Coach Watkins stopped me on Friday evening and told me I didn’t want to miss the Saturday evening (and final) session of the tryouts. He told me the competition was intense and there would be a lot of great soccer on display. With a teaser like that, how could I stay away.
The first two rounds of cuts took the pool of players from eighty-five down to fifty, and by the end of Saturday night, it would have to be trimmed to twenty-five plus six incoming freshmen. After warming up, the players were divided into groups that would scrimmage on a full sized field.
This provided a different look at the players than the reduced field 6v6 games I’d seen up to that point. Some of the players that had looked dangerous on the smaller fields didn’t seem to bring the same presence to the bigger pitch. The palyers with real class continued to shine though.
After two scrimmages, the coaches pulled out twelve players to rotate through a very fast paced series of 3v3 scrimmages on a 1/4 sized field. These were the players on the cusp and they played like they knew it. Jukes and step-overs alternated with blistering shots on goal, quick tackles, and rapid fire passes. Players would come off the field, sweat-soaked, after 5 minutes.
KC John, a high school goal keeper was relegated to the sidelines due to regulations about how many days of tryouts the high schoolers could take part in. He watched the play intently. When I asked him what he thought about it, he responded, “This is just sick, there’s so much going on out there … I just wish I could be out there playing.”
Listening to the returning players on the sidelines I heard the same kind of comments—“Did you see that?” ... “I can’t believe he got that shot off” ... “Wow! That was a rocket.” ... “Did you see that save? How’d he stop that?”
Interspersed among their appreciative comments came an almost constant stream of advice—“Take your shot.” ... “Play into space.” ... “Watch the open man. Pass! Pass!”
The scrimmage also brought out one of the scariest moments of the night, when one of the veteran keepers took a blast of a shot to the face. He dropped immediately, and stayed down for what seemed like forever before being assisted off the pitch by the trainer. Fortunately he was up and around by the end of the session, looking just fine.
There were a number of injuries during the evening. By the time the coaches went off to huddle over their selection process, I counted eight players iced, wrapped, or hobbling around to various degrees. None of them looked too serious but I did overhear comments about not being able to run for a while.
More painful than the injuries though, was watching the final cut. The coaches walked through the crowd of players to post the roster on the doors of the facility, and as they moved away the players moved forward looking to see who’d made the cut. Nearly half of the fifty players who’d started the evening went away disappointed. A couple of the trialists that I’ve been watching survived, two more made a ‘reserve list’, my term, and will in place to join the team later in the year in response to missions, graduations, or other circumstances.
This was my first year of watching tryouts. I was really impressed with the level of play, the camraderie between players, and the kind of effort required of the coaching staff. If you’ve got a PDL team near you, go check out their tryouts—it’s a great way to get a pre-season soccer fix.