“I got here, and immediately this place felt like home,” said Sutcliffe. “I soon knew this was where I wanted to be long-term.”
Before ever thinking about becoming a coach for a career, Sutcliffe developed a passion for the sport of soccer as a player. He began his club career at age nine, playing alongside his brothers. During his teenage years, Sutcliffe salivated over the idea of one day being able to coach the sport he loved for a living.
“My dad was a P.E. teacher, so I had always been around the coaching environment. I found out in my early teens that I really wanted to coach for a living, if I could, and also teach P.E. So I just kept pursuing it.”
Sutcliffe went on to play college soccer at Temple University, and then played at HGH, a competitive amateur club based in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. While his coaching career took off, he still continued to play club soccer, until stopping five years ago.
To pursue his coaching dream, Sutcliffe participated in several coach licensing programs in the United States and in England. He helped run various university offseason training camps to gain experience. Eventually, he got the job of head of player training and development for a club, and retained that position for eight years.
“The transition to coaching was definitely somewhat challenging when I was younger. There was a lot that I did to get better, to learn my craft. I found that coaching soccer was just better than everything else. It presented a lot of challenges, no doubt, but every step was enjoyable.”
With eight years of certified coaching experience under his belt, Sutcliffe got the head coaching job at PHS, hopeful that it would play a role en route to his final aspiration of coaching at the college level.
“I was planning to try to get a job at a mid-table, Division III school,” Sutcliffe said. “But when I got here, the environment made me feel at home, and I knew this place would be it.”
Sutcliffe soon realized that the Princeton area was a hotbed for soccer. Bob Bradley, the former head coach of the United States Men’s National team, was Princeton University’s head coach during the late nineties. For a few summers, Bradley worked with Morristown High School’s soccer team, which was coached by Sutcliffe’s brother. This led Sutcliffe to PHS, where he truly discovered the culture of the school and the town.
“The faculty and the environment and the culture here was immediately warm, while being stimulating at the same time. On the soccer end, the game was sort of ahead of its time here, [both] on the club level and the high school level. It was a great soccer environment, [a] great teaching environment, and on a personal level, it felt like home.”
Sutcliffe’s first game as the head coach of the Tigers was a decisive 3-0 victory over Hightstown High School. From that point onwards, he has cherished countless memories. In 2003, he lead the Tigers to a Group III sectional title and their first ever Mercer County Tournament crown. On a fall evening in 2009, Sutcliffe’s Tigers defeated Millburn High School to capture their first ever soccer state title in the Group III state championship game at the College of New Jersey. Three years later, Sutcliffe coached PHS to another state title.
“The first time is always the most special. Coming in, we were undefeated and the number one ranked team in New Jersey. Winning that title game that night at TCNJ, that moment was huge.”
Looking forward, Sutcliffe hopes to continue the successful culture surrounding soccer at PHS.
“We just want to keep getting better as a staff and continue to provide a top-flight environment for players to play in,” said Sutcliffe. “We want to keep doing the game justice and continue to groom players to be able to play at the next level.”
Over the two decades he has been a coach at PHS, Sutcliffe has helped develop hundreds of soccer players. One of them, Sam Serxner ’17, a commit to Wesleyan University for soccer, is thankful for the guidance Sutcliffe has shown over his three seasons on the varsity team.
“Before his coaching, I didn’t know if I would ever be a college soccer player and I didn’t know how much I really enjoyed the sport. He taught me that when things aren’t going your way, whether it’s on the soccer field or in life, you have to be able to rebound. That was the biggest lesson he taught during my three years on his team.”
In 2009, Sutcliffe was voted NJ Coach of the Year. In 2015, he was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Regional Coaches of the Year list. On October 7, 2016, Sutcliffe won his 300th game as a coach at PHS. He will begin his 21st season next fall.