What's the formula for team chemistry during pandemic? Pilots coach works on answer
With his players spread across the country and beyond, Portland Pilots men's soccer coach Nick Carlin-Voigt is working to build the team chemistry needed when the Pilots next take the field.
"Leading a team virtually is something I don't think any coach has experience in," Carlin-Voigt said.
Carlin-Voigt's team got through about half of its spring schedule before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the university and the sports world.
As players returned home, an online community was established for meetings and individual interaction with coaches.
"Guys are still competing. Our guys still want to learn," Carlin-Voigt said.
The conditioning and skills work varies from player to player. Some are able to get outside for a workout. Those in areas harder hit by COVID-19 don't have that option "but are still able to get work in. Outside or inside, they still have to get the heart rate up" while training, Carlin-Voigt said. "The players' individual drive in terms of improving continues."
The Pilots were able to play four spring matches, facing the Vancouver Whitecaps under-23 team, reserve teams for Minnesota United and the New England Revolution, and Portland Timbers 2. Spring matches against three college opponents were canceled.
With the turnover in college soccer — UP expects to have about a dozen players join the program in 2020 — Carlin-Voigt said the spring sessions are critical learning opportunities. Of course, every college program is facing the same challenges.
Carlin-Voigt said not seeing his players in person daily, and keeping tabs on the their coursework and lives, is difficult.
"The intimate campus culture that makes Portland special, that part is gone. But we're still supporting each other," he said.
He recently met virtually with his team's leadership group, and they have held one team-wide meeting via online conferencing.
Carlin-Voigt said he thinks the 2020 Pilots will be talented. He is still working — using phone calls and email — to complete the incoming class. He knows there might be added challenges, especially for players from other countries and for incoming freshmen who have had college-entrance exams such as the SAT canceled.
Portland has announced eight of what Carlin-Voigt hopes will be about a dozen newcomers for 2020. Those additions include freshman defenders Kevin Bonilla, Jacob McDaniel and Deryk Jones, freshman forwards Jacob Babalai and Buba Fofanah, sophomore goalkeeper Lute Lillo-Potero, junior forward Jason Reyes and graduate transfer wingback Paul Odendahl.
A right back, Bonilla is a highly-rated product of the FC Dallas academy who has played in the United Soccer League for North Texas SC and for the United States under-20 national team.
Fofanah, out of Carpenteria, California, was one of 125 boys selected to the 2019 Allstate All-America team after his junior season.
Reyes is a transfer from Kentucky who was the Conference USA freshman of the year in 2018, when he scored eight goals. He assisted on the Wildcats' first goal against Portland in the second round of the 2018 NCAA tournament.
Odendahl is a native of Meerbusch, Germany who played three games last season for Coastal Carolina (including in a match at Portland) after transferring from Tyler Junior College.
Babalai and McDaniel are local products. A forward, Babalai starred at Portland Christian High before playing as a senior at West Linn. A defender out of Liberty High, McDaniel was the Pacific Conference player of the year in 2019 and a first-team Class 6A all-state selection.
Lillo-Portero is a 6-2 Spanish goalkeeper who played 20 games at Stetson last fall.
The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic might postpone efforts to change college men's soccer to a fall-spring season. A proposal to make that change has been scheduled to be voted on by the NCAA in April. Momentum appeared to be building for the change — which Carlin-Voigt has vocally supported. Carlin-Voigt now isn't certain the proposal will be voted on this spring. The disruption to college sports because of the coronavirus makes it less likely the NCAA will approve a significant change to the men's soccer season.
Carlin-Voigt said the silver lining to this disruption is spending more time than he could in a normal spring with his wife and daughter.
He said his message to his team and his approach to this crisis is summed up with three tenants: "Look forward. Be safe. Be kind to each other."
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