With the long-awaited spring sun shining down on the turf Tuesday, Vytas Andriuskevicius ran along the sideline at Providence Park and placed a perfect cross to the feet of an attacking player. It was a familiar move in a familiar place for Vytas, but in a new role.
A former fan favorite as a Portland Timbers defender, the player known simply as Vitas joined the Portland Thorns as an assistant coach earlier this month. After playing in Portland from 2016-18, appearing in 37 matches, the 31-year-old Vytas hung up his cleats in 2021.
“The whole reason for me coming back here is the moment I came here, the moment I experienced how it feels to be part of this community and organization, I just fell in love,” Vytas said. “I knew when I left that I wanted to come back to live here. I have so much respect and love for this organization, that it’s a no-brainer. I am so happy, excited, keen to learn and give back.”
Vytas coached at the Oregon Premier Soccer Academy before joining the Thorns. He and his wife, Greta, decided to move back to Portland from Lithuania before this job with the Thorns was even a possibility. Vytas loved Portland that much, and was able to persuade Greta.
“They reached out and said there was going to be a new coach of the Thorns, and that maybe it would be a good fit to have me as one of the assistants,” Vytas said. “They said I should go and meet Rhian and see how it goes. It turned out to be something where they gave me a chance to be full-time and dedicated to the Thorns, which is really exciting. I love it.
“I came back here and didn’t even know what was going to happen next. But the way my life goes, the opportunities come all the time. I never had many options, but whoever gave me an opportunity along the way, I grabbed it and see how it goes.”
Coaching was never something Vitas thought he would get into after retirement. But the soccer institutions and resources that exist in the US — particularly compared to his home country of Lithuania, where he said there is a shortage of opportunities in the sport — drew him back into the game.
“Here, there is way more space and opportunities in soccer,” Vytas said. “Here is the better conditions to be a coach. If you put in honest work and you’re working hard, you get rewarded. … It opens my eyes to look from the coaching lenses. When you’re a player, you only think about yourself and how you contribute to the team. When you’re on the coaching side, there’s way more different, small pieces involved. It’s tactics, it’s analysis, it’s learning about opponents, adjusting how you play, studying player characteristics.”
Portland is home for Vitas and Greta now. And in his new role with a Thorns team coming off a 2021 NWSL Shield, Vytas hopes to contribute however he can to a championship culture in the city that cemented his passion for the game. Whether it’s putting crosses in during playful post-practice moments or providing additional perspective from his playing career that Thorns players can use.
“I love it,” Vitas said. “The city, the people, the community, the soccer. When you come to Timbers games, you see it. People here love soccer. The Thorns get like 15,000 people. The vibes are great. The city has open-minded people and everybody is very kind and supportive, and everyone is trying to make it better.”
— Ryan Clarke, firstname.lastname@example.org