Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Battle of the Boulevard

There is nothing fun about playing Lipscomb. If Lipscomb played that well and that hard against all of their opponents, they would have a winning record. We were somewhat lucky that we did not give up a goal in the 1st half. We were outshot 11-3 in the first half. Sari did a great job to keep it 0-0 at halftime.

As in the last 2 games, we were ready to play in the 2nd half. Even though we had a lot of pressure on Lipscomb in front of their goal, the Lipscomb players were willing to do whatever it took to keep the ball out of the net. They slid, dove, and threw their bodies in front of shots. In the end, it was our 2nd win over Lipscomb by more than one goal in 5 years.

As I prepared our team for Lipscomb, I told them about the one goal games, the comebacks, overtime, the great saves, and the effort. If I wanted to motivate my team by using fear, I would tell them that Belmont has NEVER lost to Lipscomb. It definitely scares me. I don’t want to be the coach of the first team that loses to Lipscomb. I am safe for one more year.

I am not sure why the conference scheduled the game at Lipscomb again this year after we played there last year, but it was a good atmosphere, and many of our players knew what to expect. There is a wall that runs behind one of the endlines from the sideline to the goal. Last year, Lipscomb students sat on that wall and yelled mean things at our players during the entire game. Lipscomb scored 2 goals in that goal while their fans harassed our players. This year, we had some smart players that made sure only Belmont fans were going to sit on the wall.

Unfortunately, the conference rules only allow us to travel with 22 players, even to Lipscomb. We have 27 players on the roster, so I had 5 players that could not dress or sit on the bench for the game. They came early during the warm up and sat on the wall. As their friends arrived, the wall kept filling up with Belmont students. Coincidentally, we scored both of our goals in the goal in front of the wall. It was a smart move by players who could have copped an attitude because they were not allowed to be on the bench with the team.

It makes me very happy when our players support each other in such a positive manner.

We only lost 3 regular season conference games last year, and one of those losses was to ETSU. We are getting ready for them on Friday. I hope you can come to the game.

North Carolina

We played on two very nice soccer fields last weekend at High Point and Campbell. We had not trained on a dry field or as a team since Tuesday, Sept. 15th. We did not know exactly what to expect in our game against High Point on Thursday, Sept. 24th. During the majority of the first half, we looked like we had taken a lot of time off. We made a lot of bad decisions, and we were a step slow for a team who is trying to high pressure. There was a lot of hesitation, and that led to my frustration.

The second half was better for us, and we were quicker to get in good positions. Another big factor was the play of Patience Whitten. I put her in at center midfield in the beginning of the 2nd half, and she made a big difference for us. Jessica Rix was an impact on the game. All the forwards were better. Morgan and Gretchen changed the way we were playing the outside backs. In a 5 minute span, between the 70th and 75th minutes, we scored 3 goals. The goals and the build up leading to the goals were all quality.

I hope we can continue scoring goals in bunches. Last year, if we scored 3 goals in a game, we usually spread them out over the course of the game and overtime (Lipscomb & Jacksonville).

It rained most of the day of the Campbell game and rained hard immediately before the game. Although the field was soft and a little slippery in some places, the field had very little effect on the way the game was played. We were still able to pass the ball on the ground. Driven balls would skip fast along the wet grass, and that was a challenge for Sari, but she did well with it. Campbell has some excellent outside shooters.

Campbell outshot us and outplayed us in the first half, but the 2nd half was all Belmont. It was a great combination of intensity and composure. Other than giving up the penalty kick within 3 minutes of our first goal, I thought we had one of our best halves of soccer. I was proud of all of our players. I was happy for Bublis to get the game winning goal in overtime. I was impressed with the execution of the set piece that led to the winning goal.

After that trip, you would say we are a 2nd half team, but we have had good 1st halves - UAB, Samford. We lack some consistency, but we are getting there.

It is hard to believe I have another first to tell you about. I don't think I have ever been sick on an entire road trip like I was on this one. This was a longer road trip than usual. Because the 2nd game of the trip was played at night, we stayed one extra night in the hotel and drove back the day after the game. We usually leave immediately following a game. It is 9 ½ hours from Campbell to Belmont, and I did not want our team or the bus driver spending 10pm-6am on the bus. I thought that would set back our recovery for our game on Tuesday against Lipscomb.

