Impressions From My Year with the 12 RAMS
January 20, 2019
“It’s weird, most of the teams we play are better skilled than we are, but we keep winning.”
I was reflecting back on the fall 2018 RTCS varsity soccer season and I distinctly remember one of our key defenders making this observation the day before we were scheduled to play a semifinal playoff game against Portersville Christian School.
We didn’t win every game this past soccer season. In fact, we lost 5, three within conference play and we tied one of our conference games as well. But we did win 8 games overall and 6 within conference play. We had a .607 winning percentage overall and a .650 winning percentage in conference play. We scored 26 goals and allowed 20. That’s 1.85 goals for per game and 1.43 goals against per game.
Take a look at those stats and what you see is a team that is a legitimate 8 win, 5 loss and 1 tie squad. There were some easy games, but there were some very tough games. Our second game was against a very talented and extremely well coached team from Calvary Baptist (Meadeville, PA.) It was our second game in 2 days, both in 90-degree weather. We were outplayed and outscored by 5 goals, but we were not out hustled. As a coach, I look for things other than just the final score when evaluating my team’s play. I look for the 80 minute effort and I try to put the score into context. However, I also do not allow my team any excuses. A loss is a loss. When the other team has more goals than the team I am coaching, we have lost that game and ultimately our season will be judged by the number of wins versus the number of losses. But you learn a lot about your team during a loss, especially a 5 goal loss. This team never quit, never took one minute off, even when we were playing down a couple of players due to some cramping.
So, why am I calling this team the “Twelve Rams”? It’s because we played this past season with 12 players on the squad … for the entire season. If you know the sport of soccer, we play 40 minute halves and each team fields 11 players during the run of play. We had moments when we played a man down. For a short period of time early in the season, we played 2 men down. We had players who never spent a minute on the bench for the season. We carried one substitute for the entire season
In thinking about what our astute key defender observed about our wins against better skilled teams, what he was really asking was: ”why is this happening?” The answer is not a simple one. It’s a combination of the character of the team in conjunction with a system of play that gives the team the best opportunity to win. Did this team live and breathe soccer? Absolutely not. Did they do a lot of work in the off-season to prepare for the season? Absolutely not. Did they work on their soccer skills during the off-season? For the most part, no. However, when it came to game preparation and game competition, this team was loaded with character and had a tremendous will to win.
Our system was a simple one. First of all, we didn’t have the skill to play possession soccer by putting passes together. So, we played within our positions. We defended by keeping our opponents in front of us and by defending by taking away the space they had to play- not by trying to take the ball away. We understood that if we just contain and keep the opponent to the outside and keep them out of the key scoring areas on the field, then they will generally give us the ball at some point. We needed to be more patient WITHOUT the ball than they were WITH the ball.
Secondly, we needed to find a way to play the ball out of tight situations. So, we worked on one simple process. Play the ball forward to a target, then play it back to a support player. That player would then play the ball out, either clearing it out of danger or serving it into the box for a scoring opportunity.
That brings us to the offense. Obviously, we need to keep the ball out of our net, but we also had to score occasionally or every game would end in a scoreless tie. How were we going to score goals? That brought us to another fairly simple concept, yet one that isn’t as simple in practice as it sounds in theory. Not only did we lack the skill to get the ball wide, we simply didn’t have anybody who had the combination of strength of foot and skill to get off a good cross. So, we simply had the approach of serving the ball from everywhere inside the midfield stripe into the ‘box’ and having 2 to 3 players crash the box with the goal of putting pressure on the opponents defense and trying to win the ball and get a shot at goal.
Our goals generally weren’t pretty, but they count the same no matter how “ugly” they may be. That was how we committed to playing the game and this squad was able and willing to hold each other accountable for this rather simplistic system. That said, we weren’t without some skill. We had an 8thgrader who is a quality club player and has excellent soccer skills; however, he was an 8thgrader playing against 11thand 12thgraders and struggled with size, speed and strength, yet he pressured the opposing team’s defense and he got into the box putting the ball into the net 8 times. We had a 7thgrader who ultimately scored 5 goals with little soccer experience; however, he is a very athletic young man. We had an 11thgrade midfielder who covered ground from end line to end line and won balls in the midfield as well as led the team in scoring with 11 goals. We had 2 central defenders who were simply quality competitors. They communicated well and they contained. They were patient and they frustrated the opposing team’s offenses, keeping them outside of the dangerous scoring areas. And, when the opposition broke us down and got a quality scoring chance, we had a quality keeper who was always in position and made the saves he had to make as well as some most keepers wouldn’t make. His long punts provided us with much needed changes in field position and took a lot of the heat away from our defenders.
I’ve mentioned just a few of the players who made this team click, but truth be told, it was a 12-player effort with 10 boys and 2 girls, One of our female players was our stopper-back and was honored as an All-Conference Player. We had tremendous leadership from our 3 captains and our seniors all of which bought into the coaching system and supported my work as the coach, leading by example.
I Corinthians 12: 12 says, “just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” Paul goes on to say, in verses 24 through 26, “But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” This team modeled this biblical picture of the body as a functioning unit. Each member played an essential role in the team’s success. This team eventually was named co-champion of the Tri-County Division and it is because they functioned as a unit and they trusted one another to do their jobs.
From my almost 20 years of coaching, there are several teams that I will always remember, and you can count this team as one of them. Thanks to Alex, Theo, Sebass, Jacob, Alana, Sam, Sarah, Jordan, Andrew, Nate, Tim and Rob. You all battled your hearts out and I am so very proud of all of you. That semifinal match against undefeated and eventual conference champion Portersville? I’d love to say we won that game; but I can’t. However, we were tied with them at the half, 1-1, before eventually falling to them 3-1. Nothing to be ashamed of.