The Coach's Corner
Sept. 22, 2009
It's the middle of September already and time for me to get my first coaches blog out for the 2009 Husky Soccer season. Before I comment on the Husky preseason and the early season games we have played, I wanted to make a few comments about the incredible "summer of soccer" that I enjoyed and how it has generated new sources of information, inspiration and insight for me personally.
Just before the summer started in late May, I made my third and final trip to England over the last 14 months to complete my English FA UEFA "A" coaching education course. It started in March of 2008 and my course work was completed this past June of 2009. Even for a coach with some 27 years of collegiate coaching experience, it's hard to not be "changed" after four total weeks in residency (over the past two summers) up at Lilleshall (England's National Sports Center) under the direction of many of the top FA staff coaches.
The quality of coaching education with English FA is regarded highly in Europe and is one of the main reasons I chose to undertake this endeavor. After completing the course and "sitting as a candidate again," it was indeed everything as advertised: very demanding, mentally and physically challenging and full of opportunities to "take on" new information.
I certainly feel the impact of this unique soccer experience in my coaching of the Huskies today and it's true that school is never out for the professional. I do owe a debt of thanks to the UW athletic administrators who not only supported me in my ambition to complete this professional growth experience but helped finance it.
In regards to final completion of the course and receiving my FA UEFA "A" license, I look forward to finishing one last homework assignment which will be completed and assessed near the end of January 2010. An amazing journey that I hope will benefit many Husky teams in future years.
Another incredible source of inspiration that took place this past summer was the inaugural season of the Seattle Sounders. What an incredible sports story for the city of Seattle and having my former collegiate mentor, colleague and close friend, Sigi Schmid, here in Seattle has been a special lift to me personally. Having the Sounders here in Seattle has helped to put our city on the map in regards to professional soccer and it's a big boost to our UW collegiate soccer visibility and image.
The final boost of enjoyment and coaching inspiration that took place for me this past summer were the numerous top international teams that came here to Seattle to practice and play this summer. It started with our U.S. National Team that played a Gold Cup match at Qwest Field on July 4th. Later in July, it was Chelsea FC that came to town to play the Sounders and then practice a few days after the game which provided yet another unique observation opportunity to see how top teams operate.
Then the "big finale" to the summer came with the arrival of FC Barcelona, who chose our UW game field as their practice site before and after their game with the Sounders. Truly an amazing opportunity to observe and "take aboard" some of the ideas and training methods used by arguably the top soccer team on the planet! If that type of summer doesn't get a coach excited about coaching his own team, I'm not sure anything will! I do indeed feel so fortunate to have had these very special experiences and I fully intend to utilize everything I observed and learned this summer to help lead the Husky men's team to reach new levels of success.
It's hard to believe that we have already been together five weeks since we began our pre-season training on Aug. 15th. As our team has started to take shape and we already played our first six matches, I wanted to share some of my thoughts.
Pre-season training camp went extremely well by our program standards and expectations and I think the team will reflect all the productive work we did as we head into late September. Our pre-season training schedule had both the key elements of "quality" and "quantity" as we went nine straight days from Aug. 15th to 23rd before our first day off.
We have upgraded the use and understanding of our heart rate fitness monitors and thanks to some expert guidance by the Sounders FC fitness coach, Dave Tenney, we planned and managed the pre-season to hit all the fitness goals we had for our team. Our early season fitness has already been tested with two overtime games and we looked the fresher team in both of them.
Besides eight days of "doubles" during pre-season we also played two exhibition games which are very important to see how players do in a game-type setting. All eligible players played in both of these games and it was good for the coaches to start to determine what positions are best suited to each player and where each of them might be able to help our team as we move forward. We are excited about the future potential of the 2009 team although we do feel it will take a little time to fit all the pieces into place. Overall, I think we are headed for a very exciting and successful season this fall.
With six games already played and a record of 2-3-1, we have learned much about our 2009 team. The first win of the season over at Seattle U. was an important step forward and not a "comfortable" opening game by any means. It was obviously a huge game for them as a new D1 team in town and being "favorites" to win in this new cross town "derby" made for somewhat of a nervy performance by our team. None the less, the team found a way to get the result we needed to open our season.
Three days later, we faced a quality Midwest playoff team from last year in St. Louis University down at Portland's tournament. We started very slowly in this game and quickly found ourselves training 1-0 in the match with just 3½ minutes played. All of sudden, many of the things that seem to work for our team in the offensive areas in pre-season were not going to help us against a higher-level opponent. Down 2-0 at halftime, we really had to come to grips with the way we were trying to play and what style and system of play we had to resort to immediately in order to give us any chance to turn things around in this second game.
Changes in our formation and "style of play" were very much the order of day for the second half against St. Louis and I think we discovered that taking advantage of the size and unique jumping ability of the players we have up front this year may just offer something useful to call upon when needed. While we did lose this second game 2-1, we did manage to get ourselves back into the game and pulled within one goal of tying it up. With some sharper finishing we could have pulled out a draw in this game.
I have to recognize the nation's top volunteer coach, Jimmy Gabriel, for his insight in making some adjustments to help turn our second half around against St. Louis. I can tell you, having a coach of his experience and knowledge on our bench during games is an advantage few coaches enjoy. I hope our players realize how lucky they are to have him on our coaching staff this year.
Playing quality teams early in a collegiate season can tell you much about what will and what won't work for your team as you head forward and the next opponent we had to face in the Portland tournament, Virginia, looked to be one of the top teams in the nation.
