The revival may have been small in terms of ascension in the Northwest Conference team standings – from seventh to sixth – but the positives far outweighed the negatives in Year 1 of a new era for Linfield men’s soccer.
First-year head coach Chuck Bechtol returned to his alma mater ready to make big changes. But in the midst of a sub-.500 (7-11) season, he adopted a more patient attitude and grew to appreciate the transformations he was able to bring about.
“I started to realize it’s more of a rebuilding process than just being able to come in and turn the corner right away,” he said. “But I think we did a good job of taking steps in the right direction.
“The biggest stride we made this year was with the culture. Part of it is just a learning process of how to win games and being put into a situation of being tested.”
While tending to focus more on the intangibles, Linfield’s newest coach did cite this year’s increased offensive production as a positive sign for a program whose last winning season came in 2007.
“You hate to put a lot of faith in numbers, but this is directionally the way we want to go.”
The stats don’t lie. Improvements on the offensive (29 goals in 2012, 6 in 2011) and defensive (36 goals allowed in 2012, 41 in 2011) ends of the field translated into more than triple the number of victories from last season (7-11 in 2012, 2-14-1 in 2011).
Even in the games they lost, the ‘Cats stayed competitive, dropping six matches by a one-goal differential and getting shut down in just one (a 6-1 loss to UC-Santa Cruz).
Eight different players scored for Linfield, including Domenico Del Prete (team-high 10 goals). The freshman also led the league in scoring, a feat that earned him first team all-league recognition.
Another newcomer to the Wildcat program, sophomore transfer Jake Baker, tallied six goals and a team-high four assists. Baker and two other offensive players – Tyler Repic and Harper Taylor – received honorable mention recognition on the all-league team. Danny Snelgrow scored four times and experienced a tremendous amount of growth both on and off the field.
Defensively, honorable mention Brad Dupea anchored the back line in his fourth year as a starter. Chris Musser, a freshman, started 15 of 17 matches. Keepers Scott Goodman (3-5, 2.24 goals against average) and Grant Loriaux (4-6, 1.79 GAA) split time between the pipes.
In terms of adjusting to the regime change, the ‘Cats “did a great job of buying in and not having their defenses up,” Bechtol said. “They were open to change and open to a different style from what they were used to playing.”
Two players in particular, Michael Swain and Emerson Morris-North, were asked to play out of position but accepted their roles and did a good job learning the ropes in a “trial by fire” situation.
After sitting in fourth place at the midway point of the season, the Wildcats had tumbled to sixth by the final weekend of NWC action. Linfield won five games against four different league foes: Whitman, George Fox (twice), Pacific and defending champion Pacific Lutheran, but compiled just a 1-7 record against the league’s top four clubs.
“There are some good teams in this league and it’s very difficult to be successful day in and day out if you’re not doing things right,” Bechtol said. “But we’re on the right track.”