Addie Smith and Pat Higgins | Sports Editors
Following a 4-1 preseason loss to Wichita State, men’s soccer coach Chase Brooks and players Colin Phillips and Simon Gomez discussed the “new era” of Duquesne men’s soccer under a new coach. The Dukes finished preseason 0-2, losing to Carnegie Mellon 3-2 on Aug. 20.
Coach Chase Brooks
Addie Smith: We’ve heard a lot about this being a “new era” for Duquesne men’s soccer. Can you explain a little bit of your viewpoint of what the “new era” is?
Chase Brooks: Absolutely. The “new era” is about the competition level, just competing every day to be the best that we can be, not settling for mediocrity and always trying to push our boundaries and push our limits. I think what you saw today was kind of a learning moment along those lines. First half, we played some great soccer, knocked it around, went up 1-0 and controlled the game a little bit. Second half it changes, one mistake, one mental breakdown and that’s the difference in this sport. Momentum shifts and you know; how are we going to react to that? Are we strong enough to react to that? And today we weren’t. It’s a good learning moment.
AS: Even though this was an exhibition game, it seemed like a big game for you, especially after your 3-2 loss to Carnegie Mellon, what are you learning about this team throughout this preseason?
CB: You know, learning about this is just what type of competitors we have and where we need to go as a program. You know we have to make sure that we continue to recruit and add in the types of guys who are going to help bring us to that next level, while at the same time there’s some very good players on this squad so who wants to come along on that journey with us and that’s really what we’re trying to find out right now.
AS: I saw that you actually brought a kid from Niagara. Can you tell me a little about him?
CB: Yeah, Ryan Merrifield: hard worker, competitor, kind of exactly what we’ve been talking about. A guy who’s not afraid to bang bodies, just brings that effort consistently.
Pat Higgins: Just to go back to what you were talking about; the level of competition. When I spoke to you in the spring, you were talking about how the Atlantic-10 is a different kind of game, the level of competition is different and it’s more of the American side of soccer. Can you talk about how you guys are adjusting to that in the preseason?
CB: Yeah, again, you’re trying to change a culture. It’s a culture here that’s been a line of direct play, long balls over the top, so we’re trying to really start over and change everything. You know, building it up from the back. One view on defending, all the way up to simple up-back-through. So we’ve got a nice long road ahead of us, but you know, I think everything, every game, every time we step on the field we take steps forward and again the Atlantic-10, it’s a different beast. It’s super competitive. The top four in this conference are guys that are being considered for top 25 in the nation and that’s where we have to go.
PH: You talked a lot about your recruiting and the successes you had at Dayton, how do you think you can use that to bring in the players that you want to build your system here?
CB: We’re always going to look for the types of players that fit the system. We — myself, Coach [Bryce] Cooper, Coach [Steve] Wieczorek — have some pretty amazing contacts, not only domestically, but abroad. It’s working those and being tireless about it, just finding the right guys to fit what we’re looking for.
AS: Abroad, you talked about. You added the two new French players [Thomas de Villardi and Arnaud Cesarini], what do you think they’re going to add to the team?
CB: Their culture within the game of soccer is one of those that they live, eat, breathe, everything is soccer 24/7. They are guys who understand the game to a great level, and you can see moments that came out in games like today where they were just a bit more technical, a bit more savvy at times, but at the same time, they still have to learn about the American side of the system and how to adapt to the physicalness, how to play at times and the speed of things.
PH: Obviously every year you have new freshmen come in, and you have the kid you brought in from Niagara. can you just talk a little about how you’re changing the culture and how the team is coming together in the preseason?
CB: I thought the preseason was fantastic. Guys worked hard, we pushed them really hard, they worked their butts off. The team mentality, as far as the work ethic, is there. Now again, it’s about overcoming some of those cultural things that have been here as a part of the team. One goal goes in, we can’t drop our heads. It’s time to stick your chest and go harder.
AS: Do you think that kind of happened today after their first goal went in and then Max [Knape] let in another one? Do you think they just kind of gave up, or do you think they kept fighting?
