Former Highline goalkeeper Liviu Bird is getting his chance as a video performance analyst with MLS’s Columbus Crew.
Bird was born in Fairbanks, Alaska but moved to Romania at the age of 1. That’s where his mother is from. While there, he fell in love with the game of soccer.
“I learned how to play behind my grandparents’ apartment building, kind of in the courtyard, with all the kids from the neighborhood. I mean that was the first time I kicked a ball. [Romania] was definitely where I learned to play,” Bird said.
But, right at the time he was going to start elementary school, his family moved back to Fairbanks.
“I kind of grew up caught between two places,” Bird said.
He then played at West Valley High School as well as with Phoenix Soccer Club in Alaska before moving to Highline
“I was looking for a place to play in college and coming from Alaska it's really hard to get recruited to a Division I or Division II school right away,” Bird said. “And I was sort of looking for something that was kind of close to home. So I started researching schools in the Seattle area and Highline was one that I reached out to.”
“Those were two factors and then the other thing that really caught my eye was the fact that the soccer program had a good record of moving players on to Division I and Division II schools,” Bird said. “I didn't really want to come in and play for two years and then that was it and with a lot of community colleges you see that. But with Highline, there really seemed to be a commitment to moving players on to good schools afterwards and that was definitely something I wanted as well.”
“And the guy who was coaching at the time was Jason Prenovost, he coached at Highline for a long time and had a lot of success there and he brought me in for my first few years of college,” Bird said.
“He came and visited a couple colleges in the NWAC. We were one of the top programs, so he contacted us,” Prenovost said. “Liviu was a solid keeper and I could tell he was very committed and disciplined to the craft. I enjoyed my conversation with him and was excited to recruit him to be a part of our program.”
After his career at Highline, Bird moved onto Seattle Pacific University.
“I had a couple different offers, a couple options. I liked SPU because it was in Seattle and I was used to Seattle, I knew it by then,” Bird said.
But he never started a game for SPU. He was sitting behind All-American goalkeeper Zach Johnson.
“You kind of wrap your head around [sitting] after a while,” Bird said. “You learn to accept a coach's decision to kind of understand that it's not about you, it's about the team and honestly I was playing behind a guy who was an All-American my senior year and he was two years younger than me.
“I realized that honestly, the best option for us to win was if I wasn't playing. I would say my junior year was difficult,” Bird said. “It was the first time I had really ever sat on the bench anywhere that I went and then my senior year I just sort of came to the realization and I found ways to affect and to contribute to the team besides being on the field.”
He said, “Honestly, I think that was where my coaching journey started in some way because you learn other ways to kind of affect the team and to make a contribution.”
After his collegiate career ended, Bird played for a short time with the semi-pro club Kitsap Pumas.
In 2013 Bird was fully away from playing and was given the opportunity to write for Sports Illustrated, as well as many other news sites like the New York Times and NBC Sports.
Even with writing for one of the most recognizable sports sites, Bird never got away from coaching.
“I’ve always coached. It wasn’t necessarily as high-profile sort of level or whatever, I was coaching youth teams or youth players and that,” Bird said. “And I was also writing, so I was kind of doing both at the same time. I focused a little bit more on the writing once I got to Sports Illustrated, but that was only two or three years, so it wasn't that long that I was in it.”
It got to the point where he felt like he had to decide between coaching and writing. It was an easy choice.
“Honestly the entire time, I was still coaching and it came to the point where I was kind of doing two full-time jobs at the same time,” Bird said “And I had to really decide what I wanted to do, what I wanted to focus on and really when I thought of it that way, it was no contest. I’ve always wanted to be around the game, and it was a good time to transition into doing that.”
Bird said that he has always coached, even at the lower levels. He said he remembers helping the U-12 team at his club when he was 18 years old.
He was assistant coach at Edmonds Community College for a few years and then got his opportunity as a head coach with Trinity Lutheran College for one year, until they ceased instruction in 2016.
Bird said that getting that opportunity “was really my first inkling that I might actually somewhat know what I’m doing.”
“I came in and the players really responded well to what I wanted to do and I got along really well with them and it was a great atmosphere, it was a great program for me as a young coach to be in charge of,” Bird said.
He said that he knew that coaching job was the one that helped him realize that was what he wanted to spend his life doing.
After moving to Utah for three months and back up to Alaska for another three months, Liviu and his wife Jennifer moved back to Bremerton.
