Leading a promising soccer program in a football-mad college town throws up the occasional disappointment for West Virginia men’s Head Coach Marlon LeBlanc.
Tens of thousands of Mountaineers’ sports fans trekked eastward along I-68 last Saturday to attend the WVU football team’s game against James Madison at the Washington Redskins’ FedEx Field. Many of those who remained in Morgantown flocked to bars to cheer the gold-and-blue to a crushing 42-12 victory.
The game was effectively over within five minutes of the second period as West Virginia raced to a 28-0 lead, prompting LeBlanc to make a pitch via his Twitter feed.
“WVU FB game is a BLOWOUT! Hope you’ll make it to Dlesk Stadium,” wrote LeBlanc about 90 minutes before his side kicked off against American. The 638 supporters who showed up were treated to an exhibition of modern, expansive attacking soccer as the Mountaineers swept aside their Patriot League opponents with a convincing 2-0 win.
“Today was a picture of how good this team can really be,” LeBlanc told TopDrawerSoccer.com after Saturday’s game. “The soccer was excellent, the passing was excellent, and we even had a spell where we put together 20 or 30 passes.
“I don’t know what more I can say beyond I’m awfully pleased with the performance.”
American traveled to Morgantown having enjoyed a successful start to their campaign. Todd West’s side had scored 15 goals and conceded just five on its way to a 4-2 record from its first six games. LeBlanc’s team benefited from a full week of preparation after a tough spell that saw them play four games in 10 days, including three on the road at North Carolina, Wake Forest and Penn State. That extra time allowed LeBlanc to sit down with his offensive players to discuss how to improve their productivity in the final third.
“We spent a little bit of time with our match analysis with regard to the touches that the guys were getting and where they were getting them, and really tried to make a commitment to get them in the right areas,” LeBlanc said.
Part of that commitment involved full-backs Peabo Doue and Nick Raskasky bombing up the wings to allow wide forwards Uwem Etuk and Andy Bevin the freedom to roam inside. Etuk struck the decisive second goal on 58 minutes when he received a pass from Bevin in the inside-right channel, side-stepped onto his left foot and curled a sweet finish inside American goalkeeper Billy Knutsen’s far post from the edge of the penalty box.
“Uwem got more touches in the final third, more touches in dangerous areas and we had more options because he wasn’t caught out on the flank,” LeBlanc said.
West Virginia took control from the first whistle, though American held firm in the early stages and created a couple of good chances to take the lead. The game changed on the half hour when LeBlanc made a substitution that changed the look of his offense. Freshman Jamie Merriam, a 6-foot point forward who started off leading the line, was replaced by New Zealander Ryan Cain with Bevin assuming a lone striker role. Etuk, Cain and Shadow Sebele formed a trio of interchanging support forwards with central midfielders Travis Pittman and Craig Stephens shielding WVU’s back line.
“They weren’t expecting that,” Etuk told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “You can tell they were getting a little confused out there.”
The result lifted WVU to 4-2-1 on the year with all four wins coming from their four games at Dick Dlesk Stadium. Florida Atlantic is the next guest for West Virginia’s Mid American Conference debut this weekend. A Sunday afternoon kick-off ensures there will be no clash with the school’s football team this time around, leaving LeBlanc hopeful for a larger attendance.
“You certainly wish we could get bigger crowds, because if anybody came and watched us they would understand that it’s entertaining,” LeBlanc said. “I’d like to see our fans really jump on board and understand what a special team we could potentially have this year.”
“We want to go forward and we want to score goals,” LeBlanc said. “Sometimes it leaves us exposed to the counter attack, but without risk there’s no reward.”
Ian Thomson is a freelance soccer reporter and founder of The Soccer Observer Web site. Follow him on Twitter at @SoccerObserver.