CB: I do, I think you could see the level of play drop. I think you could see their confidence level drop. Again, that’s what we’ve got to be better because honestly, we’re a better team than that. We knocked the ball around very well for the first 45 minutes, and I think we started this [second] half fairly sharp as well. You know, mistakes happen, little things are going to wrong, it’s all about how you react.
AS: After a successful spring season and then going in and losing your first two exhibition games, what’s your mindset for the beginning of the season?
CB: We’re actually going into regular season starting this coming Friday and now it’s about getting the mind right, really. Making sure everybody’s got their confidence built back up, and a little bit more competition and training this week.
Simon Gomez and Colin Phillips
AS: [To Simon] With your preseason honors, does that put any pressure on you especially after your injury filled season last year?
Simon Gomez: Pressure? No. Every season is a season, whether you get honors or not, you have to show up to play and be consistent. Whether I got all-conference or Heisman last year, it means nothing if I don’t show up and play.
AS: There’s a lot of talk about this being the “new era” for Duquesne men’s soccer. Can you each describe what the “new era” for Duquesne men’s soccer means to you?
Colin Phillips: I think it’s just a new mentality, a new way to approach training, a new way to approach everything that we do as a group, the way that we’re representing our school. I think we’ve had the pieces there in the past, but for whatever reason, we haven’t been able to put them together. I think it’s just a winning mentality with a new coach just coming into the program. [It’s] really taking a step up, it’s exciting and I’m happy to be a part of it.
SG: I agree with him, I think it’s more a mentality kind of thing, a different way of which we are approaching and attacking everything as team with a championship mentality.
AS: Even though this was an exhibition game, it seemed like a big game for you guys, especially after that 3-2 loss to Carnegie Mellon. Can you explain your mentality going into this game and what happened in the second half?
CP: Every game has to be a win in our minds and we approach every game with that winning mentality, especially at home. We want to be that team that is known for being impossible to beat at home. We started off really well today. We thought we played pretty well as team, but when we let in the first goal in the second half, our reaction and our response to that goal wasn’t what it needed to be. Again, we have all the pieces there, we moved pretty well in the first half, but our response to that first goal, letting our heads down, is something that we shouldn’t have let happen, but it did happen so we’re going to learn from it and take that lesson into the rest of the season.
SG: I think we’re just not consistent enough, our character wasn’t there. We had a good start, a good first half, but then again, we didn’t carry it as a team to the second half. We put our heads down when the first [goal] came in, they got momentum and we let them dictate the game and they just took it from there. As a team, we’re not all there mentally to carry on what we did in the first half.
AS: With a successful spring season and this two game exhibition season, can you say what you learned about the team? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
CP: I think personally, I think we’re deeper than ever. This year, there are so many different guys competing for the spots and that allows us to push each other in practice. No spot is safe on the field and everyone is pushing each other from the bench, competing for that starting spot and for time. It’s kind of driving that winning attitude and allowed us to really become a team heading into the season opener.
PH: You guys keep talking about this culture change and not getting your heads down after you let up a goal. How different is that from last year? Was that the culture around here? Or did coach [Brooks] come in and is changing everything up? Is anybody safe?
CP: I think before in previous years, it wasn’t so much that we were letting it happen, but there wasn’t an emphasis from the coaching staff. Naturally most players will either put their heads down or they’ll pick players back up. I think the coaching staff this year are getting more of these players to be the ones who are picking each other up and not being the ones putting their heads down. Rather than having a few guys who are responding appropriately after a let down, we’re getting more and more guys to.
AS: Can you talk about how this team is coming together as a whole?
CP: Honestly, I’ve been really surprised and really happy with the incoming class. A lot of great guys were blending really well off the field. I think the classes – the freshmen, the sophomores and the juniors and seniors – are closer than they’ve been in years. I’ve found in previous seasons, there’s been some separation between the classes, the upperclassmen not getting to know the freshmen and the younger guys, but this year it’s been different. The freshmen and sophomores are blending right in with the juniors and seniors and it’s helping us.
SG: I agree with that. I think we’re more tight now; we’re more of a family than before,;we’re tighter as a group. That’s what we’re trying to push in this “new era,” to be a family. We all give into each other, we all trust each other and do our best on the field and off the field.
Listen to the interviews: