The 2015 season will represent my 5th season as the head coach of the varsity girls’ soccer program at the Manhattan school that I teach at.
While I think I’ve done reasonably well so far and picked up what I needed quickly, I know I have a long way to go to reach a level that I’m genuinely happy with. I’ve decided to spend some time in the coming season reflecting on the diversity of the moving parts that make up a team, as well as my own role as the facilitator of the growth of the program.
We’ve not even made it to the end of the 2014-15 school year and there are already challenges developing with the lineup for next season.
Some of the issues were anticipated given that this is the largest graduating class I’ve had since I started four years ago. I’ve been very fortunate to never lose more than three players to graduation in a given season prior to this. I had a roster of 15 in 2011, and only three of those were senior. Of those three only two were starters. I graduated three of 22 in 2012, and three of 21 in 2013. With incoming freshman classes being five or more, and player attrition for other reasons usually being no more than one or two players per year, we’ve been basically building a very cohesive team for years.
Our 2015 squad is losing seven players from ’14 to graduation, including three girls who were four-year starters, and four players that run right up the spine of the team. I knew it was coming, but it certainly is a hit to the squad. And with only one freshman on the squad in ’14, that leaves us with 13 returners. During last season we worked hard to bring younger players into places on the field that were going to be vacated in the off-season, but that is not a 1-year process any more than teaching those previous players the system was. I expect a bit of a step back next season for this reason alone, but I have confidence in the girls who are returning to keep playing at a high level.
Another major challenge is at the goalkeeping position. I’ve been working on grooming a goalkeeper across the last three seasons. She was new to the position as a freshman, and struggled with some of the basics. But over the last two seasons she’s really come into her own, and been a standout player on our squad. She struggled with injury in 2014, but still played 8 games, with a 0.75 goals against average. Unfortunately her injury problems followed her into a different sports season, and she tore knee ligaments playing basketball. After surgery it is extremely unlikely she will return in time for next year. There is the potential for a freshman goalkeeper to come in, someone I’ve spoken with, but that is far from certain. The number of potential additions to the team next year is a complete unknown at this point.
If we choose to keep our system, a 4-4-2 variation that plays more like a 4-3-1-2, this is how I project us setting up. The numbers are all 2014 numbers. It is worth noting that this projection includes several girls playing in new positions, including the attacking midfielder, and the left center back.
Of course there is always the option to adapt the system to the players we have, something I’ve done before, but right now our team not only knows this system the best given that we started it when most of the will-be seniors were freshman, but also doesn’t readily lend itself to a different one at this moment. Preseason may bring a fresh perspective.
The main concern in formulating a line up that I think will be successful is the lack of a true center or defensive midfielder. I helped the last girl ease into that role over a couple seasons, and would be more than happy to start that process again, but the girl that lends herself most readily to that position is needed elsewhere on the field, and there aren’t any ready replacements for her there either.
As I said before, preseason always brings a fresh look at the squad, and new things stand out to me as girls grow and progress, but I do usually give some consideration to where the squad is at as we shuffle from graduation each year.