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Coach's Corner: A Look at Week 7
Oct. 23, 2017
Next Saturday, October 28th, the #1 Hurricanes (6-0-0) will face the #2 Rip Tide (3-2-1) for the late match at 11:00 on Field 9. A win or a tie would clinch the first place medal for the Hurricanes in Week 7, but the Hurricanes are more interested in competing with themselves -- or at least, their former selves.
"We'll expect to be tested again," Coach Miley said. "These are the top two teams in a rematch. The Tide doesn't know us as well as the Typhoons do. However, they were upset this past Saturday by the Rangers, a team that does know them well from scrimmages on adjacent practice fields. They had the Tide backed up throughout the end of the match until a late goal finally won it, 1-0. We handled them, 7-2, last time, but they were missing their head coach and a key player. That match started at 8v8 and went down to 7v7 when they had an injury. This rematch will be tougher if they have everybody, but I think full rosters will work to our teamwork's advantage. I've watched their squad three times, and Coach Peterson hasn't seen us yet. He is a knowledgeable, committed, competitive coach, with more background in goalkeeping than most coaches bring. They lean heavily on two or three older boys for fast break counter-attacks and good goalkeeping. We can't match two of them individually, but we have a recycling defense designed to isolate and wear down those two or three stars with too much traffic. We think we can bottle up their best attackers and take the fight to their doorstep. We always come up with a few surprises of our own. Our kids know how to think on their feet and connect now. Something always breaks in our favor as a result of the work. I have a ton of confidence in this bunch, and I make sure they feel that from me," said their coach. "And I think they feel that from all the families, too. We believe in our kids to bring their best everytime, and they do. Our level rises with every outing. It's plain to see."
Any stealth in the rise of these upstart Hurricanes is over. The secret is out and they're ready for everyone's best. "It's good for our kids to experience that target on their back," says their coach.
"We are younger and in our first year together, but this is a very bright bunch. Our kids understand what the emotions are out there, but they don't get caught up in what's going on with the other side. I'll take a bright bunch and a great attitude over experience and league calculations for placements any day. Nobody can measure how a team comes together. We don't have big, fast athletes, but we do have the best closing speed on defense and the best creative speed on attack. That comes with coaching and the right reps with the right player combinations. The league tries to place players for parity, but these kids are showing there's far more to a team than any handling of data can touch. The stats show we now have a complete team that was not predicted to be so dominant. Last time we stopped two of their fastest boys with our diamond defense backing our midfielder Ryan Dennis on tight marking assignments. Ryan is a defensive-minded guy who likes a scrap, and has slowed or shut down our opponents' favorite go-to players in four matches. He will be a key for us in this one. He is our version of a defensive midfielder, a role he could carry at higher levels as he grows into his opportunities. He knows I'll be leaning on him for his field decisions and he will make good on that. Our strikers had a field day in the first meeting, while theirs were stifled. They were missing their top striker who also is their top goalkeeper. I expect their full squad this time, and we will be ready."
Because Rip Tide head coach Mike Peterson has not yet seen the Canes in action, he will likely make some adjustments at halftime, but Miley expects that. "We will show Coach Peterson a few looks in the first half," said Miley. "We are versatile enough to keep him guessing." The Tide's returning team is studded with mostly older players packing more game experience. "Their talented central defender Bailey is the coach's daughter, and two of the most experienced boys, Javier and Gabe, are very athletic and head and shoulders taller than all of our players. We will be playing the ball low. Most of soccer is played low anyway, and our kids know that size matters a lot less than angles and vision for passing and off the ball running for one another."
As a coach with a new team, Miley scouts opponents' tendencies and strategizes his own players' roles and approaches, just to compete, but prefers keeping his players focused on who they are as a hard working winning team each week. "Our players compete against who we were the week before," he says. "Who we sharpen ourselves against doesn't change this focus. I make sure they know their competition's strengths and weaknesses and then I turn them loose to use their smarts. The competition helps us look at ourselves."
Indeed, the Hurricanes have become the best passing team in the league with both the strongest attack and the toughest defense, outscoring opponents, 29-8, in six straight victories. They average nearly 5 goals a match and Canes keeper Aiden Chittum leads all goalkeepers, allowing just 6 tallies in six outings. The Canes' perfect beginning puts them two-and-a-half games ahead of the Tide, their nearest contender. "We are not sure whether Martella can play in this match," Miley noted of his league-leading striker with 13 goals. "His foot hurts. But we have several players who can bring pressure as a striker if Martella can't go." The Canes rely on their diamond defense, which has become a meat grinder that continues to baffle and frustrate the league's most skilled attackers. "Our defense will keep us in any match. We just don't give up many goals. We might give up a fast break from an older player now and then, but we never get pushed around. We know that."
