A slow start to the season isn’t the end of the world to the Red Deer Renegades soccer team, who are off to an 0-3-0 start to the 2016 Alberta Major Soccer League season.
Red Deer’s highest level women’s soccer team is in rebuilding mode this season after losing several key players to NCAA and CIS scholarships in the off season last year.
“We’re building things up and there’s lots of improvement and lots of room to improve,” said Renegades’ Head Coach Paul Morigeau, adding that while the results have not gone their way over the past three games, there is still lots to be optimistic about.
“Results-wise we’ve lost our games but every game we seem to be in it longer and we have better spells of play. We’re just trying to put it all together.”
It hasn’t been easy for the Renegades, though.
After joining the elite league last season and competing at a fairly high level, the Renegades lost a two key players, including starting goalkeeper Anne Marie Ulliac, to NCAA scholarships this year and lost several others to CIS programs and rival squads.
In fact, according to Morigeau, about 13 of the 18 main squad players are new to major league.
“There’s lots of young players and other players that are inexperienced and they’re learning how difficult the top level is. But that’s our program, that’s the way it works,” Morigeau said, adding starting fresh is not entirely uncommon for the Red Deer team.
“It’s the way it goes in Red Deer. Players tend to get scholarships out of Red Deer. Your better players, the better they do the more likely you’re going to lose them because they move to Edmonton or Calgary and get scholarships there, or even into the States. We lost two players to NCAA scholarships. And generally they don’t come back. That’s kind of the way it goes when you live in a smaller centre like Red Deer.”
In larger centres like Calgary and Edmonton, this isn’t the case because players with scholarships who play at the university level tend to stick around and play for their local club team during the off season. The two larger centres also have a much bigger area that they can draw talent from, which also plays a role.
But that doesn’t mean the Red Deer team hasn’t been able to impress at points throughout the first three games.
“We’re keeping the ball better. In soccer that’s nine-tenths of the law, to keep possession and get the ball moved up the field. It’s difficult to do but it’s getting better. We’re keeping it more, we’re getting good opportunities to score, which is important,” said Morigeau.
The only problem has been finishing off those scoring plays, as the Red Deer side has yet to score a goal.
“We’re getting the ball inside the 18, we’re getting breakaways and open nets. But we’re not putting them in, so that’s kind of the downside of it. But if you’re not even getting opportunities there’s less room for hope. So there’s lots of room for hope, we’ve just got to bear down and our younger players have got to just find the time to get used to having less time and having stronger players against them.”
Last weekend, he said, was a perfect example of this as the Renegades hosted Edmonton Northwest United at Edgar Park on Saturday.
“They’re a very strong team. The first half we weren’t really competing as well as we needed to against them. They’re very physical and their players really move the ball quickly. The second they win the ball they’ve got players going and we just weren’t reacting in our transition quickly enough,” said Morigeau, adding his team responded well in the second half.
“We made some good adjustments in the second half. The first half they scored four and in the second half they just scored one. We still were getting good opportunities to score but we kind of put ourselves in a hole. We came out of that game, based on the second half, pretty confident.”
Morigeau said the next step is to continue working with the players and get in a position to start finishing some of those chances.
“You make a list of things that you need to work on. Every game there’s a list and sometimes, as it goes, your list gets a bit shorter. There’s no shortcuts. Basic defending, individual defending, team defending, possession of the ball. All those little things that we really can’t take for granted that the other teams can,” he said, adding the players, many of who played and excelled at the high school level this year, are responding well.
“We’re not unhappy at all. It’s the way it goes and we accept that. The players know what they’re getting in for. Most of the teams we play, their bench is full of university and AA players and we’re proud to compete with them.”