Comets train with ‘new slate’ before conference

With an influx of new players, coach plans to build functional team chemistry

By Lorenzo Morotti, Editor-in-Chief

With only three players returning from last season, the Comets must prepare to head into the start of the 2014 season with an unfamiliar roster and a new coach.

Former women’s soccer coach Nikki Ferguson has the opportunity to start fresh this season and build a different style of play since becoming the men’s last spring in the wake of former coach, Rudy Zeller’s, resignation.  

“We are not living off of last year or revamping anything,” Ferguson said. “This season is a new slate — with that comes a totally different style, tactics and its own challenges.”

There has been a surge of student athletes graduating from local high schools and wanting a spot on the team. Ferguson estimates that 65 players were interested in playing for CCC over the summer months. He has already selected less than half and now is in the process of picking his starting eleven.

Ferguson said he is developing a team concept that focuses on the midfield keeping possession in the attacking half of the field instead of depending on the counter-attack style offensive from last season.

This tactic, which produced scoring possibilities with long diagonal or forward passes from deep within the defensive backline, relies on speed and individual talent but leaves ample room for error, he said.

“We are deepest in the midfield in sheer numbers this year,” Ferguson said. “We have a reserve of different players to work with but that is the challenging part.”

He said finding the right mix of players who have good chemistry with the backline, and who are able to keep possession in the midfield while moving the ball to attacking Comets, will be tough but not impossible.  

Possession style focuses on intricate passing play and a slower build up starting from the backline, but is reliant on a solid midfield, he said.

Once in the attacking third, roughly 30 yards out from goal, the midfield players will hold the ball longer, before passing, in order to draw out defenders. This luring will create space on the wings for strikers, and left or right backs, to run into and receive the quick through ball Ferguson said.  

None of the Comets’ primary strikers will be returning from last season, however. These players included leading goal scorers Marcos Solis with his 10 goals and Brian Randall’s seven goals ranked second on the squad.

Discovering who will fill the vacancies in the attack will also be a difficult task for Ferguson because he must assess the players’ skills, personality, and proficiency in front of the goal, which is always subject to change as the season progresses, he added.

Wilson Ndiakon and Egbame Akpojiyovbi are potential striker options to fill the void left by Solis and Randall. Their countries of origin are Ivory Coast and Nigeria, respectively.

The defense will be able to play higher up on the field and play more of a supporting role for the offense because of this influx of versatile midfield players.  

CCC is working on its transition from defending into attack with a 4-4-2 formation Ndaikon said.

Instead of the left and right fullbacks defending deep in the Comets’ own attacking third, Ferguson wants them to win tackles higher up the field, along with making more runs along the wings giving the midfield more passing options, he said.

Akpojiyovbi said, ”We are focusing on finding a way to play together and do it well. This season will be hard. We are not the only school that is making tactical changes so it’s gonna be tough.”

Midfield players who are able to distribute the ball to wing-backs making runs along the sideline will play a vital role in the squad’s new possession-heavy tactics, Ferguson said.

Ndiakon said, “Coach wants us to play as a team. When we lose the ball he doesn’t want to just hear us say sorry. He wants us to run after the player who stole the ball and win it back.”

First year right midfielder Rafael Torres said that when the ball is lost, falling back and making sure attacking players are covered during transitions is crucial. Making sure the team communicates with one another as to not leave space and cede goals during counter-attacks is important as well, he said.

“Our defensive shape looks good but positioning and possession during transitions are still the main focuses,” Torres said. “We are close to getting to the level of play that we need to be at to win games.”

Currently the Comets defensive backline continues to be the foundation of the team. Ferguson said the defense is strong, with about six or seven players he said he can rotate into the starting backline during the mid-season grind to avoid fatigue.

Center back Brad Alman is one of the three returning sophomores and he played a key role in the Comets’ central defensive position.

He said the transition of coaches has been seamless because the majority of the team consists of new players who did not experience the coaching switch.

“I’m excited for the new season,” Alman said. “We have a better team chemistry this time around in comparison to last season when we had more players who had individual talent, but lacked an understanding of each other.”

By the end of Zeller’s final season, however, the Comets swelled to an 11-6-3 record in the Bay Valley Conference before crashing just short of the playoffs by losing two games and a draw. The 2013 performance marked CCC’s best record since 2005.

CCC’s new squad plans to exceed last season’s success by achieving a BVC playoff berth, but it is not the seasons’ focal point Alman said.

“We of course want to make the playoffs but we also want more than that,” he said. “We want to be good as a team. Not only focusing on individual skill, but working on our chemistry to better understand each others’ roles on the field.”