Lions still looking to shed two difficult seasons with two different coaches, coaching styles

Photo Credit: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - The 2014 St. Helens Lions warm up before practice on Aug. 26. New head coach Bob Opperman hopes to lean heavily on his seniors for scoring and to lead the defense, but doesn't rest success on wins and losses.Stepping back into the coaching profession after a 14-year hiatus, Bob Opperman has a big challenge ahead of him: turn around a struggling St. Helens boys’ soccer program that hasn’t amounted to much over the last two seasons.

Opperman, who was originally enlisted to find a new coach before being offered the position, got a late start on tryouts and a later start on practices. He has had only a handful of training sessions ahead of the first game with Barlow. Regardless, Opperman is positive about the upcoming year, and while he declined to set a win total for a successful season, he wants it for the boys as much as anything.

“I think it’s going to come out of our seniors leading the others and bringing them along with them and a desire to get some wins. That wasn’t something the last two years have brought them, and they said they played well last year, especially defensively, but they want to see those W’s coming in there,” he said. “They have the desire, and the juniors last year have turned into seniors, so they’re the leaders of the team and they want that more. I think that’s probably where that will come from.”

    The group is a good mix of upper and lowerclassmen, spearheaded by a core of experienced seniors. Ivan Alcazar will anchor the back line ahead of a pair of rotating goalkeepers.

“He’s a smart player, and he’s running that defense back there for me,” Opperman said. “He talks and he knows where his teammates are going and keeps them in their spots.”

Opperman plans to play from the back and possess the ball up the wings, hoping to space out the defense and open up opportunities to make plays in space. The team has taken to the new philosophy so far, and Opperman is optimistic about their ability to score.

“The game of soccer is a possession game. You’ve got to have the ball. You don’t have the ball, you don’t score,” Opperman said. “I think that’s what we’re going to do is try to keep the field wide, make them work harder than we’re working, and then bring it in to – it doesn’t matter who’s up there, our midfielders or our strikers – we’ll try to get it in to them.”

“We’ve worked on that a lot, using the whole field,” he said. “I told them, with any luck and anything going on, they will have to come out to get you. It should open up some offense for us up front.”

The weight of the season rests on the senior class, who have formed a tight-knit group over the last several seasons. Opperman said he doesn’t know when the first victory will come, but it will feel awfully good and serve as an excellent motivator.

Individually, Opperman said he can see talent in the players he has to work with, but the challenge will be in putting everything together into a successful format.

“All the players have got great skill, and they’re strong players,” he said. “We’ll design our game around that. That’s how we’re going to do it, we’ll design our team and our game around that.”

The first match is a steep challenge, taking on 6A power Barlow to kick off the season. The ever-positive Opperman didn’t pull many punches when it came to the difficulty they’d face right off the bat, saying that he fully expected to hang in for three quarters but fade as the game wound on and Barlow’s experience and depth did their work for them.

Regardless, it’s not the wins and losses that matter. Opperman simply wants to see each athlete grow as a soccer player and as a person in his program, a person who wants to return the next season to continue playing. An influx of youth is a good sign, according to Opperman, who plans to stay as long as St. Helens needs him to fill the position.

“There’s a lot of standouts, and until we get against some actual competition, we won’t know how it’s going to work for us on the field,” he said. “There may be some adjustments to make on the field as far as position, but other than that, I think that we’ve got some good freshmen coming in that are going to play some varsity this year.”

The Lions will kick off the league schedule on Sept. 30 with a home game against Parkrose.

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