Dan Stratford’s first year as the gaffer for West Virginia men’s soccer hasn’t exactly started as planned.
Upon his return to Morgantown, the former Mountaineer player looked forward to acclimating himself to his squad with what was supposed to be a spring season of five matches. After the first one however, everything came to a halt.
“I have the opinion that you can be incredibly productive during the spring semester,” Stratford explained. “I know of other coaches and others in the business that maybe disregard this time, or perhaps don’t stress as much emphasis on this time, but I think of obviously the coaching change and me being new to the program, we had a clear vision of what we wanted this spring to look like and without a doubt that has been disrupted.”
It is not lost on Stratford that his team is part of an entire country which has seen their spring disrupted, which he says makes it easier to roll with the punches. But as he noted, this part of the calendar was particularly integral for him and his staff bring a new culture and style to the squad early.
Stratford’s approach to these unforeseen circumstances haven’t revolved around soccer, but rather the wellness of his student-athletes. The main focus, he says, was for his players to get through the rest of their academics for the semester while keeping themselves occupied.
It hasn’t been until the last few weeks that their attention has turned to the sport.
“I’ve always been an advocate for tactical videos and things of that nature so the students have an incredible amount of access to those types of things right now, and other video tools and learning tools that we’ve had in place for some time, thankfully,” he said.
Like many sports on campus, Stratford’s roster hails from all over the world, which presents a unique set of challenges. In the case of Barcelona native Pau Jimenez Albelda, Stratford says he was just recently allowed to run a kilometer around his block, rather than just up and down the staircase in his apartment.
The newfound downtime for his student-athletes have also presented them the opportunity to take up new hobbies, such as learning a new language or getting a referee license.
While they did miss four matches from the spring, Stratford and the Mountaineers did get one shot on the pitch — a 0-1 loss to UMBC.
“I really felt like that was going to be a platform for something to build on and show that what they had shown in training could translate when it came to a gameday…and obviously a different opponent as to playing against one another in training,” Stratford said. “So we really would have benefitted from having those additional fixtures and showing the learning curve and progress that not only we would have made tactically but what they would have made in terms of their levels of confidence.”
Those lost fixtures are surely frustrating for the young coach — but he is choosing to look at the situation as his first bout with adversity.
“To…express frustration and things like that, these were circumstances that were beyond my control and you just kind of have to accept it and move on and deal with that adversity as best you can.”