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'Lt. Larry' has new troops at Camden Catholic

It's easy to see why they call him Lieutenant Larry. He doesn't pace the sidelines as much as he prowls. Arms folded. Whistle hanging from his neck. Eyes locked on the field in front of him. Every so often, he barks something that rattles both sidelines.

Camden Catholic soccer coach Larry Sullivan. (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff Photographer)
Camden Catholic soccer coach Larry Sullivan. (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff Photographer)Read moreElizabeth Robertson / File Photograph

It's easy to see why they call him Lieutenant Larry.

He doesn't pace the sidelines as much as he prowls. Arms folded. Whistle hanging from his neck. Eyes locked on the field in front of him. Every so often, he barks something that rattles both sidelines.

His tone is raspy, succinct. At 66 years old, he is a man of few words when he's coaching. But he makes each word count - even though, to the ears of his high school players, many of those words might sound like they were plucked from a time capsule.

A recent gripe with an official yielded: "Will somebody wake this fella up?" It pierced the stadium at Camden Catholic High School. But that was it. No more words were spoken. Larry Sullivan went right back to observing the game, organizing his players, strategizing in his mind.

"I've always said a soccer game is nothing but two squads of infantry platoons," said Sullivan, a Vietnam War veteran and history buff who puts to rest any notion still held that soccer is for wimps.

"In soccer and war, you're trying to move in a certain situation. Of course, war is brutal. But it's the same mechanics; it's the same engineering. It's that same spirit, that same psychology: men moving together, working as one."

Sullivan, a first-year coach of the Camden Catholic boys' team, has made headlines recently for the enormous influence he has had on some of the Philadelphia Union's top brass.

In a recent article on, Union manager Jim Curtin called him "the most influential guy" in his development in soccer. Union technical director Chris Albright, Sullivan's nephew, sang similar praise.

Curtin and Albright preach a Philadelphia style of soccer. To them, Philly soccer is blue-collar, hard-nosed, team-oriented - against the grain of some of the sport's flashier superstars. And if that's the case, then it makes sense to look toward Sullivan.

Sullivan is Philadelphia soccer in its raw form: unfiltered, pure.

"My style," Sullivan said, "is pull up your socks, roll up your sleeves, it's time to go to work. You're not out there to make the other guy feel good."

Sullivan has come full circle in his return to a high school sideline. He says "it's where I'm supposed to be, influencing young men." Helping to turn around a Camden Catholic program with three wins in the past two seasons would be "a great legacy," he adds.

But it's a far cry from his decorated past. Sullivan was head coach of the Villanova men's team from 1991 to 2007. Before that, he coached at St. Joseph's University in 1978 and 1979, and led the Father Judge High boys' team in Philadelphia from 1983 to 1991.

Throughout those years, he was involved the Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Association, one of the country's top development programs. There, aside from Curtin and Albright, he mentored numerous future soccer greats, including Benny Olsen, current coach of DC United.

It's a pedigree the Camden Catholic players say they appreciate, something that has already helped them become better soccer players.

"He's really old-school," senior defender Joe Wolfram said. "He's a yeller. But he brings stability and discipline to the program. He wants the best out of every player - he knows what we're capable of. He just wants to see effort. He wants us to fight hard and battle."

Before his coaching days, Sullivan was a high-level player and was mentored by some of the greatest soccer minds this region has seen. Among others, he played for Walter Bahr at Temple and for Alex Ely during a stint on a professional team, the Philadelphia Spartans. Bahr and Ely are former national-team players. And Sullivan played for Philadelphia club soccer legend George Montag.

Tactically, there's not much Sullivan doesn't know about the game, but that's not where his greatness lies. He's proud of the compliments he has received from the Union because he's proud of the product they field. For years, Sullivan said, he couldn't watch much of what he saw from Major League Soccer - too much selfish, lazy play; not like the cohesive team the Union is building.

"To be a great team, you need to come together - not as soccer players, but as a community of men," Sullivan said. "You have to say, 'Yeah, I'll fight for you. I'll hustle for you.' Once that starts, the soccer becomes academic."

And these are the lessons, the thoughts in his mind that have brought Sullivan to the sideline of a fledgling high school soccer program in South Jersey. It's not Villanova, no. But that's not really the point.

"I'm 66 years old," Sullivan said. "I don't want to be coaching schmucks. I'm not ready for it. I want kids who want to learn. Thankfully, I have that here at Camden Catholic. Do I get on 'em? Yeah, I get on 'em.

"But I'm at that point in life where all I want is to teach. And if someone is there to grab it, hopefully they keep it."