For wingers Danny Cruz and Jamie Watson, this fall has brought a new element into their soccer careers, with both taking their first coaching jobs among the high school ranks. While players may help with Minnesota United’s camps and clinics, serving as a season-long assistant brings a different level of commitment and understanding of the game.
“I’ve found that I enjoy coaching a lot more than I thought I would,” Watson confessed after Thursday’s training. “I’ve always coached in some capacity, but when you spend a season with a group you build a connection with the team. At first, they were ‘the East Ridge girls,” but now they’re my girls. It turns quickly, and I think the bond you form with them is really great.”
Watson works with the East Ridge Raptors in Woodbury, filling a spot vacated by former loon Andrew Fontein. After serving as head coach for their JV team, he’s joined the varsity side as an assistant for section play. The #2 seed in Section 4AA, the Raptors beat North H.S. 5-0 on Tuesday. They’ll face #3 Mounds View tonight at 5:00 at East Ridge HS.
Cruz, meanwhile, has served as a varsity assistant all season at Centennial High School in Circle Pines. Last season, the Cougars had former United striker Pablo Campos as a coach, but as a spot opened up, Cruz was able to get the job. The team finished conference play with a flawless 8-0-2 record, riding an undefeated season to the #1 seed in section 5AA.
“It’s been a really good run. I’m enjoying every minute of it, to be honest. We have some good girls. It’s a really good group. They don’t try to play the typical type of high school soccer. They score a ton of goals and have an exciting style of play. We’ve played some tough teams, but I’m excited for tonight. Three games, and hopefully we’ll get to state.”
Centennial faces off against #8 seed Irondale Thursday night at 7:00 at Centennial High School. With the MSHSL tournament bracket being seeded after section play wraps up, there’s a chance that the two Loons’ other teams could be rivals on a different day. There’s lots that would need to happen between now and then, of course.
While the high school season hits a fever pitch, the development of younger players is a year-round process. Over the summer, center back Brent Kallman worked with the White Bear Lake Soccer Club working with the U-8 and U-12 programs.
“If you play a kid as a center back from U-8 on, he won’t develop great awareness of the game around like a midfielder would. It’s best to cycle players through different positions.” – Brent Kallman
“With that young age of player, it’s mostly skill stuff,” according to Kallman. “You’re working on a lot of technique. You aren’t doing possession games. Instead, you want to help them learn to beat players 1v1, how to defend, maybe a bit of work on how to combine in tight spaces. For the most part, it’s about growing their technique and making sure that they have fun with it.”
Since his own days as a youth player, Kallman has shifted all over the pitch, spending ample time at forward and midfield before settling into a defensive role as he started play at Creighton University. He cites this as a huge benefit for his game as a whole.
“I think it’s a mistake to stick to one position growing up,” says Kallman. “I don’t like comparing sports often, but you see it happen in basketball. You find the tallest kid and immediately make him a post. He might never develop his ball-handling skills and spend too much time rebounding and doing Mikan drills. It’s the same thing with soccer players. If you play a kid as a center back from U-8 on, he won’t develop great awareness of the game around like a midfielder would. It’s best to cycle players through different positions.”
As United finishes off their 2016 NASL regular season this month, players are still cognizant of their roles as ambassadors for the game within the state of Minnesota. Whether it’s marketing campaigns like Watson’s summer ICEE giveaway, coaching high school clubs, or working in academies and training camps, the players are more than happy to help grow the game of soccer in the North Star State.