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Tournaments Mar 19, 2013

New Jersey Stallions Dynamite breaks through at Jefferson Cup, Q&A with coach Shaun Cryer

By Jimmy LaRoue

RICHMOND, Va. – The third time was the charm for the New Jersey Stallions Dynamite.

The Under-15 girls team, having lost in the 2011 Jefferson Cup final to Ashburn ASC, and then falling last year in an epic 11-round penalty kick shootout, made sure penalties weren’t necessary Sunday, getting an early first half goal from Tomi Kennedy and holding off Florida No. 1 Tampa Bay United Premier 97 1-0 on a soggy afternoon to take the Under-15 Championship title.

The win for the Dynamite catapults them back to the overall No. 1 spot in the nation, according to the GotSoccer rankings.

Addressing his team as they were receiving their championship trophy and medals, Dynamite coach Shaun Cryer let the parents know that he told his team at the start of the previous week that they wouldn’t win this year’s Jefferson Cup, saying they lacked the conditioning and depth.

“When you’re getting older and obviously going into college showcases, it’s not so much about the team winning, but about the individuals performing,” Cryer said, “and I feel like there were a number of – if anyone’s watching that game, the way we handled the ball, the way we support the ball, the confidence on the ball, that’s going to get us the ultimate success in the end where players are going to go to the right places.

“Obviously, colleges aren’t recruiting teams. They’re recruiting individuals. And I can honestly say that, as a team full of individuals there that came together and played a great game, and played a great game individually as well. They all showcased exactly what they’re all about, and I’m very proud of you.”

In an interview with following the celebration, Cryer discussed the final, and further expanded on the beginning of the recruiting cycle for his players. It’s a breakthrough for you here at the Jefferson Cup.

Shaun Cryer: Yeah, we’ve actually come to this tournament four years in a row, always in the top flight, runner-up for the first three years in a row, then this is the fourth time and we won it. We’ve been under different names in the past.

SW: What was the breakthrough for you?

SC: It was a strange one. We were very controlled from the start of the game. We moved the ball fairly comfortably, and the break came on a good switch of the play, to [winger] Juliana Mascelli, and she took a good, nice touch and crossed the ball in, and it found its way to [forward] Tomi Kennedy in the middle, who’s taking a composed touch and slid it down the side of the goalkeeper to make it 1-nothing. I think we had opportunities thereafter as well, but didn’t quite have the end product on the end of it. It calmed our nerves down to get the early goal and then thankfully, we saw it through.

SW: You had all sorts of different weather and had to play four games in two days. What was the key to outlasting the weekend?

SC: It was a tough one, because last night, we tied a game (with Massapequa SC Crush) when there was 25 minutes left in the game and thunder and lightning stopped the play at 1-1. That really affected us because we were in the ascendency in that game, and we looked like we were going on and winning the game, but a tie meant we had to win this morning (they did, a 2-0 win over Ponte Vedra SC 97/98 Storm Gold of Florida) to advance to the final when really a tie would have done us better today (than yesterday). So we came through a bit of adversity there. We usually do it the hard way anyway, and this morning they came out knowing they had to win the game, so they had a better mentality, probably, and then went on and won the game. The weather’s actually helped us. We’ve been training in this weather outdoors for the last three or four months, so we’re accustomed to it. When the hot weather came out [Saturday] morning, that’s when we started to look more tired. I actually preferred the rain, the slick surface. It’s better for quicker passing. I think it suited us.

SW: So you really told your team you weren’t going to win the Jefferson Cup?

SC: Yeah, mainly because the last two weekends, we put a lot into the games but we looked very tired. After a regular [80] minute game, we looked like we were done. And then to come down here, we only had three subs, and to play four, 40-minute half games, four-80 minute games in two days, was a lot. Looking at the girls over the last two weeks, I didn’t see how it was possible, but they put a lot of conditioning work in the last 10 days. I felt like that was going to take its toll, not help, I think, because I was more focused on us going to the Dallas Cup in two weeks’ time to get us conditioned for that, so I was surprised that we were able to show the character that we did to come through in that manner and only let up one goal throughout the tournament.