Thanks in large part to only playing "half a game" against St. Louis up to our standards and expectations, we entered the Virginia game with a new attitude to play to our immediate strengths and try as much as possible to attack the few weaknesses we had identified in the Virginia team. Early enthusiasm seemed to pay off for us as we took a 1-0 lead in the game with just over five minutes played.
While we did well in this third game of the season and were statistically even with Virginia, we could not generate the vital second goal we really needed to separate ourselves from a top team like UVA. While we did lead for some 68 minutes, a well executed corner kick by Virginia would pull them level in the match (1-1) and eventually send the game to overtime.
We began the overtime well and appeared physically up to challenge to play another 20 minutes of sudden death extra time. I was confident that the hard fitness training we did in pre-season would be there for our players to call upon when needed in a situation like this. Somewhat against the run play in the first overtime, however, we made a few defensive errors that opened the door for a clever UVA player to take advantage of and he scored the golden goal to end the game with just eight seconds remaining in the first overtime period.
No one ever said that the cutting edge of sports wasn't cruel sometimes and while it maybe didn't feel like a loss to our players and coaching staff, all of a sudden, we had a 1-2 record. We did gain a certain measure of confidence from this game, however, and we challenged our team to work hard the next week as we prepared for another tough game on the road at UC Davis.
After three games in just six days to open the season, our next match down at UC Davis was only a single game on Sunday so we had a good five days to prepare and get back on the practice field. The players responded well and a good week of practice seemed to build up some positive momentum as headed down to California. Davis is coming off a record-setting season last year in which they not only got selected for the NCAA Tournament but also built up an undefeated home record in 2008. The early season challenges for our team have been demanding but we also know that these tough games will serve us well when we go after winning the Pac-10 soccer title!
The game at Davis was close as expected and we lost a goal in the middle of the first half which further fired up the home team and its fans as we needed halftime to gather ourselves and implement a renewed commitment to higher work rate and determination. The players responded well in the second half and charged out with an attitude to get back into the game and turn it in our favor.
The second half stats were reflective of our attitude and team play as we out-shot the home team 15-0. Brent Richards got us the vital equalizer in 80th minute for his first goal the season. Despite creating many good chances to win the game in regulation, this game also went into overtime and after the Virginia game last week we seemed determined to be the ones to come out on top in this one.
The game went scoreless in the first 10 minutes of overtime but shortly after the start of the second period, Brad Keller cleared a ball out of our defending third and Ryan Moore moved from the wing to a central position to receive the ball. Ryan spotted Brent Richards on his left and pushed a through pass on the ground for him to gather and break towards goal. Brent went 1 v. 1 with the goalkeeper and beat him inside with the ball and shot passed him into the net to give us the thrilling golden-goal victory. It was a great individual day for our talented sophomore forward, Brent Richards, and a very important second win of season for our entire team.
Our first home game of the 2009 season was finally approaching and we headed into the game with Portland with confidence and positive expectations. Always a tough, close game when we play our Northwest rivals but no one could have predicted we would fall behind 2-0 in the first half. That somewhat "passive" first-half performance by our team had me very upset and emotions ran high for players and staff at halftime. Looking back now, I am glad the players shared my frustration with falling behind by two goals at home and after some strong words and directives at halftime, we seemed to come together and channel our anger and energy towards the opponent in the second half.
Similar to the Davis game last week, we proceed to kick our game into "overdrive" in the second half and did manage to pull one goal back early in the period. While we did create many additional chances to get the equalizer and we dominated the half with shots on goal, it wasn't going happen for us on the night and our third loss of the season would be our fate. While we were impressive in the second half, we have to come to grips with playing a better first half and, at the very least, not concede early goals that put our team under pressure to chase the game.
Another tough road game for us was looming in Denver in just three days time so it was important for us gather ourselves quickly, learn from our recent mistakes and move forward with a determination to get the important positive results we need to reach our 2009 team and program goals.
Our immediate objective in the Denver match was to play a much better first half and in so doing be sure we all committed to playing better defensively. The coaching staff must demand we play well in both halves because we know that the games will continue to get tougher as we head to Pac-10 play. If we can generate the intensity and energy we have shown in the second halves against Davis and Portland for the entire game, we can be a team to be reckoned with in league play.
While we did not play well offensively in the first half of the Denver game, we did accomplish our objective of not conceding any goals. Adjusting to the flight of the ball in the altitude along with some fatigue from Thursday's match, gave our players plenty to deal with, not to mention another fired-up home opponent.
We also had some problems playing on the new field surface that Denver now uses and our lack of sustained possession of the ball led to long spells of defending deep in our own half. Needless to say, it took every ounce of energy and focus to not allow any goals and I'm proud of the excellent game our goalkeeper, Rylan Hawkins, and our entire back line played. The central defenders, Ty Klein and Taylor Mueller, were exceptional all night and Rylan had to save the day for us on more than one occasion.
True to our recent game form, we played much better in the second half and ended up out-shooting our opponent for the period. Again, the defending by all the players was first class and while our offense did struggle to create enough good scoring chances, you got the feeling our defending was going to be up to the challenge and we weren't going to lose this game.
The goal-less draw seemed a fair result on the night and only a well conditioned, disciplined team can produce a result like this given all the various elements. As a coach, you are happy to see these qualities come out in your team when you need them the most and given the loss we took in the Portland game three days prior, it seemed a step in the forward direction. We also have to realize the scheduling has been challenging with four of our first five games away from home and we know the players have done the best they can given the current make up of our team.
Looking forward now to returning home next weekend for our Husky Classic tournament and playing yet another pair of tough games. This is will be our final weekend of non-conference play and we are determined to see if we can add to more wins to our record.
I'll be in touch again next month so be sure to follow our recent game results on GoHuskies.com. Until then... DW