Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Three Ideas for Better High School Soccer in Maine

1. Reconfigure game schedules to establish "Soccer Saturday."

For as long as I can remember, most high school teams in Maine have played their games on two weeknights separated by only one day of rest between each game (e.g., Monday/Wednesday, Tuesday/Thursday, Wednesday/Friday). However, we should reconfigure the game schedules to create "Soccer Saturday" to bolster high school soccer's brand in the state and to develop better and safer soccer players.

To establish Soccer Saturday, we should designate Tuesday and Wednesday as the two weekday game nights throughout the state, and we should schedule girl/boy doubleheaders on Saturdays. Each team still plays two games per week, but Soccer Saturday would give the Maine high school soccer its own version of the gridiron's "Friday Night Lights." Instead of playing before sparse crowds on a weekday evening, a Saturday night doubleheader between two schools' girls and boys' teams would attract larger crowds and create more exciting atmospheres. The benefits of Soccer Saturday go beyond a boost in fandom, though. Adopting a Tuesday/Saturday and a Wednesday/Saturday schedule pattern also helps the two most important stakeholders in high school soccer: The game's coaches and its players.

During my brief tenure as the coach at Westbook High School, our program was relatively undeveloped and inexperienced. We had very few players participating in club soccer during the winter and the spring, so we had to take full advantage of our summer program and the first couple weeks of pre-season to focus almost exclusively on the technical and tactical development of our players. That's because once early September hit, the Tuesday/Thursday game pattern forced us into a rhythm that emphasized game recovery and game preparation above player development. With two, 80-minute games being played within 72 hours (or three games in five days during the few weeks we had to pick up a third game on Saturday), our weekly schedule throughout the season roughly consisted of this:

Monday- Game prep. for Tuesday's opponent
Tuesday- Game
Wednesday- Recovery from Tuesday's game, game prep. for Thursday's opponent
Thursday- Game
Friday- Recovery from Thursday's game, technical development
Saturday- Technical development or a game

Rinse and repeat for the rest of the season.

By adopting a Soccer Saturday, teams who play their weekday game on Wednesdays have two clusters of back-to-back training sessions, instead of only one under the current schedule format. And teams that play their weekday game on Tuesdays have a three-day stretch of training sessions, with Sundays acting as a game recovery day that doesn't show up on a team's session calendar.

This elongated training schedule also helps players, because it allows coaches to step off the game-to-game treadmill that runs throughout the season. And coaches who don't have to prepare training sessions with one eye on last night's game and the other eye on tomorrow night's game can then organize sessions that focus on the long-term development of the program's players.

Players also benefit from a weekday/Saturday format, because that schedule gives them at least two days to physically recover from each game. As noted above, the current scheduling format forces players to play two games in three days (or three games in five days), which allows for a recovery rate that falls way short of U.S. Youth Soccer's recommendation of 36-92 hours of rest between competitive games. (The Soccer Saturday schedule also doesn't meet that recommendation, but it guarantees at least 48 hours of rest between each competitive game.)

The reconfiguration of a Soccer Saturday schedule boosts the high school soccer brand in Maine, allows coaches to focus on the long-term development of their programs during the season, and is a safer alternative for the state's players. Who can argue against that? (Just kidding, I recognize there are possible counter-arguments--especially related to logistics.)

2. Establish a Maine Soccer Hall of Fame.

To build a brighter future, soccer in Maine in general (and high school soccer in particular) needs to shine a spotlight on its history. What better way to do that than to establish a Maine Soccer Hall of Fame?

This endeavor doesn't necessarily require a lot of capital. A well-designed Web site, with an annual induction ceremony should be enough to ensure the Maine's soccer history is given the attention it's due. Couple that induction ceremony with a pre-season tournament that consists of the finalists from the previous year's state finals, and you've got a weekend that kicks off the high school season with a little extra oomph.

And though our state is only one of about a dozen states without a men's Division I soccer program, we could rotate the hosting responsibilities of the annual Hall of Fame induction and tournament among the state's eleven Division III men's and women's programs.

3. Use #mesoccer.

And finally, an idea that is much simpler and more immediate than the previous two: Use #mesoccer when discussing soccer in Maine. The common hashtag of course ensures all Twitter conversations about the beautiful game in our beautiful state are deposited into a common stream of observations, score updates, etc.

- John C.L. Morgan  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pine State Table: Final Standings

(Click table to enlarge)
- John C.L. Morgan

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Introducing the Pine State Table

(Editor's Note: Click on table to enlarge.)

Beginning on August 29 when the University of New England hosts Maine Maritime Academy in Biddeford, Maine's eleven Division III men's soccer programs will play a total of 35 games among themselves.

The table above will be updated throughout the season to track how the eleven programs stack up against one another in direct competition.

- John C.L. Morgan

(Full disclosure: I am helping the men's program at USM as a volunteer assistant coach.)

The Cosmopolitan Provincialist: Six Reasons Why I'm Supporting SD Eibar

Even though I've been an avid FC Barcelona supporter since reading this book ten years ago, searching for a complementary European team or two to support has become a bit of a summer ritual for me over the last couple years. This annual quest has sometimes been quick and based on straight-up provincialism (see Liverpool FC and AS Roma), but it has also been based on criteria so esoteric and flighty that I would forget a couple weeks into the season exactly why I was following this or that team.

