Sacramento Republic boss Mark Briggs is currently gearing up for a huge US Open Cup quarter-final clash against LA Galaxy.
The Wolverhampton-born manager will lock horns with the likes of Javier Hernandez, Douglas Costa and fellow ex-Baggie Jonathan Bond when the two teams meet in California tomorrow.
And the game is another chance for Briggs to show he is one of the most exciting and up-and-coming British coaches in the game.
Part of an Albion side that won the FA Youth Cup in 1999, the 40-year-old has managed to guide Sacramento into the Open Cup quarter-finals despite some major disappointments behind the scenes.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Republic were building a $226 million stadium in preparation for leaving the USL and joining the MLS this year.
But the club’s lead investor pulled out due to the impact of Covid-19.
And from the brink of joining America’s elite, Sacramento were all of a sudden back at square one.
“It’s been a difficult few years,” Briggs admitted. “I came in and everything was really positive and about preparing for MLS.
“But halfway through the process, the news broke that our lead investor had pulled his finances which then made MLS rethink their decision.
“There has been a big grey cloud over the football club.
“It’s been difficult to manage and try and keep people positive and keep people coming to games.
“So the close season this year was really important for us. I inherited a lot of players on two-year deals when I first took charge.
“But this was the first year I was able to go out and bring in my own players so to speak.
“And with them, we have been able to reinvigorate the fan base and get that buzz back into the club.
“We are finally starting to turn people’s focus and belief to the team that is currently here which has been a struggle.
“Every press conference I do, the first question is ‘what is going on with MLS?’.
“Having to manage players coming in, it’s hard because it’s been as if nobody cares about the guys currently here. And yet they are giving everything for the badge and the jersey.
“We have got a group that puts we before me which I think is one of the most important traits in building a successful team.”
After being let go by Albion aged 21, Briggs had spells in non-league with Hednesford, Telford and Rushall Olympic before beginning his coaching career in the US with Wilmington Hammerheads.
And it was actually in the US Open Cup – America’s equivalent of the FA Cup – that he first started making major headlines.
“I took over at Wilmington at a time when the team had just finished bottom of the league,” Briggs continued.
“The next season we finished eighth – which wasn’t bad as we had the lowest budget in the division.
“But we also got to the quarter-finals of the US Open Cup.
“We beat North American Soccer League side Miami, who were managed by Alessandro Nesta, to get there and then we were drawn against Real Salt Lake.
“And it was that draw that really changed things for me.
“For 80 minutes we battered them and were 2-0 up. They scored in the 81st minute, then got an equaliser and we went out.
“After the game, the general manager at Real Salt Lake approached me. He told me that he liked the way I carried myself on the sideline, he liked how organised my team was and the style of play.
“I moved to become assistant manager and take charge of Real Monarchs – the USL feeder club for Salt Lake.”
Briggs left Real Salt Lake to join Sacremento Republic in 2019.
And now he has another shot at reaching the semi-finals of the US Open Cup.
To do it, though, he is going to have to beat arguably the most famous side in the MLS.
“We faced Central Valley Fuego which is like a West Brom versus Wolves game earlier in the competition,” Briggs continued.
“We beat them and then San Jose Earthquakes who are an MLS side.
“And now we get to take on LA Galaxy and players like Hernandez and Douglas Costa who have played at the highest level.
“That is what football is all about and it’s why people love the FA Cup back home and why people love the Open Cup here in America.
“It’s going to be a difficult game, but in a one-off match with some of the quality we have and some of the experience we have you’d like to think we have a chance.
“All the Galaxy’s players are internationals. And in Greg Vanney they have one of the most decorated coaches in America.
“He’s won an awful lot of things, he won everything possible with Toronto.
“We are going to have to be solid defensively, we are going to have to be comfortable being uncomfortable at times.
“But they have weaknesses that I believe we can exploit.”
Briggs is thoroughly enjoying life in California and managing Sacramento Republic – a team that gets between 15,000 and 20,000 fans at each game.
But he hasn’t ruled out returning to manage in England one day.
“You never know in football,” he added. “I have got to focus on the job I currently have and try and be as successful as I can here and then see what doors open.
“It’s refreshing to see younger coaches getting an opportunity in England.
“The door will never be closed on returning home at some point.”