I started feeling sick after a Sunday practice in the rain. The day before we left, I did not go into work, and I missed our practice. (That's a first.) We actually didn't train on the field. We did a strength circuit workout and intervals on the track. I didn't miss much. Not only was I trying to get well for the trip, I was avoiding our players. I didn't want to get them sick. In North Carolina, when I wasn't on the soccer field, I was in my room in bed. As much as possible I tried to avoid going into players' rooms, meetings in my room, sitting with them at meals. I didn't even go to all the meals. Now you know how sick I was.

Maybe I have been that sick during season, but I was in my 20's, so it didn't slow me down as much.

It was hard work to get our first win in conference. I can't imagine how hard it will be to get a result at Mercer and/or Kennesaw State in a couple of weeks. Luckily, we have time to improve and prepare.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Usual Week

We were supposed to play on Wednesday and Friday this week, which was a good schedule leading up to next week's games on Thursday and Saturday. Due to rain, we had to cancel Wednesday's game against Evansville. With standing water on the field and a 70% chance of rain, it looked like we might not be able to play on Friday either.

Before coming to Belmont, I had coached collegiate soccer for 11 years. In 11 years, I had 1 game cancelled due to rain (at Centenary, 1998) and 1 lightning delay (at Stetson, 2002). In the last 2 weeks I have had a game cancelled due to rain and a lightning delay. That makes 2 games cancelled and 1 game suspended due to field conditions in less than 5 years at Belmont. That is not a very good statistic, and one that can easily be avoided.

On Friday, I found myself in another unfamiliar situation when we were leading Alabama A&M 9-0 at halftime. In 1995, we scored 8 or 9 goals against Jacksonville and Birmingham Southern. In 1996, we scored 11 goals against UAH. It took the entire 90 minutes to score that many goals. We scored 5 or 6 in the 1st half and 4 or 5 in the 2nd half. In the 2nd half, the subs got a chance to get good playing time and good goals. I would only allow our team to score on crosses or score with their head.

On Friday, at halftime, I had to tell our team that they could not score at all. That was a first for me. With 10 minutes remaining in the game, we got a direct kick outside the penalty area. I told our team if they played it like it was an indirect kick, they could shoot. They executed it properly and scored on the only shot we took in the 2nd half. Although some players were disappointed, it was still a good opportunity to work on beating defenders on the end line, changing the point of attack in the attacking third, set plays, establishing a rhythm, final passes, etc.

It is also unusual for us to train on Sundays, but that is what we will do. We plan to put together 3 good training sessions in a row (weather permitting) before we leave on Wednesday to take on High Point on Thursday and Campbell, our first conference game on Saturday.

I hope the players who scored multiple goals and got multiple assists on Friday night have built up their confidence in and around the goal. They were JayTro, Annie, and Bublis. Also, LP scored 3 goals in 12 minutes. I wonder if that is an NCAA record?! I hope those players who did not get a chance to score because I wouldn't let them are mad and motivated to score the next time they get an opportunity. A goal or an assist against Campbell would be nice!

Monday, September 14, 2009


We can't buy a goal. We have not scored a goal in 400 minutes (over 4 games). The quality of play in those 400 minutes has been all over the place. At times during that span, the quality of soccer has been the best it has been in 5 years. The most consistent thing over the first 6 games has been our team defense. Our defensive shape and overall decision making has been solid. The players do not have to think that much on defense. They are instinctively pretty good.

However, we are thinking a lot (too much) when we have the ball. Possession shape and attacking tactics are not as instinctual to the players. There is more confidence, leadership, and communication when we are defending. There is less confidence, little leadership, and no communication when we are possessing.

The starting line up in the last game was 4 freshmen, 4 sophomores, 2 juniors, and 1 senior. We just need more time - more experience, more time working together, more communication, more comfortable with each other, more possession, more practice, more games, and obviously more goals.

This entire team, every player, top to bottom, is the best Belmont team in the last 5 years. However, a team is judged by wins and losses. No one will think we are good, including us, until we start winning.

All of us are frustrated right now. Our next challenge is to not allow this frustration to affect the way we play, the way we feel about each other, and the confidence we have in ourselves. It will take leadership. It will take maturity. It will take cohesiveness. It will take mental toughness. Finally, it will take a goal.

We had our official visits on campus last weekend. We have 5 verbal commitments for 2010. They are from Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, and New Jersey. All of them and their parents were here for Saturday's volleyball game, Sunday's game against Samford, dinner Sunday night, and academic meetings Monday morning. I think they all fit in very well at Belmont and extremely well with our team. I enjoy the group and look forward to working with them next year.