"The only way to stop a team is with another team," says Miley. "Any coach can lean on stars, but the best coaches develop stars who work together. Peterson's Tide has built some teamwork over their time together. He has a returning core and we do not. We've had less time, to find our core leaders, but our drills focus on making the ball do the work, not just a few stars." And to see the Hurricanes stringing together more consecutive passes with each appearance is a good sign of that progress.
"College level is where a player truly learns that it's much easier to possess than chase the ball," says Miley. "Our drills make that very clear to our kids. We are using college level ideas for younger kids, and they are eating it up. We practice consecutive passes more than any other drill. I think, as a team, that's why our eyes are up for more connections," says Miley. "We may be doing well in this league, but we still really have a long way to go. I wish we had more than 10 matches in our season."
The Rip Tide will likely bring a full squad to their most important match of the season. They remember the 7-2 drubbing that toppled their undefeated beginning. They know they need a win to stay alive in the race to the top. They know a tie won't get it. The stage is set for their fiercest showing.
The Canes had no trouble working past the Tide's flat back line for seven scores last time, cruising with a 5-0 halftime lead, but this time they expect to face better goalkeeping from a player who was absent last time, Javier. "The key with Javier is to strike the low corners sharply," said Miley. "When he is not tending the net, Javier is their top striker along with Gabe. We play a 4-2-2 formation with our weight in the back. Our front four are always looking for shifting triangles. They play a 3-3-2 formation with two strong strikers supported by a smart midfield with Ashlynn and Rachel. They bring size, speed, and experience, but we have a complete team now working a few principles and systems. We are trying to be three-dimensional on defense and attack. You don't get that with flat formations."
Half the Hurricanes matches were won with narrow margins. They are shooting for a good early margin in this match. "They are an emotional team," says Miley of the Rip Tide, "but one of our weaknesses is that so are we. So far, that emotion has served us well. But we have never been down by two goals or more. There are some emotions our team hasn't faced yet."
The Rip Tide fields several of the league's most capable 8th and 9th graders, and play as intensely as they are coached. They always compete in a league with some parity, and maintain the only other winning record under the Hurricanes. They may muster a few rushes at the Canes with their bigger, older players who have a season or two together under Coach Peterson, but Miley expects that.
"Coach Peterson has some strong players who know the game," says Miley."They will generate their chances with some smart older girls in their midfield, but we aim to rule the pace and style of the match. Ryan will be central to what we do. This will not be the kick and run match that they want, and we won't greet their fast breaks with free passes. Our kids may be in middle school, but they are bright and tough. They see things coming and have ideas of their own. Ryan and our diamond will keep their top strikers engaged. Q and Emma won't put up with anything flashy on the flanks, and Josh will be the buzz saw for any heroics wiggling through. He does not tolerate incursions in our box. I'd take our goalkeeper Aiden Chittum over anyone I've ever seen at this level. Our strikers know they can solve their back line. If we could share one secret to raise the level of our league, we would want everyone to come and chase how we have learned to trust each other equally and pass the ball indiscriminantly. There are drills for that, and I will share them with coaches who are interested, like Shane who leads the Typhoons. His team plays us tighter than the other teams because their leader is a learner who likes connecting with other coaches for ideas. We need more of that in our league. If we remember our game against the Tide, we won't be outmatched as a whole. Most of our kids have mixed it up together at several positions by now, and I wouldn't trade any part of this team for anyone else's stars. This is the sort of team that could travel to different cities, and win a lot of matches, with one more season under our belt. But I don't think our league is set up for what this team could do. We are pushing the parameters. We are not "just a rec team", we are just an excellent team. And we want this to be an excellent rec league. Personally, I think the pursuit of excellence makes everything more fun. All our families were onto that fact well before I came along, so it's a very nice mix of winners we have here."
To the sound of a clap or a shout, the Hurricanes launch into triangle passing drills or hot box shooting reps or their five-consecutive-passes games. They shake off their knocks, scrimmage in the rain, and wave off mosquitoes at dusk before final sprints, and now they know why. Eight boys and four girls, mostly in 6th or 7th grade, will run a big hurricane warning flag around Field 9 before kickoff at 11:00 Saturday. The growing flurry of cheering families now includes grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. The secret is out. Ocala has a new team -- a dozen kids with a sponsor, a perfect start, a growing fan base, a team philosophy and shield, a website, and a flag of their own.
"The connections make us greater as a whole," Miley reflects. "It's rare for a group to become a team this early. That's the first goal of a season. The next goal is to build these memories well. It's time for our families to invite our friends."
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