Clean slate for WO soccer

Jared Arvidson

A new coach brings new traditions, new tactics, and new mindsets, but also the struggle to establish a new identity. The West Ottawa boys soccer program is in the midst of this transition.

Brent Wyckoff, who had been the coach for over 20 years, moved on to become the assistant coach at Hope College. After Wyckoff’s departure, Eli Lopez, formerly the freshmen coach, stepped up to take his place.

The first thing that Lopez did was take the whole soccer team on a three day retreat up to Traverse City. They stayed at a camp and spent 3 days playing soccer, working out, and bonding as a team.

“The team became very close and the chemistry was already starting to show. I could already see that the team wasn’t going to be as separate as last years squad, and that is going to benefit us a lot, not just as friends, but as a championship team,” Senior Alex Fernandez said.

Having already established chemistry off the field, all the Panthers squad needed was chemistry on the field. Most of the team had not played together, and it showed early on as the Panthers struggled to find the back of the net. The team has only netted 7 goals through the first 13 games.

The panthers are a skilled team with lots of amazing individual talent, but they still are getting used to the changes that the new coach brought, and are still trying to find their team identity. Senior captain Jackson Klamt is one of the returning players trying to adjust to the new style of coaching.

“This year I think we played more as a team and played more for the team than we ever did last year,” Klamt said.

Klamt also added, “sometimes the team struggles being negative and put their heads down when they still have a chance to win.”

The Panthers have had problems this season with starting off strong. They have given up the first goal in 10 of their 13 games, which is one of the reasons why they haven’t been able to produce many wins. Lopez has been attempting to fix this problem by putting different players at different positions, and trying to use new formations. Lopez is trying to bring in a different mentality to the program and the way that he wants his team to play, compared to what Wyckoff wants out of his team is very different.

Wyckoff highlighted physical play, and typically had rock solid midfielders who dominated the pace of the game. Lopez, on the other hand, emphasizes possession, tactical play, and creativity in the offensive third of the field.

“Eli really emphasizes working hard and mental focus. If we are mentally there then the physical part will come along with it,” Klamt said.

“Practices are more focused around tactical skill and building chemistry as a team with Eli. They really help us with our individual skill and also how to relate our individual skill to the team. Last year, Wyckoff always emphasized fitness, and most practices were in preparation for the next opponent. This showed on the field, we were always able to run with teams and keep up physically with them.” Fernandez said.

Senior captain Cam Cabana, who started games for both coaches, saw a major difference in the way that the two coaches wanted their teams to play.

“Wyckoff is more positioning and work rate focused and Eli is focused more on being creative offensively,” Cabana said.

Brooks Rodino, who is the goalkeeper and a captain for the Panthers, has seen how the Panthers are off to a rough start this year, but he is starting to see a sense of urgency in the team and a will to win. “We have struggled putting the ball in the net so far this season and struggle holding the ball for a majority of the game, which has been one of the reason why we can’t get many wins. We have so many skillful players who have unbelievable talent, but we can’t put our skill to the best use in games. We just need to win our next few games, which will get our confidence up and turn our season around,” said Rodino.

Lopez and the West Ottawa boys varsity soccer team are trying to turn the season around heading into conference play. The next home game that the Panthers have is on Tuesday, September, 29 where they take on the Buccaneers of Grand Haven and look to get their second conference win.