Men’s soccer laces up for spring season

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The air of the main gym in the Physical Education building is drenched with exhaustion and heavy fatigue coming from each player’s chest; each breath taken is beyond precious. The anticipation for every play is high as the sweat is trickling down every player’s face, fixed with determination. There is no slowing down, no breaks, no settling for less than the “all or nothing” motto. Anxiety, motivation, hunger, adrenalin. These are only a few of the reasons why these talented players refuse to back down. The calculation of every movement, every touch of the ball, and every shot is vital. And, if done right, can be impressive enough to earn a spot on an amazing team with an intense journey ahead of it. Welcome to the try-outs for the men’s spring soccer season.

Pedro Braz, a man with a plan

The head coach of men’s soccer team in the fall, Pedro Braz, successfully applied the experiences from his golden days to his technique, leading the men to an impressive record of 18 wins, 4 losses, and 2 ties, and placing them for a shot at the NJCAA D3 National Championship. However, the team made it to second place, losing 1-0 in the championship game. But what is there to make of this loss for the future?

“[The championship game] loss definitely left a scar there and left a memory…I think the guys will be hungry. I think the guys will be definitely on, so to speak, their game to try to go back to where they were.” – coach Pedro Braz ”

With all of their efforts put forth on the night of championship, the loss is something that can’t be forgotten. Even so, Braz explains how he intends to use the past to push forward. “This loss has definitely left a scar there and left a memory. Will it transcend into this spring season? Probably not. But would it relate to a lot in the fall? I think it will. I think the guys will be hungry. I think the guys will be definitely on, so to speak, their game to try to go back to where they were.”

As a coach and former player, Braz knew that to help his players reach this peak, he would have to keep his players on the edge of their game throughout the off-season. His idea of a spring season came into play.

Braz, a former player in the Angolan Premier league and the Puerto Rican Soccer league, realized in his professional career that the best players he has encountered have maintained their training all year long. “I played in Division 1 college,” Braz said. “And in Division 1 college we always had a spring season. Even when I went overseas and played professional, it was the same difference. I figured out why our best players [are good]. They are really good players because they play throughout the whole year and they don’t stop. That’s what they do.”

Braz decided to apply this detail to his training of the men’s team.

Family opinion

Of course, along with the continuation of training for the players of the fall season, this also presents an opportunity to see new talented players that, for whatever reason, could not play in the fall. “There are a couple of guys with skills, a lot of them have skills that could definitely make the team,” fall player Brandon McKoy said, on the batch of new faces. Fellow fall teammate Nicholas Castro expresses his openness to new players, “I think it’s a good opportunity to find new players and find the players that are missing, like key players that will be missing because they are leaving.”

Castro’s sentiments are supported by Braz as well, who realizes how every player has their own contribution to the team, “I try to look at it as, ‘Ok, I have this new player. How am I going to fit him in to be the best player that he can be?’ You can’t replace people; you can’t, because everyone brings what they bring to the table. I feel that there are some impact players that we have now in the spring that can fill in and do well.”

Though the team for the spring will be facing a brief season, it will be quite an intense one. With back-to-back matches up against some tough Division 1 schools, all of them away games, the team will have to adapt to each other as individual soccer players and as teammates before the games begin. According to assistant coach Jay Shaw, this process has been moving forward very smoothly. “Chemistry is definitely a big issue in developing a team, and that’s why we have a spring team. We’re a family here; in the beginning of the season you could see that they had their little pockets here and there. Now I go into the cafeteria and I see anyone and everyone sitting next to each other at lunch with a laugh and a smile on their face.”

The noobs

But are the new players up to the task? Kyle Fonseca, a recent tryout, feels quite confident about getting a spot on the team, but understands that he won’t be the only player on the field. “I don’t have too much trouble as an individual player, but soccer is not an individual game. I’ve met and I’ve played and I’ve seen many players that are great individual players, but in the team aspect they’re not very good. It doesn’t really say much but it makes me confident about the skill level I can play up to and what I can help deliver on the ream.”

“I don’t have too much trouble as an individual player, but soccer is not an individual game. I’ve met and I’ve played and I’ve seen many players that are great individual players, but in the team aspect they’re not very good.” Kyle Fonseca, spring tryout”

Fellow spring tryout player Sebastian Martinez is also confident in his abilities, but is aware about the physical challenge that he faces as an individual. “I feel very confident. Obviously, we’re all a little bit out of shape, but I definitely have the experience to be here.”

There is, of course, the mutual understanding between the coaches and new players, as well as the fall players as to where these new players should be in terms of skill and competition. With the knowledge of how the fall players went so far in the season and came so close to winning the national title, the “noobs” realize that to make this team and to thrive on this team, they will have to bring every ounce of soccer that they can to the table. Fonseca looks to the fall players to know what standards he is up against,while acknowledging their role. “They’re kind of just setting the bar, that’s the best way I can describe it. And at the same time, they’re leaders because they’ve been here and they kind of know what to expect in [coach Braz]; they know what he’s looking for. The level that the coach expects us to play at and to act at is very high, and you can just tell that by the what the players expect out of us.”

The view of the fall players as well as the standards is shared by Martinez, who feels that there is still more that the team as a whole can give to the game of soccer. “They play a pretty big role. They’ve done a lot, you know, and they’ve shown us a lot. We’ve just got to keep practicing as a team. I think the bar can keep going up, and overall, I hope that everyone has the ambition to go to a Division 1 school.”

With these expectations known by the players to be very high, being the “new kid” is something a bit intimidating. McKoy recognizes the effort that these new players are putting in to be on this team, despite the challenge that they are facing, looking up to them in a way. “Yeah, a little because it’s hard for them to come out here and try to be on a new team that made it to Nationals, you know. You’ve got to have a lot of bravery to do that.”

Castro, however, mentions different leaders in the team that the new players look up to. “They definitely look up to the second year players because they’re the leaders. There is a lot of skill, you can tell.”

The season is on

Going up against Division 1 schools for the spring will make the season intense, despite its brevity. Coach Braz realizes the significance of this challenge, and how it will help him shape a team for the fall. “Like anything else, you have to build something. You have to build something from the ground up. You have to build the foundation, and I feel like this will build the foundation. I think this will build something for the future. And even if it’s not with me and even if it’s not with these players, it’ll build something. This is how you build a product, so when it’s off-season when people can’t see you playing, and they can’t see you practice, they’ll wondering why you are so good.”

Coach Shaw relates to this concept and acknowledges the exposure of these players during the spring season. “I was very excited about [the spring season],” he said. “This area has a lot of talent that needs to be cultivated, and the spring season is going to do that. As far as competition, I want to see speed of thought get better from the players, and more to the exposure. We played JUCO teams. Right now, we are going to play NCAA teams, and there is a big difference.”

With much on the line in terms of formation, talent, and exposure, the buildup of this team has been vigorous. In addition, with the players committing to early morning practices and to giving their all for at least two hours, the discipline of this team will be stronger than ever, and will be tested against some of the hardest teams. The pressure is capable of breaking any team. But then again, with reaching nationals in the fall and recruiting confident, skillful new players ready to contribute, this is far beyond just “any” team. The momentum is slowly rising as these talented athletes come together to take on another level of soccer.

The fierce veterans of the fall seek any opportunity to fill their hunger and redeem themselves for what happened last season. Meanwhile, the new spring players are anxious to show what they have and become part of a growing force with the potential to go far. Braz takes a note of all of these factors, and is ready to try to bring the fall players back to that level of competition while bringing new players into the spotlight. Such a recipe is meant to end with strong outcomes, something that each and every one of these players is capable of giving to any opponent.