Liviu was helping coach two teams at Bainbridge Island FC, a youth club, when he got the offer to join the Kitsap Pumas, this time as a coach.
“That is when I got into full time coaching and that is really when it took off for me,” Bird said.
He spent the next three years coaching at Kitsap, the first two as an assistant coach and then once again getting the opportunity to become a head coach in his third year.
Unfortunately, the Pumas folded in 2018.
Bird then coached a few more youth teams such as Seattle United and Kitsap Alliance before he was brought in by a familiar face to coach with the Seattle Sounders U-23 team last summer.
“Eventually it all came full circle because the head coach for the Sounders U-23s was Jason Prenovost, who brought me in to play at Highline. He asked me if I still wanted to join the staff,” Bird said.
“Liviu brought a lot of quality to our staff and was working hard on his professional development,” Prenovost said.
“I have a loyalty to him as I do for all my former players and coaches,” Prenovost said. “Liviu committed to play for me at Highline and I committed to support his development in the game and in life. For me, these relationships never end. I take these commitments seriously and Liviu is one of my guys. It’s one of the best parts of coaching.”
“It was a great opportunity to work with him again,” Bird said.
Prenovost, the current athletic director at Tacoma Community College, also said that Bird’s work ethic is “second to none.”
After his summer work with the Sounders U-23s, Bird got the offer to move up to Major League Soccer with the Columbus Crew as a video performance analyst.
“I film training and games and I help with the analysis, both of our team and the opponent,” Bird said. “So scouting reports and that sort of thing. So really just involved with the coaching staff in a variety of different ways in terms of preparing for games and the daily training routine.”
The Crew are one of MLS’s cornerstone franchises, one of the 10 clubs that have been in MLS ever since the league began in 1996.
“We are the oldest MLS club, No. 1,” Bird said. “We were first when the league started. First soccer specific stadium as well. There is a lot of history here and it's a great place to be.”
Bird said that there was “no hesitation” when he was offered the job.
“My initial thought was let's do it,” he said. “This is something that I've always wanted, to work at the highest level that I can. To get the opportunity to work with the staff that we have and with the club, a very ambitious club.”
Bird spoke to current Crew head coach Caleb Porter about joining the staff, as he has known Porter for a few years.
Porter formerly coached the Portland Timbers and won an MLS Cup against Columbus back in 2015.
“There was no real doubt in my mind that this would be a good place for me to be,” Bird said. “I had heard a lot of great things about Columbus as a city as well and it's a good place to raise a family and to live besides the soccer aspect of it. So, it seemed like an opportunity that we were excited to take advantage of.”
He said that one of the things that he has learned in MLS is it is important to be able to build relationships.
“[The job is] a lot less honestly than I thought it would be, I thought I would learn on the technical side on the actual soccer side. But the biggest learning curve and the biggest area I think I've grown since I’ve been here has been in building relationships and learning how to work with everybody,” Bird said.
“It sounds simple, but when you get down to this level there's a lot of things that go on a daily basis and you have to know that you can trust the person that you’re working with and you have to be able to relate well with everybody and that’s been the biggest area that I've learned since I’ve been here.”
But Bird's first year has not come without some difficulties. The entire country is dealing with the coronavirus and all major sports leagues have come to a screeching halt, including MLS.
“It's also been an interesting time to be in my first season in MLS with the coronavirus and everything that's going on but I’m excited to get back to it once we can get back on the field,” Bird said.
MLS has let clubs, including the Crew, go back to individual training, meaning that coaches can “facilitate the players doing individual workouts.”
“At some point in the near future hopefully, we’ll be able to ramp that up to small group training and then eventually the full team training and then hopefully get back to games,” Bird said. “And we focus every day on preparing as best we can so that when we are allowed to go to the next step that we have a plan in place and that we’re able to hit the ground running with wherever we are in the return to play protocol.”
Bird said that his goal is to keep moving up the ladder in the hopes of being able to coach at the highest level that he can, but he is enjoying the present.
“If there is anything that we’ve learned in the last couple of months, it's that you can’t really be sure what's around the corner,” Bird said. “I’ve really enjoyed the short time that I’ve been here and my main focus has been on getting to grips with being at this level and really being able to excel at the level that I’m at right now.
“I know it’s a very broad statement but if there is anything that I have figured out since I’ve been here, you really don't know what tomorrow is going to bring necessarily and to try to enjoy what you're doing right now and I really am enjoying what I’m doing right now, lockdown and pandemic notwithstanding,” Bird said.