SW: What are the strengths of the team that you see right now that are going to help you going forward? What are you looking to build off of this?

SC: It was tough, because we moved from Crush to New Jersey Stallions and, in that transition, we weren’t allowed to go on and compete in the National League, which we were accepted into, so hopefully next year we’re looking to go into the National League again and compete this time and go through the regional championships, as we were regional runners-up last year. So we want to go through that avenue as a team. We’re going to go to Surf Cup in the summer, and we’re going out to Dallas as well. As far as training, we train a lot. We train probably more than any team, maybe four [times per week], three, two-hour sessions and then we train an additional 90-minute session on top of that as well. They’re very focused on individual development. Colleges have already come calling on a consistent basis, so it’s all about the individual. It really is. So you can see with the style of play, we play out from our goalkeeper through our defense, midfield, forward line. I mean, if we lose a game, we lose looking a lot better for it. …

SW: You play the way you want to play, and if it doesn’t work out, at least you’ve gone down swinging with your best.

SC: Yeah. We lost a game in Manhattan two weeks ago (2-0 to Alleycats Blackcats, the top-ranked team in eastern New York). We must have had 95 percent of the ball, and this team caught us on two, long-range shots and they put everyone behind the ball and I told the girls at the end of it, ‘Well, they won the game, but at the same time, if any college coach is looking there, they’re only looking at one team. They’re not looking at the score line there. They’re looking at one set of players. It’s annoying for me as a coach, [because] you want to win, but at the same time, you’ve got to look at the ultimate goal, and it’s to get these players into the right position in the future.

SW: They’re starting to get noticed, even at this age group, as the recruiting has gone younger and younger. How do you prepare them for the recruiting onslaught as it moves forward?

SC: Well, we’ve been on top of that from the start. I sent a barrage of emails on just exactly how to approach a college coach, including information about the actual college themself, knowing that a college is not going to look at you unless you actually reach out to them in the first place, one, because they’re not even allowed to go and do that, but still, even if they come to a field and they’re there on that sideline, they’re only watching the players that have reached out to them because there’s so many people that get in touch with them. I’m always copied on the emails that the kids send out. I reach out to the coaches myself, and I’ll talk about the individual and what they’re all about. So I’m very much on top of that. That’s a full time job for me. Because we’re not doing a lot of the league stuff, we’re actually doing a lot of scrimmage showcasing, so we’ll organize scrimmages with other high-level teams and invite local colleges to come in on a weekly basis. So that’s more our league schedule, which is, again, it doesn’t get us GotSoccer points, but we’re not bothered about that. It’s more about getting coaches and getting them in front of the right people.

SW: Like you said, as a coach you want to win, but you’re also trying to get your players to the next level.

SC: A lot of stuff is geared toward the colleges and the recruitment, and one or two of the girls that are already in that national team setup at the moment, so I’m looking to push that for a few of them because they’ve got a little higher aspiration than just college. All of them are looking to go as high-level as they can, in terms of colleges, and some of them genuinely have that aspiration to go on the national stage.

SW: Talk about the attributes and qualities of your players (Note: Asked to talk about individual players, he said he didn’t want to single anyone out.).

