Men’s soccer remains humble, focused during winning streak

The Oakland men’s soccer team started the season in rough fashion, going 0-5-0. Since that time, the team is 6-0-1, with wins over Ohio State and Horizon League Rival University of Detroit Mercy.

Head coach Eric Pogue, forward Joey Tinnion and center-back Cody Archibald have played a huge part in the team’s success.

Is there anything in particular that you can attribute to your team’s turnaround? What are some things you’ve noticed about your team in the wins that you didn’t see early in the season?

Pogue: The turnaround of our team over the last three weeks can be best attributed to a refocus from our entire team on the core principles of team defending and being a very difficult team to score goals on. Our staff made a few systematic adjustments and some personnel decisions that have helped as well. Overall, the team, staff and player buy-in has been first class and just focusing on one game at a time.

How do you keep the spirits high after a slow start, especially after a loss during homecoming to Incarnate Word? As seniors what do you try to do?

Pogue: The team was obviously extremely disappointed after the Homecoming game vs Incarnate Word, as we knew we were a far better team than our record indicated, but 0-5 is 0-5 no matter how you look at it. Credit to the team, as they never made excuses and the start of Horizon League play allowed us to get refocused on a new season, the one that matters most.

I’ve told a lot of people that ask, that not many horses that win the Kentucky Derby are leading at the quarter pole. It’s how we continue to improve and get stronger throughout the season that will help us compete for a Horizon League title and NCAA tournament selection, which are the ultimate goals for our program.

Tinnion: Cody and I are both seniors and in our first three seasons here, we haven’t always started off strong. Last year, we began 0-2-2 for example. So we just tried to keep the younger guys on board and tell them that Oakland soccer has recovered from slow starts so many times. As long as we all stick together, we are more than talented to turn this year around as well. Plus, the conference games are a whole new season. And, our first five games were all out of conference.

Archibald: In past years, we’ve had rocky starts and maintaining a positive mindset and an effort to work hard is critical to rebounding. So after our rough start this year, we thought it was important that the younger guys understood that games that were out of the regular season weren’t as important as conference games. Once conference starts, it’s a whole new season. 

What has Coach Pogue done with the team through this transition from being down to being victorious?

Archibald: Coach Pogue and the coaching staff have stayed positive this whole season and have done extremely well with helping us stay positive. Coach Pogue has made it a priority that we defend as a whole team, and I think that’s something that has helped us with our recent success. 

Tinnion: Coach Pogue has done a very good job keeping morale high even when games weren’t going our way. Another thing is that the entire coaching staff has been working with us on team defending. Its a way of defending with every single player on the field, not just the back line. Defending starts with the forwards. This team defending has been a huge reason for success.

What do you plan to work on going forward to keep the momentum going? What do you expect the rest of the Horizon League season?

Pogue: We are halfway through the Horizon League season after four games and sitting at 3-0-1 and sole possession of first place that includes wins over UDM and CSU on the road, Green Bay at home and a tie versus defending league champion UIC, so we are in good shape.

Having said that, we still have four tough games remaining in league play at Milwaukee, home to Belmont and Wright State and finish the season away to Valpo, so we still have a long road ahead us. Throw in some great matches home versus Michigan State and away versus Michigan these next two weeks and we should be well-prepared and battle-tested for the Horizon League Tournament in mid-November.

Archibald: Going forward it’s important that we stay humble and focus on the main goal, winning the conference tournament. As a team, we need to continually work to limit our opponents scoring opportunities and to capitalize on ours. These past few weeks we’ve played really well, if we continue to work hard and stay focused I think we’ll be able to have an NCAA championship birth.

Tinnion: We need to stay humble going forward. Sure, we have won a few games in a row, but we are nowhere near being done with our goals. We want to win the conference regular season, win the conference tournament and make some noise in the NCAA tournament. If we fall asleep for 10 seconds in any one of our remaining games, we could jeopardize all of our goals.  

Did any of the new players (freshman/recruits) make an impact? Did they have an adjustment period?

Pogue: Our new players, freshman and transfers, have all played a role in our turnaround in their own way, whether it be on the game or training field. There is always a big adjustment from high school to college or from one college to another. Not just athletically, but also academically and socially.

Wes Mink has really come on strong in goal in Horizon League play, Austin Ricci has a huge upside and brings a dynamic attacking threat off the bench for us and Gerald Ben … it’s just a matter of time before he breaks out for a big end of the season push.

What are some things you are working on now, and like to see your team get better at? 

Pogue: The way the games come so fast, basically every Wednesday and Saturday throughout October, it’s really about rest and recovery and being as fresh and healthy as can be for each game. We aren’t changing much at this stage, as our formula has proved successful. We want to continue to defend well as a team, limit opportunities for our opponent, play with high energy and intensity and be opportunistic with our scoring chances.

Any other comments you think is crucial about team and any further messages you’d like to deliver?

Pogue: The credit to the turnaround over these last three weeks goes to the players and our staff for continuing to believe and work hard each and every day at the process to improve towards our end goals of a Horizon League title and NCAA tournament berth. We’ve had years where we started off great in September and faltered down the stretch in October and November.

No doubt this team’s character was tested during a difficult time of adversity for our program and we came out stronger on the other side. As a team, we are all very aware that we are only as good as our last performance.

Oakland plays Horizon League newcomer Belmont this Saturday at 7 p.m. The Golden Grizzlies currently stand alone at the top of the Horizon League standings.