Dean's Coach's Corner Blog
Sept. 27, 2007
In my first blog entry, I mentioned the theme for the month of September was 'forming our team and realizing our potential'. With eight games played now and one big away game still remaining this Saturday in Omaha, Neb. vs. Creighton, our team has certainly grown a great deal and we have some excellent results to boast.
Our first loss of the season took place over in Spokane in early September. We played poorly and Gonzaga took full advantage. It was a little hard to see this one coming as we played so impressively on the preceding Sunday winning handily by a score of 5-1. Since UW had never lost to Gonzaga in the 21-year history of the series, it was never going to be an easy game and Gonzaga was up for it having just come off an upset win over defending National Champion, UC Santa Barbara the week before in Santa Barbara.
On the day, our midfield and forwards could not get going and had to rely on a 'young defense' far too much to help us stay in the game. We did not play well enough to win under difficult conditions and we had to change our approach in future matches if we truly wanted to make this a special season. With player feedback we decided to not pick future tactics (team formations and player marking responsibilities) that were targeted to stop the strengths of the opponent.
We collectively decided to go with our strongest formation and adopt the attitude that we must make the opponent change to us rather than the other way around. I also pointed out to players that I think the 'blueprint' for us to win the National Championship was on the field for us to see and experience that day: UW's talent, skill and organization combined with Gonzaga's sole focus and team unity to beating us that day.
The week of training after the loss to Gonzaga seemed to improve with each day and I could sense a build up of excitement as we readied for our big trip to New Mexico. We did have an unfortunate injury at practice as we lost first year player Jamie Finch to a broken ankle. I can't remember a player ever suffering a leg break at any of my UW practices so I guess if you coach long enough (this is my 16th season at UW), you are subject to such things happening. We expect Jamie to back for our 2008 spring season.
The trip to New Mexico was real revelation for both the team and coaching staff. Before the first game vs. New Mexico, we told the team that we needed to find a performance that could unify us and give us the confidence that we can meet a difficult challenge and come out on top. To see the game 'play out' just as we hoped for was a special moment for everyone.
After securing the 1-0 win, assistant coach Seth Spidahl made the remark to the team that he had never seen such focus and support from the reserve players who did not play in the match yet were just as excited as the ones on the field. Our team came together that night under great challenge and adversity. As great as the win was for our program, it had a terrible cost to us in that we lost our goalkeeper, Rylan Hawkins, to a serious facial injury.
I have never had an injury this serious to any goalkeeper that has played for me and I'm very lucky that our trainer, Melissa Beausoleil, is such a professional and with the help of our assistant coach, Richard Reece, they provided all the care they could to help Rylan manage his hospital stay and his return trip to Seattle. With Rylan out for an extended period of time, our back-up Stephen Fung has filled in very effectively and I'm proud of his readiness and 'can do' attitude.
The big win over New Mexico seemed to act as a springboard for an even better performance on Sunday as we handed highly-ranked SMU a 2-0 defeat. Our team played very professionally as they defended very efficiently and did not allow many chances to the opponent. A thrust out of central midfield from Casey Cunningham and then George John was the key move that got us a 1-0 lead. Ely Allen, who played two outstanding games on the weekend, raced past their right fullback to cut the ball back to Kevin Forrest for the decisive second goal. Overall it was a very special weekend and the entire team did the UW athletic department very proud!
With only one day rest, our home opener vs. Portland loomed on Tuesday. Portland has been a bit of 'bogey' team for us as we had not beaten them since 2003. The players seemed determined to see Portland's luck end against us and we did in fact win our third consecutive game thanks to a 'class' free kick goal by Raphael Cox. I was proud how the team was able to answer the challenge of playing their third game in five days and still overcome a well rested Portland team who hadn't played for eight days.
Friday night's upset loss to Denver was very tough to take at the time and for all the great things we were able to accomplish the prior seven days (three shut-out wins) it seemed to unravel that night. I have to hold my hand up as the person who puts together our schedule each year and take some blame for this 'over-scheduling'.
It seemed we just could not answer the call for more intensity and energy after being 1-2 down at half-time. I pleaded with the players that we were only one goal from being level and then we had the reserves to win it later in the second half. As it turned out, Denver would score yet again shortly after halftime so it quickly seemed like it wasn't going to be our night.
Getting beaten by three goals at home was certainly a low spot for us and I was concerned about how and if they could come back yet again against a ranked team less than 48 hours later. Our 5th game in 10 days and suffering from an emotional low made it imperative that the coaches 'get it right' in everything that we did and said from the end of the Denver game to the start of the Furman game. Our next game all of sudden became way more important.
After a team pool recovery session on Saturday morning we had an important team meeting in the locker room afterwards. The coaches listed the five words our players had chosen this pre-season to represent the things they valued as a team. We put some definitions to the words and discussed how important it was to call upon some of them for Sunday's game. For sure the word 'resilient' needed to show in the attitudes of all our players in order to give us any chance to bounce back and win that next game.
The performance on Sunday against Furman was another proud moment for the coaching staff. After conceding four goals the previous game the 'young defense and goalkeeper' once again rose to the occasion and limited the opponent to very few 'clear-cut' chances on goal. While our entire team committed itself to playing well defensively, we also faced a tough defensive team and therefore scoring chances for us were also very limited.
At the end of the first half we were awarded our first penalty kick of the season but they are never as easy as they seem to score and Ely Allen did hit the underside of the crossbar with his shot and we failed to convert. The goalless draw would continue until the end of the match and we went into overtime wondering how we were going to get the goal we needed to win the match.
Coaching statistics will tell you that the more times you get into the opponent's 'final third' of the field; the better your chances are of scoring a goal. Well one final entry into the wing space just wide of Furman's penalty area would prove to be the decisive moment for us. George John would find Kevin Forrest with a pass which he would carry on the dribble to a crossing position on the left side. Kevin then crossed the ball with his left foot and it would bend in towards goal and end up hitting the top right corner of the net for the dramatic 'golden-goal' winner. What a relief and what an incredible 10 days it was.
For us to post a 4-1 record (with four shut-outs) over the 10 day 'endurance test' was quite remarkable and I am very proud of the team and all the players. While it was surely tough on the players it was also tough on the staff with the travel, the injuries, the motivational challenges and the overall management. I am indebted to the efforts of my assistants and trainer for helping us to get through it.
Now, we concentrate on 'quality' instead of 'quantity' as we prepare to play some tough teams on the road the next two weekends. The players also begin classes this week so their daily routines will change quite a bit and we have to remain organized and manage our time effectively. I get the feeling we will have an exciting October a head of us!
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