Three days after the debate, we played Kennesaw State, the defending Atlantic Sun Champions. We played them at home (Vanderbilt). After an uninspiring performance the previous Friday at USC-Upstate, I was looking forward to a Friday night home game. Evidently, our players were too.
We got off to a good start against Kennesaw State. In the 24th minute, Erica Carter received a red card. For only the second time in my career, my team had to play down a player. After overtime, it was a total of 87 minutes that we played with ten. We tied 0-0. When one team has a player ejected in professional soccer, they talk about how the one man advantage can have a reverse psychological effect for both teams. It did Friday night. Our team played inspired and determined. Kennesaw State relaxed. Both teams created very good chances to score. Both goalkeepers came up with good saves. Sari made a game changing save as soon as we went down to ten.
Since we played so well, I can admit that I was totally unprepared to play with ten. We played a 4-3-2. I'm sure that sounds crazy. It sounds crazy to me. Our two forwards attacked and defended together, and we were able to send a weak side center midfielder forward and mostly the weak side outside back forward. I used all of our players and kept a rotation of forwards and outside backs, so they did not have to pace themselves. We were on an emotional high after the tie. It felt like a win, and it felt like we would continue to play with this new found passion and desire. Then, Sunday came.
It was hot. We were drained. We lacked depth due to the subsequent suspension and some injuries. We could not get control of the game against Mercer. It made for a long, hot game. We were 9 minutes away from another overtime game, when Mercer scored. To add insult to injury, we found out that Lipscomb beat Kennesaw State earlier. It felt like a wasted weekend.
Six months ago, if you would have told me that the weekend we play Kennesaw State and Mercer that we are going to play KSU with 10 players and Belmont is going to start 1 senior, 1 junior, and 9 freshmen and sophomores, including 3 freshmen and 2 sophomores in goal and in the back, then I would probably have been happy to get a point out of the weekend. Let's go ahead and add to the equation - miss one day of practice due to rain and not have access to our field, locker room, or video equipment during the week prior to the KSU/Mercer weekend. With all of these circumstances, I should be happy, right?
I'm not. I look at the individual talent we have on this team. I spend every day with them in training. I see how we can play with the right motivation - Vanderbilt, Western Carolina, Lipscomb, and Kennesaw State. This team has not come close to reaching our potential. I expect so much more from them, because I believe in them. If we were not talented, I would be happy with the weekend, but we are talented, and we are capable of so much more.
We have less than 4 weeks to realize and maximize our potential. We will do it, and when we do... Look out!