If we are going to improve this week, it is going to have to be in games against an opponent. We play Evansville on Wednesday and Alabama A&M on Friday. Tuesday and Thursday's practices will be a good opportunity for us to work on our set plays like corner kicks, indirect kicks, and free kicks from midfield. If you have seen us play, you know we need it. We will work on finishing this week. We are creating opportunities in our games. We had many good opportunities last weekend. We just need to put one in the back of the net.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Two Losses

Happy Labor Day! The last time we lost 2 games in the same weekend was October of 2007. Even though the results were the same, the losses could not have been more different. We were never really in the game against Vanderbilt. Early goals, a lack of physical presence, and a loss of confidence did not allow us to make it a competitive game. On Sunday, we did a better job of setting the tone, getting in a rhythm, and controlling the tempo of the game. A lack of scoring and a lapse in the defensive third was the only thing that kept us from winning.

I had to explain to the team, because I don't think they understand the transition that we are going through, currently. There is going to be a learning curve, and there are going to be some growing pains, but we will be a better team later in the season and forever in the future.

Since taking over the Belmont team in 2005, my philosophy has been result oriented. We were desperate to win games in order to build our confidence and our team cohesion. I sacrificed the quality of soccer we were playing in order to get wins. We doubled our average wins per season, and we won the A-Sun Tournament. Going into this 2009 season, we are confident, we have good team chemistry, and we have more talent. It is time to concentrate on playing better soccer. It is the natural next step in the evolution of this program.

In the early stages of this process, we could possibly lose some games that maybe we could have or would have won a year or two ago. We are going to make mistakes. There will be a lack of consistency. We are still identifying the best players to play in the best positions. We are doing all of this against top competition. The 3 teams to whom we have lost have a combined record of 15-1-1.

Just to give you an idea of how different our team tactics are, take a look at the statistics. Last year, we gave up over 40 shots to Vanderbilt. Sari had to make 17 saves. This year, we allowed 20 shots, and Sari made 7 saves. Last year, MTSU dominated us in shots, 19-11 and corner kicks, 5-1. Yesterday, we outshot MTSU by at least 10 shots, and we had 6 corner kicks to their zero.

I am not going to play the stats comparison all year. I just want to illustrate that our team is improving. There is going to be a time in the season when we need to win, and hopefully we will be prepared to do that. This week at practice, we will work on finishing and set plays. That should help us. I am looking forward to our next 4 games being at home. Our official visit weekend is next weekend.

It was great to have so many families in town over Labor Day weekend. We appreciate the support and hope to see everyone again soon.

Friday, September 4, 2009

First Weekend Wrap Up

We rode a roller coaster the first weekend, and it has reminded me of the unknowns, the uncontrollable, and the unpredictable weeks that lie ahead. No wonder there is not more longevity in the coaching career. It can be an emotional whirlwind. It makes me think sometimes it is not about how you play but who you play.

Even though we lost, I was so proud of the quality of soccer Friday night. I could not tell it was our first game. It set a high standard for the team, and I immediately raised my expectations. Even though we won on Sunday, I was disappointed in how we played. I don't think we could beat many teams on our schedule if we played the same as we did in our last game.

It is early in the season, and we do not have all the pieces in place. Some people will change positions. We have not spent much time on set pieces. Many players are getting small windows of playing time to give them a chance to improve or prove themselves. We will tweak our system of play. We will lack consistency for a few weeks, while we work out the kinks. It is probably too early for me to get all worked up about it, but I could not hide my disappointment on Sunday.

I have found that after a win, I can be more honest with the team than I can after a loss. If we play terribly and lose, I will say very little because the team is so down. If we play terribly and win, I can be more critical of the team, because the win will provide balance to how they feel about themselves.

The NCAA begins publishing the RPI about midway through the season. I have never known why it does not start immediately, but evidently, many games must be played before the RPI model gives an accurate ranking. There is a person who is showing an example of the early rankings and the evolution of the RPI through the season. Going into tonight's game, we are ranked #11! Yes, #11!

I have never been sure how the RPI works, but who cares when you're ranked #11. I know it weighs your opponents' records, and UAB has a very impressive 4-0 record with wins against Alabama, Ole Miss, and Clemson. Losing to them on their field by one goal gives us a high ranking. Not bad for a team with 10 scholarships and no field for a year. Here is the link if you want to see for yourself. It will change after this weekend: