In our latest edition of the ongoing Coach’s Corner series, our own Nate Abaurrea sat down with North County Battalion Head Coach Ryan Guy. The Battalion take on Deportivo Coras of Riverside on Saturday night, the match kicking off at 7 PM at Del Norte Stadium in the northern reaches of San Diego.
The two teams will be battling one another at Del Norte for the second time in just ten days, the Battalion doing just enough on June 29th for a 1-1 draw, that result keeping them in second place in the NPSL Southwest Conference standings, just a single point above Coras in third. That vital second place finish meant this playoff game would be played in San Diego, as opposed to Coras’ home field at UC Riverside. The two teams drew in both regular season encounters, both times by identical 1-1 scorelines. There must be a winner this time around.
Nate Abaurrea: “Playoff time, coach. How about it?”
Ryan Guy: “I love it. It’s a fresh start. You’ve got segments of a season, but they all lead up to this. The boys are ready. I’m excited for Saturday.”
NA: “How do you feel about this being a one-off, a true knockout match?”
RG: “Honestly, I think it’s great. We’ve spoken about this a bunch, Nate. You come from a British footballing background, just like myself, and I was privileged to have played in the U.K. for quite a while. This really has the feel of a proper cup-tie, something entirely different from the regular season. It’s old school. Week in week out, we’ve been working on different things, adjusting tactics, playing a few chess matches with other teams, always trying to make the right moves… We’ll still be doing all those things in some fashion, but it’s also win at all costs at this point. That’s a special situation to be in, and not one for the faint of heart.
NA: “How’s the team looking going into this “win at all costs” fixture?”
RG: “In general, we’re looking good. We’re as fit as we’ve been all season. We’re as strong as we’ve been all season. And I think we’re ready to play our best soccer of the season. That’s how it should be. That’s how it’s always been for me as a professional player and as a coach. We should be in better shape than we were three months ago. We should be more focused than we were at the beginning. That’s how the game works. That’s how teams hit strides at the right time, and we need to be in full stride if we’re going to win on Saturday.
One player that will be missing on Saturday is Michael Harrow. He picked up a slight knee injury in training this week. It’s a tough blow for Michael, as he’s come such a long way this season and has truly been an asset for our team. It’s nothing too serious though, and we want him to get another chance to see the field. We’re hoping we all get another chance in the next round of these playoffs.”
NA: “The Battalion were the highest scoring team in the Southwest Conference, with an incredible total of 36 goals in 12 league matches. The Battalion also let in 19, and hit some major defensive speed-bumps through the course of the season. However, the team finished off the regular season with three strong defensive performances, including the final two matches against two NPSL Southwest playoff sides, a 2-0 win against So Cal SC, and of course the 1-1 draw with Coras. With all this in mind, what would you say the style of the Battalion is going into this game?”
RG: “It feels like our entire team could be personified by a boxer. We need to be that all-around fighter, not just a heavyweight throwing haymakers from the opening bell. That was what we were for part of the season, and we paid the price a few times. We scored 36 times, but we let in far too many goals. But we got our legs underneath us as the fights continued, and we became more comfortable playing from the back and possessing in the midfield, while still being a strong and ferocious attacking team. We’ve got the biggest bout yet on Saturday night, and our biggest strength is going to be a balanced attack, and being that all-around fighter.”
NA: “How would you sum up the style of your opponent, a team we all know quite well, Deportivo Coras?”
RG: “They are strong defensively. They’ve got some powerful players who can control a game. They have the ability to shut down the best attackers in this league. But it’s more than just their defense. They are extremely opportunistic. They pounce with a purpose, and capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes. We must be aware of this, and be smart in all areas of the field. Possession is something they will often concede. But possession means nothing if you don’t take your chances (look at Germany against France in the Euro’s). Quite simply, we need to take our chances on Saturday.”
NA: “What are your thoughts on Coras center-back Fernando Cabello? He’s been outstanding, not only against the Battalion, but all season long. What can the Battalion players do to disrupt things for Cabello on Saturday night?”
RG: “He’s a solid player. What has really stood out for me is his composure. We just need to keep him occupied, keep him busy, almost like a game of cat and mouse. We need to find ways to pull him out and force him to step higher up. We need to find ways to get him out of of the middle, and open things up in that area. We need to overwhelm not just him, but their entire defense. In order to do that, we must be diverse in the ways we attack.”