I'm especially taken with the task this summer now that my hometown team  is just (sort of) bouncing back from an ugly stretch  and my great-grandmother's hometown team is drifting rudderless into another year in England's second division. So on a recent afternoon I had a Crowley Moment, only instead of drunk-waking in front of the Argentine Air Force's Web site, I discovered myself reading a July 2006 post by Bill Simmons on the same dilemma. Not only that, but I've succumbed to the Internet wormhole Crowley describes: I've checked enough European clubs' Wikipedia pages to know that FC Dordrecht (Netherlands) considers Johan Cruyff to be its most famous player, even though he appeared in only three 1981 friendlies for the team.

Anyway, all of this is some long-winded context for a new feature I'll be adding a weekly feature on this site. Each week I'll track the progress of SD Eibar, a newly-promoted team to Spain's La Liga division for the following five reasons
  • By Maine standards, Eibar is a small town. Its 9.57 square miles of land area make it about half the size of Westbrook, but only about one-third larger than Hallowell. Also, its 27,000 residents would make it only the 4th most populous city in our relatively sparse state, which means it's only slightly more populous than South Portland.
  • By Maine standards, Eibar's stadium, Ipurua, is a small stadium. To wit: Portland's Fitzpatrick Stadium can fit 1,000 more fans than Ipurua can with its current capacity of 5,250.
  • The club's story reminds me of The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, the late Joe Mcginnis's book on a similarly-sized club's unlikely season playing top-level European soccer. Read this book, if you get the chance.
  • And finally, even though the chances of Major League Soccer adopting a promotion and relegation system appear to be slim, SD Eibar's unlikely ascent to La Liga gives us provincialists everywhere hope that one day the world's finest players--i.e., Xavi, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, etc.--could one day play in our backyards.
- John C.L. Morgan

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

SMAA Tops WMC in Annual Maine High School All-Star Games

All-star senior soccer players from Maine put on their cleats for a good cause. The 24th annual All-Star Soccer Tournament to benefit Special Olympics Maine was held Tuesday in Westbrook. For the boys, the Southern Maine Activities Association (SMAA) team topped the Western Maine Conference (WMC) 4-1. On the girls side, SMAA beat WMC 3-1. Organizers estimate that two games raise about $8,000 for Special Olympics Maine.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Five Thoughts on Klinsmann's Three Years

Three years ago today, U.S. Soccer's Sunil Gulati announced the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann to replace Bob Bradley as the coach of the U.S. Men's National Team. In commemoration of Klinsmann's and Gulati's leather anniversary, here's a quick look at some positives and negatives of Klinsmann's three-year tenure so far:


* The U.S. qualified out of the 2014 World Cup's "Group of Death"

Since 1990, the U.S. has played in seven World Cups and has now survived the tournament's group stage in four of those competitions. The team's 2014 advancement to the knockout round marked the first time the U.S. has advanced from the group stage in consecutive World Cups, and Klinsmann deserves credit for overcoming the tournament's most laborious travel itinerary to qualify out of the group instantly dubbed the tourney's "Group of Death." Legitimate points can be made about the U.S. team's underwhelming style of play (see below), but surviving the group

* An overall record of 32-13-9, including an impressive 21-4-6 record in 2012 and 2013 competitions.

For some context, Klinsmann's winning percentage of 59% is slightly higher than the winning percentages belonging to his predecessors Bob Bradley (54%) and Bruce Arena (58%). And his positive result percentage (wins + ties/games played) is 76%, which is lower than Bradley's (85%) and Arena's (78%).

* Historic results, including the Americans' first-ever win over Italy and the Yanks' first-ever win in Mexico's Estadio Azteca.

Sure, both wins over Italy and Mexico were friendlies. But the win over Italy snapped a 10-game winless streak dating back to 1934, and the win in the notoriously hostile Estadio Azteca was remarkable enough to inspire a bloodthirsty cover on a soccer magazine's inaugural issue.


* Despite talk of adopting an attacking and technical style of play, the Yanks' style of play can still be described as "try hard, run fast."

Since his hiring three years ago, Klinsmann emphasized his desire for the U.S. to play a more proactive, attacking, and technically-astute brand of soccer. And even though Klinsmann continues to pay lip service to that style of play--and the U.S. has occasionally displayed the ability to actually walk that talk--its performance in the 2014 World Cup was reactive, defensive-minded, and conservative.

Here's a Dallas News article highlighting the Americans' impotent attack and reactionary approach in the World Cup before they relied on a record-setting performance by goalkeeper Tim Howard to be competitive with Belgium in Round of 16. At the risk of stretching a metaphor, we're still roping-and-doping, despite aspirations to be floaters and stingers.

* Landon Donovan

I didn't like the omission of Donovan from the World Cup roster when it was first announced, and I don't think I can ever be convinced it was a soccer-based decision. Worst of all, it's tough to not ridicule the inclusion of Chris Wondolowski and Brad Davis on the team, despite the fact that I respect both players' contributions to Major League Soccer.

- John C.L. Morgan

Thursday, July 17, 2014

On the Rosevelt Soccer Club

American Journal:
Now, this brainchild is coming to life in the Rosevelt Soccer Club, a nonprofit, premier soccer option for boys in Westbrook, Windham, Buxton and Standish that should prove significantly more affordable than the few existing, for-profit outfits in Maine.

- John C.L. Morgan

(Full disclosure: I'm a co-founder of the Rosevelt Soccer Club.)