As with everything that happens in Eugene, rain began to fall during one of the Oregon men’s club soccer double day practices the week before school began.
“It’s really no big deal at all,” assistant coach Luke Connolly said as water dripped from his soaked jacket. “Rain is no problem because we’re Ducks.”
The double days serve as a perfect chance to evaluate the new players who are interested in joining the team before the official tryouts begin. With anywhere from 75-100 guys showing up, the system allows first-year player coach Alex Riley to begin the process of narrowing down to the final roster.
Last year the club soccer team was impressive. The Ducks finished first in the league, second in Regionals and ended the year with a 22-2-1 record. They had a knack for grabbing the early lead and then clamping down on defense to prevent the other team from leveling the score.
This year, the goal is to be even better.
“We have the ability to go undefeated if we put our minds to it,” Riley said.
The midfield is the strength of the team this year, with the full group returning. Back is former player coach Daley Stevens, who spent the summer playing with local Lane County semi-professional team Lane United FC. He brings with him the ability to control the ball and make the necessary passes to free up his teammates with great looks on goal.
“Daley is a purist of the game, so it is great having him out here,” team president/coordinator Joe Jackson said. “He truly loves and understands the game of soccer.”
While the midfield serves as the highlight, the coaches are quick to point out the depth of talent on the squad. Both the backline and forwards are set to have strong years, with a good mix of returning stars and talented newcomers filling the roster.
One major change that is still being decided is what formation the Ducks will use. Traditionally the team has played a 4-3-3, though that may be switched this season in favor of a more aggressive 5-3-2. The key to the new formation will be the play of the right and left-wingers in the back, who will be asked to get up field and join the attack.
“I have a couple of players in mind who would really fit those positions well,” Riley said. “I want our wingers to be aggressive, but also possess the game. If we can do that it may be the best option for us.”
The matchup to watch this season will be when the Duck’s take on the University of Portland, which always serves as the biggest game of the year. Last year the two split the series, though Oregon was able to steal both the conference and league titles from the Pilots. Both Gonzaga and Utah State promise to be tough matches as well.
Before Oregon can focus on the games, however, it still has to finish up tryouts and integrate the new players onto the team. Once that’s done, the team expects big things, including a first place finish in both their league and at Nationals.
Of course, all fans are welcome to come along for the ride.
“If you love soccer come watch us,” Jackson said.
Follow Chris Keizur on Twitter @ChrisKeizur