Missouri Military Academy boys soccer coach Liam Collins has an especially rough go of things when you think about it because he is on campus all year round.
But, when the Fighting Colonels held their intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday, that was day six of the team training together in preparation for the 2018-19 season. That's not the same amount of time every other program in the state has to work with, but that's the time frame that's in play at MMA, so Collins makes it work.
"This was just an intrasquad scrimmage to end our first week of preseason. Some things good. Some things not so good, but definitely a lot of potential after just six days," Collins said. "With our type of school, we've got new guys arriving everyday. We had three new kids arrive tonight. Hitting the ground running is the tough part. Get them in, introduce themselves and go play quickly so we can see if they can or can't and see if we can try and blend the team together a lot quicker than other schools do."
The soccer team at MMA has more players than the football team. Because of the way the game is played, that means this squad has tremendous depth. Events like this are often used to at least start determining who starts and who doesn't, and at least some of the starting positions seem to have players Collins has in mind for those spots.
"I told the guys before the game that you make sure you put your name in for show, whether it's being a starting varsity player or being on the varsity roster or being the best JV player," said Collins. "Show up tonight because it's the first real chance to do it in a game form."
The group that's going to anchor the varsity this season are the players that are returning from last year. Even though the Fighting Colonels did lose Donald Williams to graduation, Collins was more focused on what he did have as opposed to what he didn't.
"Kenny Kazura looked good tonight on the wing. Gabriel Velasquez did too in the midfield. Those two guys there are fit, eager and ready to go," Collins said. "They should be exciting this year I think."
Because Collins doesn't adjust his system from one year to the next, it's those who can adapt to what he does who get to see the field the most. At the same time, when you consider the fact he just met three new players earlier that day, learning so many new names so quickly might make it hard to commit them all to memory right away.
"There's a few new guys who stood out, but it's tough to pinpoint any because a lot of them are, in fact, just so new," said Collins. "I'll have a better idea about that at this time next week. Once I see them for another week of practice I'm sure we'll see some guys push towards the top."
The format for this intrasquad scrimmage was Blue vs. White and the time limit was one-40 minute period that ended in a 2-2 tie. Collins served as the only official, fouls were called and free kicks were issued, though only one actually had to be assessed during the course of this event.
"We're going to be just as aggressive this year as we were last year. Tonight being an intrasquad scrimmage and us being a couple weeks away from playing a real game I told the guys to stay away from things like sliding tackles," Collins said. "I needed them to keep things at maybe 90 and not 100 percent because we need all our guys healthy and we don't need any silly injuries going into next week."
On a squad where the cultural makeup can change drastically from one season to the next, one factor that appears to be somewhat different for the Colonels this year is that they appear to have lost some of their ability to elude opposing teams by communicating via the Spanish language. For Collins that's a change that he doesn't feel truly effects much of what happens on the field because the system is always the same, so it's a change that he's not concerned by.
"I don't really care where the guys come from. As long as they communicate and are on the same page on the field, I don't really care what language they're speaking," said Collins. "As long as they're on the same page. I think predominanatly this year it's more English speaking, where as last year a lot of our lineup was Spanish speaking as a first language. As I don't speak Spanish, this is a little bit easier. It's the same difference really. They've all been pretty good in how they communicate."
When it comes to Collins' style of play, that comes from a very specific background that began growing up in Ireland. He then came to the United States to play soccer for the University of Memphis prior to becoming a college coach.
"Rather than playing long ball, I'd rather try and get the guys down in the final third, the attacking third where they can be free with the ball. They can be creative," Collins said. "They can try and do things to create opportunities. Defensively I like my guys to be tough and hard to score against. On the attacking side of things I want the guys to express themselves. That's the best way to do it. Defensive third and midfield, they're tough to beat and tough tackling."
Once the soccer scrimmage was complete all of the cadets and parents in attendance moved over tom watch the football team play its intrasquad scrimmage on the next field over. After that everyone met at the fieldhouse where they barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs.
"Then, in the final third when we get the ball, be as creative as you like. That gives them the freedom to express themselves," said Collins. "Last season we lost in the district finals on penalty kicks. This year our goals is to go to (win the district title), basically. One step further than we went last year. We'd like to get that championship and then keep going, but winning the district is number one."