education, and maybe helping them get a scholarship.
And then, since we know they aren’t likely to all be professionals, helping them develop as people. If they spend four years in the program, from ages 13 to 17, those are important ages not just as a player, but as a person growing up.
What lessons did you take from coach Coven that you still use in your coaching career?
Kind of like what I was saying before, I always remember him putting everyone as a person first, before who they were as a player. Having a genuine sense of care for everybody who was on the team. It didn’t matter what your role on the team was. If you were playing all the time or not playing all the time, everyone was the same. He interacted with you and cared about you in the same way.
For me, I think that’s really important with kids who are so young and in such a competitive program. They might seem mature and think they want to be professionals, but they are still young and need to have fun. So when they come in, we make sure we fist-bump every kid, ask them how their day was, what they had for lunch - trying to make little moments to connect with them instead of just seeing them as soccer players. As a player, I got that from Coven and Gabe, and I remember how it felt, so I try to make my players feel the same way.
What accomplishments are you most proud of, professionally or personally?
This past June our club, Inter Miami, was invited to a tournament organized by La Liga - the professional soccer league/organization in Spain. The tournament was in Orlando and was made up of players born in 2009 and 2010, which were the ages I coached last year (2020-21) and this past year (21-22). I was fortunate to be a part of the coaching staff for the trip. The tournament had some of the top professional academies in the world such as FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. We got to play against Real Madrid and Real Betis (a first division club in Spain) and it was a great experience to be a part of.
I've been fortunate to have had really positive experiences and develop great relationships - personally and professionally - in each of my career stops. Each new experience sheds light on previous ones, particularly the things that I enjoyed and am grateful for whether it be having family close by, friendships that were made, or just a favorite restaurant. I make a point in my daily life to be thankful for all of these experiences, including my time at Brandeis, and the positive ways they have impacted me. Building off of this, I really value and make a conscious effort to stay connected to these experiences and continue to grow these relationships. Although it's certainly not perfect and this is not necessarily a tangible accomplishment, it is something that is important to me personally.