NA: “Lastly on the Coras side, the Shelton Brothers… Talk about their game and what they bring to the table.”
RG: “They’re just consistent. One’s a defender. One’s a striker. They’re both strong, composed, and extremely physical. It’s never anything fancy with either of them. They just grind you down. They’re definitely a couple guys to key in on, but we must be careful with the whole unit, and focus on defeating them as a team. If we keep that focus through the whole night, I’m confident in our ability to get the win.”
NA: “I’ve got to ask you about Asher Booth. What’s it been like seeing him shine for the Battalion after joining the team so late in the season?”
RG: “I say this as nothing but an endearing term… Asher is a poacher. He knows how to score goals. We were desperate for that type of player all season, someone with an eye for goal, someone who knows where to be at the right moment, and knows what to do anytime he’s close to goal. There’s not a club in the world that wouldn’t want a player like that in their squad. He’s been a blessing to us.
I knew Asher when he was younger, and I thought he was a decent player. Where he’s at now is incredible, and there’s still so much room for improvement. He’s 19 years old! The young man’s got a ton of potential, but he’s focused on the task at hand. With almost every other player, there’s a number of things to go over before a game, intricacies shall we say. With Asher, I have no problem telling him to just go out there and do his thing. His only concern is helping this team win. His best asset in that regard is his ability to score goals. I’m excited to see him out there in these playoffs.”
NA: “It’s seemed as if Eric Lopez and Esteban Reyes (the two leading goal scorers for the Battalion this season, with 9 and 6 goals respectively) have shined even brighter since Booth joined the squad. They seem to be playing more as total footballers. Your thoughts?”
RG: “Having Asher come in and fill the role he filled definitely took some pressure off those two, especially Eric. When they’ve played up top together, I’ve seen a symbiosis mixed with individuality. They’re ‘box brothers’. It’s great.
Esteban is in a place right now where he’s asking questions of everyone, including himself. He has played multiple roles this season, and we’ve loved what he’s offered the team as a creative midfielder. He still wants to get up and score goals, but he’s become such a great distributor. Just like our team as a whole, Esteban needs to find that balance on Saturday.”
NA: “Let’s get into the three keys to success for the Battalion to win this match.”
RG: “Let’s do it.
1. Keeping it tight… We must defend with our lives and not concede. Pretty straight forward.
2. Using our wide players effectively… All year, we’ve been intent on playing through the middle. Obviously, it’s worked to some success, but sometimes I feel we’ve sacrificed width. Again, we must be well rounded in the way we go at them on Saturday. I want to see players like Sergio Ortiz, Blake Milton, Adam Meltz, and a few others really get involved in this game. We need to play well in all areas of the field, and maximize the effectiveness of a diverse attack.
3. Balancing humility with confidence… In my experience as a professional player and as a coach, I’ve seen this go both ways. We are the higher seed. We earned this home game in the playoffs. But if we forget about the knocks we’ve taken, the scraps we’ve found ourselves in, and some of the mistakes we’ve made, we could get bitten, badly. We must be confident, but we must be humble as well, and remember what we’ve gone through this season. We want this season to continue, and it’s gonna be a true test on Saturday.”
NA: “Any final words to the Battalion fans before this playoff affair?”
RG: “If there was ever a time to test yourself, it’s in a playoff. That goes for players, coaches, and fans alike. Things can go great. Things can also go sour in a snap. It’s a test of loyalty, a game like this one. There’s no guarantee of a next week. This is it. It’s win or go home. We need every person that owns a Battalion shirt, scarf, hat, patch, or sweater… Every friend on Facebook… Every follower on Twitter… Everyone who knows someone who knows someone… We need every last ounce of energy. Get your friends to this game! The North County Battalion are a huge part of a very bright future for the game of soccer in the city of San Diego. This first ever playoff game for the club is huge in solidifying that. We need the fans. I speak to them directly when I say do what you’ve done all season. Bring the support. Be a true 12th man. We all want this season to continue. You can do your part on Saturday night.”
NA: “Thanks as always for your time Ryan. Best of luck in the match.”
RG: “My pleasure, Nate. Cheers.”