The last week has been a roller coaster experience for IMS (Iona Men's Soccer). We started off this weekend with a convincing 3-1 victory against Monmouth, who were ranked 25th in the nation at the time, Only to fall to 16th ranked West Virginia University 3-1.
Going into the game against Monmouth it was hard to find a clear indication of the team's moral, something that had become more prevalent within the team as the loosing streak continued. There were still the usual moral/confidence boosters who would speak up at the end of practices, however, going into the game against Monmouth it was unclear to me how the team felt as a whole.
Maybe it was a silent confidence that I couldn't pick up, but whatever it was, it was the right mentality. For the first time the team wasn't shaken after conceding the opening goal. The mind set of, "here we go again" never arose. Instead we broke down the team and adjusted our tactics to absolutely exploit their weaknesses, especially with weak-side diagonal long balls that were the source of two of our three goals.
After the game moral was clearly high. You could feel as if this was the step we needed to finally get out of our slump. The rest of the weekend, and days leading up to the game against WVU, we seemed to get a bit of the confidence that hadn't showed itself since pre-season.
Unfortunately, the game against WVU didn't go as planned. The game started out well for us, especially after we took the lead after just 11 minutes with a goal from Ansger Otto. Our game plan of switching the point of attack was working brilliantly against their high pressure system. However, as this team has become all too familiar with this year, a lapse in defensive concentration lead to WVU tying up the score at 1-1.
Their tying goal came from a set-piece and our marking was just inexcusable. After the initial header sent the ball to the far side of the box, IMS players just left their marks assuming the ball would be cleared. Thus leaving three (yes THREE) WVU players completely wide open within the six yard box. All it took was one sloppy centering pass to come across goal and, in almost complete synchronization, the three unmarked players began their striking motion, and one of them buried it into the net.
Watching from above it was difficult to see how the team was reacting. Part of felt there was no reason to worry. We had gone down against Monmouth and responded brilliantly. Yet, there was something missing this time and I couldn't quite place it. The momentum was clearly beginning to shift, and as a coach, moments like this can cause you fighting between over analyzing a situation and fearing that too many changes (or changes at all) will make the situation worse.
The sides went into halftime all square and the run of play was still pretty even, despite WVU getting back into the game with their goal and hitting the post at the end of the half. Coach Barboto gave his halftime speech and told the team to concentrate on our game plan and to not fall victim to another lapse in defensive judgement.
The second half began pretty even, but another defensive hesitation led to us conceding a second goal 15 minutes into the half. This ultimately led us to try and force the issue, which led to our back four being exposed on too many occasions, and they ultimately scored their third goal to put final nail in the coffin for us.
Watching it all self-implode in the second half never gets easier. It's something that I know all too well from this season. Just like in everyday life, bad habits that we have gotten ourselves into don't just simply go away, you have to concentrate on not committing them, as oppose to, ignoring them and hoping that not thinking about them will reduce your chances of committing them again.
After the game we circled up and spoke about how despite this tough non-conference schedule we need to take the positives from it, learn from our mistakes and prepare for conference play, which begins this Saturday against our top rival for the title; Fairfield. We wanted to challenge ourselves with this tough schedule so that we could be prepared for anything that the MAAC (our conference) throws at us.
It is now time to see if this program is ready to take the next step and fulfill our potential. We have been waiting since our conference tournament loss in November to respond, and what better way to do so than by making a statement against the conference favorite in the first game of conference play.