EVANSTON — A phrase commonly bantered about in the world of sports goes something like this: “You can learn much more about yourself from a loss, than you can from a win.” That seems to be the case with the Red Devils soccer team, which suffered a 1-2 setback in conference play to the visiting Green River Wolves this past Thursday, March 28, from Evanston Middle School Soccer Field.
Head coach Clint Chandler, despite sharing his team’s disappointment, remained upbeat in a postgame interview.
”We told the kids going in,” Chandler told the Herald, “in the last four years, we have never beaten Green River. We’ve tied them a couple of times, outplayed them a couple of times, while being on the end of some rough calls. We went in with a purpose, made some mistakes early, but we battled back.”
“I guess the nice thing we can look at from this is knowing we just have to finish. In years past, it’s been a case of, ‘we have to possess the ball, we’ve got to know where our teammates are, we’ve got to have good touches,’” Chandler said. “Now that all of those have gotten better, we know it’s just a matter of finishing. We need to get into the top third and score. It’s a good problem to have, as it points to the improvement in the basics.”
Chandler shared his belief that his team was working very hard and competing extremely well. He spoke of the challenges of a short season that begins in winter, even though it is termed a spring sport. The coach explained that having to practice indoors, and practicing and playing on a field in sloppy conditions due to weather, are among the chief challenges.
“The most impressive thing about that loss is, when our kids came off the field, they would have given a limb for an extra two minutes,” Chandler shared, “because they totally believe they were going to score and tie the game up.”
The team seems to have moved away from the moral victory mindset, and coming close is no longer acceptable.
“They were not happy,” the coach said of his team. “They knew they had to pay the price for making some early mistakes, but they battled back, and they didn’t get their heads down. It’s frustrating to lose that game the way we did. It came down to one team finishing twice, while the other had many opportunities to finish, and didn’t, and our team and we as a coaching staff, all know that.”
This was the first full-length competition for Red Devils soccer. They began their season in a jamboree in Worland, but had their first weekend in conference competition postponed. The Red Devils will travel to Casper this weekend, April 5 and 6, to make up the two 4A West Conference games originally scheduled for March 22 and 23. Green River has already played the defending state champion Kelly Walsh Trojans, winning 3-2, and the Natrona County Mustangs, falling 0-1.
“We didn’t have the chance to get better on that first weekend,” Chandler stated, referring to the majority of soccer programs that did. “But we’re not going to make excuses. We’re going to go forward, and that begins tomorrow, and we’re going to work on finishing, because our kids know that was the difference in this game. They’re going to come to practice with a mindset of wanting to develop confidence to be able to finish and win games, because they know that they are there.”
2013 Red Devils soccer
Assistant coaches Chuck Grenfell and Josh Cox, a former Red Devils soccer standout, are back in the fold to assist Chandler. When asked about returning experience and the composition of this year’s squad, Chandler began by naming Devian Kurete.
“Devian Kurete upfront. He’s the one who scored our goal,” the coach elaborated, speaking of the game against Green River. Chandler continued with descriptions of returning lettermen and new faces.
”Austin Berg and Chase Bybee,” he said. “Both are usually playing midfield, although we’ll move Chase out to the wings. We’ve got Colton Welling playing on one wing, sharing time with Ben Kunz. I was really impressed with our wings. They really worked hard today.”
Turning his attention to defense, after noting improved depth from capable substitutes, Chandler detailed more returning experience.
“Defensively, Tyler Stout is back,” the coach said. “Francisco Saabedra is back. Ambro is an exchange student, and he’s doing very well. Jemini Leckie, he came out, and this is the first time we’ve seen him play soccer. The kid is extremely athletic and very, very talented, and very quick at learning.”
Chandler explained having the addition of Leckie has allowed for some flexibility in the line- up, enabling the staff to move players into other positions, where they are perhaps better suited to play.
The Red Devils faced a major challenge in replacing Chandler’s own son, Tyler, at the goalkeeper position, where he had excelled for the past two years.
“Austin Pinter is seeing his first time at goalkeeper at the varsity level,” he noted. “He’s doing well, and will continue to improve. We have the benefit of a lot of returning experience.”
When asked about the impact of the Evanston Express club soccer team, which competed in its first season this past off-season, Chandler attributes increased awareness of the sport as the chief benefit.
“When they’re willing to watch it,” describing soccer and the initial off-season team efforts generating interest in the sport, Chandler continued, “that’s the first step. It leads to understanding the game, learning to play it the right way, and to get better. That’s what we’re seeing.”
Chandler sees the Express developing more players like Berg and Bybee for the future, whom he described as dedicated to the sport of soccer.
“When they came in as freshmen, they weren’t very good,” the coach began. “They didn’t move very well and weren’t in very good shape, but those two have been the heart and soul, because they love the game. They have loved it from the beginning and they just get after it, playing every chance they have had, and their improvement has been tremendous.”
The coach added in two more names, referring to his core group of leaders, in Kurete and Stout, who join Berg and Bybee as team captains.
“They’ve made soccer a priority, and it’s really nice to see them start to have some success, because they remember our really down years,” Chandler said. “My hat is off to them, because they’ve made that commitment, and they’re starting to earn some respect. They just want to compete.”
Of this year’s conference competition, the coach sees parity.
“I think it’s really going to be even,” he said.
Chandler spoke of Kelly Walsh as the returning state champions, but noted Green River defeated the Trojans in Casper the same week Evanston was scheduled to travel to the Oil City to play the Casper schools, but due to weather conditions, did not. The coach described a sophomore from Natrona as possibly the best at scoring, in the state, acknowledging the Mustangs besting Green River, 2-0.
“Riverton is always good. They have a great coaching staff and continue to bring in developed players. I really think it’s going to be a toss-up,” Chandler concluded after looking at his team in the conference mix. “I know our kids are going to do whatever it takes. In the early season, you can have games decided by a mistake here or there, but if I have the team like this group, who is really willing to work, and has the drive to compete and get better, I like our chances.”