Dean's Coaches Corner Blog
Nov. 21, 2008
Wow, could we really finish the season 0-3? Talk about something to keep a coach up at night! When you sign up to coach at place like UW where the expectations for success are high every year, no one ever promised it would be easy or without big challenges. This is a time where coaches and players show some of their true character. So, now is the time to analyze what happened, find the cause and source of the problems and get busy putting things right. So, let's recap what happened on the field.
I mentioned in my second blog entry that we had segmented the Pac-10 season and were now focused upon 'Part 2' which was using the bye week to rest, recover and keep our sharpness as a team. We trained well in both the bye week and the preparation week prior to the Stanford game. The players all knew that three strong results to finish our season would give us an 11-5-2 record and I believe get us into yet another NCAA tournament. Looking back now I think they knew but I'm not so sure they believed that our injury plagued team could pull it off.
The Stanford game started well enough but it was apparent early in the match that we were having difficulty staying with their 'go for it' attitude since all they were playing for was pride and trying to play the role of the spoiler. Spoil they did as they scored first in the middle of the first half and then got a second goal off a deflected shot with 46 seconds left in the half. No question it would now require a super human effort to pull ourselves back into this game.
The half time talk was much like the Portland game back in September where we had a difficult task convincing the team that despite being 0-2 down, we could still turn things around and win this game. Again, they listened but as we know now, we failed to instill enough conviction and belief.
A third goal by Stanford early in the second half proved too much for our team on the night and the key first game which we had worked so hard to prepare for was lost. It was hard for the coaching staff to 'see this one coming' since we had rested, prepared well and many of our current players had already proven they could win key match 'down the stretch' like they have done the past two seasons.
From the tactical end we failed to play with 'collective discipline' in all areas of our team and our central midfield was especially exploited as many of Stanford's goals were a result of poor defending by us in this critical area of the field. In many ways we played like we were already down 0-1 in the match from the kick-off and seemed to have and attitude to 'chase to game' from the start which led to much poor defensive positioning in midfield when we needed to close off their attack. Overall a huge disappointment for everyone associated with our program. Something was definitely missing from our team since the last game we played on October 26th against San Diego State.
Whenever you lose a collegiate match it always makes the next game you play a little bigger and we faced a big challenge to pull ourselves together for a tough team like Cal.Looking at the way we played against Stanford it was clear to the coaches that we had to change our team, both the personnel and the formation, to give ourselves the best chance to win in Berkeley. We asked all of our players to now show what we had been beaten by on Friday night; work rate, heart and pride!
We started well against Cal and actually took the early lead in the match through a combined effort from our two freshman forwards. We could only manage to hold that lead for 10 minutes however when Cal leveled the score at 1-1.
Shortly after we conceded the equalizer a terrible moment of lost 'individual discipline' took place as our central midfield player made a terrible tackle on a Cal player which resulted in a season-ending injury to him and our first red card ejection of the 2008 season. A regrettable moment that I wish somehow we could have back to alter the events.
So, tied at 1-1 for the rest of the first half and the majority of the second, we battled valiantly but could not hold on as Cal would score the winning goal in the 88th minute. Unfortunately a final road trip of 2008 to remember for all the wrong reasons. We definitely looked like a team 'adrift'.
So, one last chance to put things right as we faced Oregon State in our final home game of the season on senior night. Surely we could use the 'boost' of playing at home to lift our spirits and assure that we finish the season on a successful note. In addition the staff worked hard to put on an upbeat and 'fun' week of practice which we hoped would help the team forget the tough losses of the prior weekend and energize their hopes and spirits for our final match of the year.
We reminded the players that we still had much to play for in this final game since we could still: a) Finish third in the Pac-10, b) Finish the season with more wins than last year, c) Finish the home season with a solid 5-1-2 record and d) Sweep OSU for the first time in many years. In the minds of the coaches, this was plenty of reason to play with maximum effort to give our team a chance to take one last win with us into the 2009 off-season.
Anyone who saw that final home match against OSU watched a dominating first half UW performance that lacked only the finishing touch up front. We told the players at half time that we were quite pleased with their effort and encouraged them to keep going and look for that goal we needed to reward our positive play. Reflecting back now I believe that big first-half effort was our team's last flickering hope to give the coaches what we asked for all week. They responded to our challenge to 'lift it' but the score remained 0-0 at the half.
Unfortunately we could not sustain that first half effort and quite frankly we were dreadful in the second half. We could not keep possession, could not generate any type of effective attack and were left to defend far too much late in the game. Yet another loss of 'individual discipline' would open the door for OSU to take the lead as we conceded our first penalty kick of the season late in the second half. One last challenge to come from behind yet again was our fate and at the end we were simply incapable of it.
Wow, how things had changed for a team that had six wins out of seven games in September and early October. Yes, the make-up of our team did change during this time and losing our senior captain would prove to be a significant loss.
The player ratings sheet we coaches compile also revealed that the four freshmen who started and played so valiantly throughout the season had started to fade and our inability to give them any rest throughout the season cost us at the end. Our lack of depth really contributed to wearing out our team.
What do I take away from this surprising eight days that threatened an entire season's work? Perhaps I should have given more thought to 'rallying' the key players we had left on the field. In my last blog entry I mentioned that I had asked everyone to give at least 5% more of themselves to make up for the players we lost due to injury.
In theory it sounds good but perhaps the coaches needed to help them find or reach that extra effort we would need so desperately in order to pull the wins we needed at the end. When we were struggling at key points in each of the last three games we needed someone to step up and make a special play like we had seen in both of the prior two seasons.
Another point I must act upon is the loss of discipline we showed, both collectively and individually, that cost us so dearly in each of the final three matches. Those mental mistakes cannot be accepted and I shall forever be reminded to do what I can next year and in all future seasons to assure these lapses in concentration don't happen again. Players must be reminded of how much these mistakes cost the 2008 team and that the UW program requires them to maintain the focus, concentration and discipline that has brought us so much success over the years.
While our nose dive at end has certainly killed the sense of humor of the coaching staff for the moment, it should not take all the gloss off a team that just eight days prior was sitting with an 8-5-2 record and in position to reach the NCAA tournament once again. We know that if we don't bring our best effort on a given day we can be beaten by any college team but I can tell you that we will never accept defeat or that it doesn't alarm us. This is now the time to set a clear path to success in 2009!
In both our individual player meetings and when we start up again in January I will remind the players what playing here at UW requires of them. In particular they must show hunger, determination and pride. We know that if we build on these foundations we will continue to build a soccer program that will last. We know the cost of success!
The good news is we do have great experience at these dramatic team turnarounds. I reminded the players this week that in 2002 we had our only losing season in program history, 6-10-3, and then the very next year in 2003 we went 13-5-2 and advanced to program record final sixteen in the NCAA tournament. We are determined to do it again in 2009!
So, now we formally finish off this season with our awards banquet and see our three seniors progress to their graduation and future other challenges. Please stay in touch with our program through www.gohuskies.com through the off season and I look forward to making contact with you next year!