Some of the more popular blogs have been Q&A sit-downs with our coaches over the past two years. That noted, this week’s The Week That Was is a Q&A session with our varsity boys soccer coach, Chris Jennings.
I have been impressed with our play this fall. Talk to me about your season so far, this year’s team’s strengths? And, at the same time, weaknesses or concerns?
Come out to watch the O’Connell Knights and you will see a great contrast to what you normally see on a soccer pitch. There are no desperate long balls hoofed forward with heads and hands raised to the heavens, hoping for a mistake from their opponents and an answered prayer. These Knights grab hold of the game with their tempo and rhythm with or without the ball. They employ an attractive, attacking, possession-based style, but they thrive on an even more ruthless attitude while pressing and getting after their opponents. The O’Connell soccer players pride themselves in creating their own chances and taking responsibility for their individual battles all over the field.
As a team, the Knights’ strengths are their togetherness and passion to play the game the right way. They know that how they go about their business is distinctly different from most others, but they’re committed to going that more difficult route of creating opportunities for themselves and looking to play under pressure. The boys boast a strong backline and goalkeeping unit, while their midfield is one of the best in the WCAC. At times the Knights have struggled to put away all of the chances they have created, but the fact that they are creating them consistently is a testament to their ball possession and creativity.
Who are our top players – and why are they so? Go into detail as to what makes them the players they are.
With regards to the team’s strongest players, you have to start with the senior captain and goalkeeper, Michael Hurley (pictured left). His leadership and organization has led the Knights to an astounding 11 shutouts in 15 games. When called upon, Michael has made some outstanding saves and great decisions to preserve shutouts and victories.
Andres Soto has had an exceptional senior campaign at center-back and will be looking to garner All-WCAC honors for the first time. He has been one of the top defenders in the league this season and excels in 1v1 situations.
Junior Andre Toledo (above, right) brings the spark and energy to the team, especially in midfield. His tenacity off the ball and improved decision-making has made the Knights’ “engine room” one of the best in the area.
Another key member of the midfield and O’Connell attack is Dave Salas , a junior. Dave has played a slightly more advanced playmaker role this year and has the ability to dominate games. The two-footed midfielder is the danger-man for the Knights and is in the upper-echelon of players in the WCAC.
Newcomer and sophomore Juan Benavides has had a good first season at O’Connell. He has an exceptional soccer IQ and is blessed with outstanding technical abilities. Juan has contributed to the O’Connell attack both as a midfield player and winger who likes to come inside to find more of the ball.
Give our readers some highlights on the season so far, both team and individual.
There have been some great individual and team performances this season. Overall, the group has an outstanding goal differential record of plus-34. In 15 games, the team has scored 39 goals and conceded only five!
The Knights’ senior day was a great performance, especially from the five seniors who will graduate in 2015…Hurley, Soto, Jacob Salazar, Kevin Fraser and Michael Fraser. The 5-0 win over McNamara was a great display of energy and passion from the senior group. Michael Fraser had two goals while junior Dave Salas added a hat-trick featuring two amazing strikes from long distance.
There were also some brilliant team performances against Gonzaga, DeMatha and Paul VI during the WCAC campaign.
You have to be encouraged by your recent results, especially in those games with Gonzaga, DeMatha and Paul VI. What does that mean for our program? To you? To your team?
I can remember our first informational meeting three years ago when I introduced myself as the new coach of the boys soccer program. It was during the summer and right before we were supposed to start tryouts, so my staff and I didn’t have a ton of time to prepare or even meet returning players. I remember explaining to them my vision and how we would (one day soon) be a program to be reckoned with in the WCAC.
Fast-forward to this season…We had a hard-fought 1-0 win at Gonzaga. We scored a goal against DeMatha as time expired, only to have it disallowed, resulting in a 0-0 draw. At Paul VI, we played 70 minutes with 10 men and still dominated the possession and scoring chances. We were unfortunate to miss a last-minute penalty in that heated contest.
Every game means a lot to this group, but there is something different in the air when you’re up against another league rival. For us to hold the upper hand in these contests makes those wide-eyed, surprised reactions I received three years ago disappear, replaced with the determined, confident faces of today.
Are you, as the head coach of the boys soccer program here at O’Connell, satisfied with where we are right now? Can we be better?
To be brutally honest, I don’t think satisfied is in my DNA. That is not to say that I’m not very proud of this group and the hard work that the boys put in. I just know that we can do more, and it’s the vision of what these kids can become that drives me, and the other coaches, to push them more. If we finish more of our chances throughout some key WCAC contests, we could be sitting atop the league. And while that is a hard pill to swallow as a coach, the most important day is today, not yesterday. We look to control what we can, which is today and our attitude.
As we have stated, we do things differently at O’Connell. We push them to play out of the back, to create their own chances and not rely on others’ mistakes. It is more difficult to do what we are doing. It’s easier to play kickball and hope the other guy messes up. But that’s not teaching these kids the proper way to play this game or the proper way for them to go about their life. We do all we can to train their brains to scan space and make decisions for themselves. We remind them all the time to be different, because chances are, if you are doing what everyone else is doing, you won’t be special. It is more difficult to do the right thing because it’s different. We want our players to be LIONS not sheep.
What are our goals this year now that the post-season is upon us, realistically speaking? Have they changed over the course of the campaign? The future?
Personally, I want to continue to see our players develop both on and off the field. The same principles we are teaching on the field translate to life: personal responsibility, make your own decisions, hold yourself to a high standard, see things for what they truly are in order to make the best decision, stick to what you believe in and see it through, compete to be the best in everything that you set your mind to and place the highest value on your family, teammates and yourself.
Our team goals for this year, and every year, are constant and unchanged. We want to win the last game of our season while playing an attractive brand of soccer. We are at the stage where, on our best day, we can beat anyone.
Follow the Knights on Twitter or Facebook: @OConnellSoccer
This is Tommy Orndorff and that was The Week That Was!