Monday, October 25, 2021
Former Zag player Christo Michaelson may be one of the newest coaches to join the Spokane Sounders coaching ranks, but the Oregon native brings quite the pedigree and passion to the sideline.
The youngest of three siblings by a wide margin, he grew up watching his older brother and sister find a lot of success between the lines. His sister would win a National Championship on the pitch playing for the powerhouse University of Portland and his brother Brian… well, many may recognize him here in Spokane – he is a former Gonzaga basketball player and is now the assistant coach under Mark Few.
“My brother definitely was a big reason why I chose Gonzaga in the first place. We have a 14-year age gap so when he left for college I was still very young. He was a huge role model for me from the very start. I looked up to him in so many ways so from a very young age Gonzaga turned into my dream school. I did have other options and interests coming out of high school but my mind had been made up from a very young age. I committed really early and I wouldn’t change my decision for anything.”
And it is no surprise he had options coming out of high school. An acclaimed player at Jesuit HS, he was a two-time winner of the Oregon Sports Awards Prep Male in (2012, 2013); Earned back-to-back Oregon State Athletic Association (OSAA) Player of the Year awards; was 6A All-State first-team and Metro League Player of the Year as he helped his school capture Metro League titles in 2012 and 2013 as well as OSAA 6A titles in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
He went on to find success at GU, earning All-WCC honors in 2016 and 2017 and finishing his career with 59 games played, 10 goals and four assists.
The Michaelson trio were a very competitive group, but with a lack of sibling rivalry due to the age gap Christo believes much of the success can be attributed to his parents.
“I actually think we are all very different. I think we played and competed very differently as well. I would say the two big commonalities for us is that we had very supportive parents and that all three of us are incredibly competitive people.
“I’m sure my brother and sister had some sort of rivalry growing up as they were much closer in age but I have never really felt like we had any of that. I’ve always felt unwavering support from both of them. However, I am slightly jealous that my sister got to win a National Championship. I obviously can no longer win one as a player but I think it would feel just a great to get one as a coach.
“My parents played a huge role in my athletic success. Both were very different but they were an amazing team. Both of them sacrificed a lot of time and energy to get me to all my sporting events. I honestly can’t remember many games that they weren’t in attendance for. I didn’t realize it at the time but there is no way I could have had the success I did if it wasn’t for them.
“My dad in my mind was brutally honest with me. He would tell me if I played poorly but also would be the first person to tell me if I had a good game. Regardless, I knew he always had my back in any situation. My mom always thought I did great. I knew I could always count on her to be there to support me emotionally after a tough loss or a poor performance. She always thought I was the best player on the field… even if that wasn’t true.”
And briefly, that support continued into the professional ranks after finishing his Gonzaga career.
“I got signed by Reno 1868 FC, which is the affiliate to the San Jose Earthquakes. It was a difficult transition for me and I actually didn’t end up loving it. It had a been a childhood dream of mine to get to play professionally so I’m glad I am able to say I got to play, but I am content with being moved on to other things now.
“After leaving Reno, I realized that although I was done playing I still really wanted to be around the game. I came back home and jumped right into coaching high school soccer. My old coach at Jesuit High school reached out and said he needed an assistant and I still wasn’t sure what I was wanting to do full time so I was quick to accept that role. It was a really great first season as we ended up winning the state title.”
But again, Gonzaga came calling. Literally.
“When the new coach at Gonzaga (Aaron Lewis, his coach at Timbers U23s of USL 2) called me and offered me the spot I knew I had to take it. For me it was an easy choice. Gonzaga had done so much for me during college. I wanted to give back to the Gonzaga community and help the program grow. We have already been doing significantly better than last year so its exciting to see the program begin to head back in the right direction.”
Following in his brother Brian’s footsteps? Perhaps, but it is not something they communicate about.
“We actually haven’t discussed our coaching lives all that much but I still feel like I have learned a lot from him just watching him coach. His passion for helping not only Gonzaga succeed but also helping each individual grow as an athlete and person is something that I take pride in as well.”
And if you saw the two, they certainly don’t look much alike as Christo sports his long, blonde hair in comparison to his brother’s clean-cut appearance. Though the motivation for the look was not born out of trying to be different from his brother.
“The long locks were something that in my mind gave me a little extra motivation. I constantly got trash-talked from my competition about my appearance, especially the long blonde locks. I loved every minute of that trash talk – it was always something that motivated me.
“But… the locks are probably coming off soon. I think its time for them to go,” he said with a chuckle.
So, success coaching high school boys and now some growth coaching college men. The natural progression is?… coaching young girls. Obviously some of that is derived from NCAA limitations, but Michaelson is enjoying it.
“Its actually a pretty easy transition for me. My main goal with the younger players is to get them to love the game. If they love the game they will want to learn more and more about it. If I can get them to love it and learn to play the right way then I feel like I have succeeded.
“Its refreshing for me to work with the younger age groups because they can get so excited about such little things. At practice we can celebrate making the right pass or taking a good touch, where at the college level those things are just expected. When we celebrate and praise young athletes for doing the right thing I believe it can become a habit for them to want to continue to do the right thing.
“The young ones are super enjoyable because I feel like I can have a big impact in their development. At the college level I can still have an impact on development, but the thing I enjoy most about it is allowing my competitive side to come out and we can focus on how and what it will take to win.”
For Michaelson, coaching both has become a perfect fit as he still works on the future.
“I’m actually not certain I know what my goals are yet. I know I want to win at a high level but I’m not sure what that looks like exactly. My current goal is to help Gonzaga turn into a national powerhouse. I really do believe we are headed in the right direction.”
And they are. They picked up a momentous win at San Francisco on the weekend as they are midway through their WCC slate that includes two more home matches. If you want to see him out there on the GU sideline those games are October 30 and November 6.