September 1, 2010

New Soccer Assistant Coach T.J. Love Focuses on Midfielder Attack

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The Sun: Can you tell me about your experiences before Cornell, specifically with the Southern Tier New York Soccer Club?

T.J. Love: Initially, the first club that I worked for was the Schuyler Scorpions from Watkins Glen, N.Y. It’s a smaller club and I mostly worked with U-13 and U-14 boys. Then, last year I moved on to the Elmira Soaring Capital Soccer Club in Elmira, N.Y. –– it’s a bigger club. My team was U-15 boys and we played at the New York State Premier level and competed in the New York State Three-Way League, which consists of teams from Buffalo all the way to Albany.

Sun: What did you work on with those teams?

T.J.L.: With the younger kids it’s completely different than with college. With the 13- and 14-year-olds we were working on technical stuff and slowly incorporating tactical soccer concepts for them to work on to build onto when they turned 15, 16 and 17.

Sun: And then you worked with Keuka College and Elmira College?

T.J.L.: Yup, actually at Elmira College last year I was the second assistant and goalkeeper coach with the women’s team, and most of the time I would work with the keepers. Something that we needed to do with them is incorporate them into the team concept so a lot of the stuff I was working on was using them as support players, getting them to communicate with their back line, stuff like that … at Keuka I was there for the offseason so I was there and I did camps with the head coach Matt Tantalo and Adam Robinson.

Sun: What are you focusing on here at Cornell? You’re just working with the men’s team, right?

T.J.L.: Yup, I’m just working with the men’s team, and really the way we have it split up is that we’re all trying to implement [head coach Jaro Zawislan]’s philosophy, and that’s just high pressure, high tempo soccer –– something that helped them improve last year and something that will help us win this year.

Sun: How would you say your previous experiences have helped you with working on this?

T.J.L.: Previously? Just working with the college athletes, working with Elmira (even though it was with the women’s team) –– there’s still a lot of similarities just working with the college athlete in the college atmosphere. It’s much different than the youth or club atmosphere, so just working with the women last year at Elmira helped prepare me to step into this position, and working with the two coaches at Keuka also prepared me to step into this position and just be able to relate to the college athletes and understand both where they’re coming from and what they need as players is just different than what the youth kids need as players. They need more management than they need learning the technical abilities or learning the tactical aspects of soccer so it’s just stepping it up a notch.

Sun: Do you have a concentration or focus on the field, like working specifically with the offense or is it just everyone blended together?

T.J.L.: When we do split up and do phase or functional play in practice sessions, I tend to gravitate towards the midfielders because I played midfield and forward in college. Coach Comfort is our goalkeeper coach and [Coach Zawislan] also has a great background in working with keepers, while [Coach Schneck] tends to deal with the defense. That said, that can always change because I have experience working with the flat back four in defense and [Schneck] is also an attacking-minded player and he has experience with the mids, so for now I’m working with the mids but that can all change depending on what’s needed throughout the course of the season.

Sun: With the midfielders so far, what has your plan of attack been? What are the strategies that you’re trying to implement?

T.J.L.: We’re really trying to get them to open up and attack as quickly as possible, so when they receive the ball we want them to look to make a penetrating pass or look to shoot. If that’s not on, we want them to look to be able to attack players one-on-one on the outside and get the ball down the field for dangerous crosses in the box. So really, through the outside and central midfielders we’re working on speed of play and … work the ball from our backs to our attackers.

Sun: How receptive would you say the players are to the adjustment to this style of coaching?

T.J.L.: The returning players have done it last year so it’s more or less getting the younger players to get up to speed. The players come in and we’re trying to get them on the college pace and it’s good. They don’t have a lot of time to think in our midfield or training sessions so we’re getting them to ingrain it into their reactions, so: boom, something happens and they’re reacting to it or anticipating it, thinking ahead. So it’s really more of a mentality –– we’re trying to get them to think ahead, play ahead and push the ball as quick as possible.

Sun: And so far would you say that you’ve seen an improvement?

T.J.L.: Yeah, from the first practice anywhere, they’re just getting the touch back on the ball … so from the first practice to now it’s definitely improved. Our speed of play has gotten better with each practice and our anticipation and looking to play in the space quickly has gotten better in each practice.

Sun: How has your personal experience at Cornell been so far?

T.J.L.: This would be my 16th or 17th day so I’ve been here for a little over two weeks and I love all the aspects about it. When I was at Elmira I got a little bit of the management aspect, working in the office and doing a little bit of that, but here at Cornell I’m hands on, I’m doing everything. So I’m working really closely with [Schneck] as an assistant and doing as much as I can with him off the field –– which I really enjoy because you get to see what’s going on behind the scenes and do all that stuff. Then on the field it’s pretty much the same thing: coaching.

Sun: What was your own college experience like, where did you play?

T.J.L.: When I played in college I actually played one year at Corning Community College in Corning, N.Y. and then I transferred to Daemen College in Buffalo, N.Y., which is an AMC NAIA Division II school so it’s not NCAA.

Sun: How is it working with Coach Zawislan and Coach Comfort and everyone here? How’s the atmosphere?

T.J.L.: [Zawislan] is phenomenal; his energy and passion for the game is just contagious. You see him and you see how much he puts in and it makes you want to put in more effort and more energy and become a better coach. I really enjoy working with him; he’s great. And working with [Comfort] is great, too; he has so much experience. He coached at UC Davis and also coached at Colgate and he has a ton of experience coaching local high school soccer up in the Syracuse area. He just brings a whole different background and different experiences where I’m continuing to learn from both of them, and it’s just great being around both of those coaches. [Schneck] as well –– he’s really been teaching me the ropes of the Division I college game.

Sun: Would you say that it’s easier for you to connect with the players considering you’re younger?

T.J.L.: I don’t necessarily think it’s easier, I think it’s different … I can relate to them in an aspect in that four or five years ago I was in the same boat that they were whereas [Zawislan and Comfort] are years removed from their playing days in college compared to [Schneck and I]. We can relate to a lot of the stresses of the college atmosphere –– classwork first, how intense practices can be –– so we can relate to the students and talk to them about it.

Sun: Finally, what are your expectations for the first game? Are you looking forward to it?

T.J.L.: It’s extremely exciting. This will be my first Division I soccer game as an assistant coach so I’m really looking forward to it and the whole season. The travel to all the Ivy League schools and all the non-league schools looks really exciting and I think all the coaches and players are really excited to start out our season at L.I.U. I think that game will be a good game and will set the tone for the rest of the season.

Original Author: Reena Gilani