SC: From the forward line, we’ve got extremely skilled players that are very lively in terms of movement, which is a lot, I don’t think, coaches work on in this country, a lot of skill-based and a lot of technical stuff, but they don’t work on the movement to create spaces, like moving away and stepping in, and really working as a combination movement where one’s going in just to create space for the other one in behind. And they’ve got a large understanding, on a forward line, of that. We score more goals against supposed stingy defenses than probably anyone else does because of the understanding of the movement partners within a forward line. So I think we’re intelligent. On the whole, I think the players have got a little bit more intelligence of the actual game and how to create gaps within an opposition defense. And they’ve got the tools to use it as well with reverse, disguise passing. They don’t make passes so obvious that it’s robotic. I always encourage my players to be unpredictable. A lot of clubs will teach a rigid formation, tell one player, with one instruction, to do one thing the whole time, and that’s some of the higher-level clubs in this country. And, to me, that just means you breed in a robot and you’re taking away a lot of creativity. A lot of the players that go to these high-level clubs go there from a high-level [club], or they were the best player on their town team, so they had a lot of creativity in the first place, and then these clubs can often take that creativity away and make them robotic. I’m the opposite. It’s more about seeing a picture. If you’ve got time and space, I want you to use it. If you don’t, I want you to move it out of pressure quickly. If you don’t have an option, I want you to have the tools to be able to provide an option for yourself. So it’s never one thing. It’s learning to realize what’s around you every single time you get the ball and then it’s up to me to try and paint as many pictures as I possibly can, so that when it comes to the game day, they’ve got an understanding. I feel like we’re a very creative team, and some of our best attacking players are our defenders. We always use our defenders, and they’re the ones driving out from the back, and I very rarely see any other team do that. It’s our defenders that are going from back to front, and then the opposition has to come out of position. It’s up to the defenders to find the gaps.

SW: You encourage your team to be unpredictable to prepare them for as many situations as possible.

SC: The other thing is, every practice session I do, I don’t do it for a specific position all the time, so if I’m working on speed dribbling, that speed dribbling is pertinent to any player on the field in any position. So, my central defender, if she receives the ball, and she’s got a gap to drive through, then go through it. Now, yesterday we let up a goal because my central defender got caught in possession, and they went through and scored, and that’s the only goal we let up. I’m not going to shout on the sidelines because she took too many touches. It was a poor decision, because the gap wasn’t there to attack, but the mentality is that she’s a central defender and she wants to go. So every single position on the field, in every session I run, whatever technique I’m working on, is pertinent to that game. I feel like it breeds more creativity from all angles of the field.

SW: So she did something in some respects that you wanted her to do.

SC: Yeah.

SW: But on the other hand, the decision-making…

SC: You coach the decision-making, but not the mentality. The mentality was great to go, but the decision-making was poor in that instance.

SW: Last thing. You’ve obviously been back here several times.  And weather aside, talk about your experience here at the Jefferson Cup.

SC: We know the Jefferson Cup is the biggest tournament on the East Coast, for sure, and it’s one of the top two or three in the country. This is a big focal point of our year. It’s immediately on our calendar, something we look forward to. We’ve always been the nearly team in the past. The experience–there’s an aura around the place, this whole facility. This is the second year we’ve been here (at Striker Park). We know when we walk into this facility, it’s a tough environment to be in, and if you’re not on top of your game, you’re going to come away unstuck. Every time, we look forward to it. It’s a seven-and-a-half hour journey, and no one can not be bothered to come down here. It’s a tournament that we will come back to for the next few years as well, and the reason being is because it guarantees competition. The quality of the fields are always very good. And that’s all we really want to do. We want to play on quality fields. We want to play against the best opposition there is available, and hopefully we get some experience out of it by the end. So that’s it.

SW: And it’s going to give your team the kind of tests they’ll need by playing in the top brackets to showcase for the college coaches.

SC: Without a doubt. A top tournament like this attracts the best coaches, and the most high-profile coaches to come look at [our girls] as well. You’re definitely putting your girls in front of a short window, and that’s obviously the main focal point.

New Jersey Stallions Dynamite roster: 

Kelly LaMorte (GK) 55
Sarah Schweinberg 15
Shannon Burns 29
Kristen Vinciguerra 22
Amalya Johnson 17
Sarah Kelly 4
Juliana Mascelli 14
Mikaela Heyboer 23
Jillian Vassallo 10
Casey Richards 5
Sophia Gulati 13
Erin Spillane 8
Samantha Rosette 7
Tomi Kennedy 32
Ida Di Clemente 11
Delaney Suarez 18