Given the recent struggles for the St. Helens High boys soccer program, it might sound a bit funny to hear Clark Lawrence talk about his new coaching assignment as one he has aspired to take on.
"It's just something that I've been wanting to do for a while," Lawrence says. "I enjoy the scene. I enjoy working with the guys, helping them understand what's going on."
A former Lions soccer player who has occasionally helped in a volunteer capacity in recent years, Lawrence understands the challenge ahead as the new varsity head coach for Lions boys soccer.
He knows that simply winning a match or two would be a significant experience. There have been a couple of ties, but the last time St. Helens won a varsity boys soccer match was on Oct. 27, 2015, a 2-0 victory over Sandy in the final game of that season.
Three winless seasons means the Lions have not won a varsity game while any of this fall's seniors have been at the school.
"The biggest thing I've seen when I've watched their team is physically they're not far behind. They have similar skill sets, for the most part, as a lot of the other teams," Lawrence says.
What the Lions have lacked, he says, is tactical cohesiveness, the understanding of the roles various positions play for successful teams. The knowledge is not there.
"I've got a program I'm going to run them through, a crash course of what they need to know to understand what we're trying to do with the ball and without the ball," Lawrence says. "The big thing is knowledge. One of the other big things is communication. We're trying to increase that both on and off the field."
A connection between the high school program and the FC Columbia County youth teams is one part of getting St. Helens soccer on solid footing, Lawrence says.
A 2007 St. Helens High graduate, Lawrence grew up playing youth soccer in St. Helens and played three years of varsity soccer for the Lions. He played defensive midfield as a sophomore, forward as a junior and attacking central midfield as a senior.
"I have a good basis for (understanding) all of the positions and what I want them to be able to do because I've played all of them except goalie," Lawrence says.
Kelly Kline will return as the junior varsity coach.
Neil Ford will be among those assisting Lawrence with coaching this fall. Lawrence also names his younger brother, Sam, and a former St. Helens High teammate, Aaron Paulson, who played college soccer at Corban University from 2007-10, as two he hopes can contribute their experience to the program.
Among the more experienced players in the program entering the 2019 season is Jimmy Lopez, who projects as a defensive midfielder and a team leader.
Other returning players who are expected to take on important roles are Cameron Sexton in midfield and Nick Brooks, who did not play last season. Michael Aguilar will anchor what Lawrence called a "much improved" back line. Attacking players include Kaleb Edwards and winger Waylon Nichols.
A graduate of Oregon State, where he played intramural soccer, Lawrence has served for five seasons as an assistant coach for the St. Helens boys golf team.
He works for the family business, Lawrence Oil.
During Portland Timbers games at Providence Park, Lawrence is on the sideline near the fourth official as the event observer for MLS. In that role, he watches for violations of league operations policy. He reports on a long checklist of items, including sponsorship signage on scoreboards and watching for participants wearing items not approved by the league (such as brands in competition with a MLS sponsor).
Positive reinforcement is important to Lawrence. A friend recently went to work for the Positive Coaching Alliance, which offers workshops, tips and tools for coaches and parents of youth and high school athletes, and Lawrence intends to use some of that nonprofit organization's tools.
"We haven't had anybody (from St. Helens) go play college soccer for something like 12 years," Lawrence says.
Playing soccer for St. Helens High "should be for fun. We want to compete, but (winning) is not the most important thing. It's developing good attributes and focusing on being able to keep their grades up."
It's also about enjoying the experience.
"As long as we can keep it fun, I'm going to be happy for the most part," he says.
It's not much fun being outscored 102-10, as the 2018 Lions were.
Style-wise, Lawrence wants to build a program that values possession. But his first priority will be teaching positional responsibility.
"In the next few years, I want to put together a nice counterattack, because that's got to fit the understanding and the personnel that we have," Lawrence says. "Being defensively sound will be an attribute of all the teams that we have — understanding defensively what we need to do. Because if the other team doesn't score, you're never going to lose."
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