As North County Battalion prepare for their home opener this Saturday against FC Hasental (7 PM, Del Norte High School) SoccerNation.com’s Nate Abaurrea caught up with Head Coach Ryan Guy, looking back on the Battalion’s historic first win in the National Premier Socce League (NPSL), (2-1 on the road last weekend against So Cal SC) and looking forward to the upcoming match.
NA: How would you describe the feelings of you and your team after the game last Saturday?
RG: It was a feeling of relief. There was so much nervousness and excitement going into that game, and while we definitely didn’t play perfect, it was a resounding success as we got the win. There are areas where we really need to improve, but getting three points in a team’s inaugural game is all you could ever ask for.
NA: What did it mean to you and the players to see the Battalion supporters up in the stands in San Bernardino, singing, hugging, sending yellow smoke into the air, and cheering you guys on?
RG: There are very few places in the world of soccer where the traveling supporters outnumber the home fans, both in numbers and noise. It was an amazing feeling seeing and hearing them there, especially with the fact that San Bernardino isn’t exactly next door to San Diego. We appreciated their efforts so much. We want a true connection between our players and our fans. The inception of this club was built on that connection. We want to create our own culture, a culture that makes the fans feel like they’re truly a part of the Battalion. We’ve got a long way to go, but we couldn’t ask for a better start to that process.
NA: How would you sum up the match itself against So Cal SC?
RG: We were a little tense for much of the match. I want to see us play a calmer game this weekend. We were definitely forced to defend for much of the second half, and while I don’t ever want to see us go into a shell as a team, we defended well, and got the most important thing of all, three points.
NA: Will there be any changes in personnel or strategy this weekend against FC Hasental?
RG: There will be a few line-up changes, and we’ve got a couple of players returning to the team. I want to see us improve the way we play out of the back, but again, that’s something that comes with time, as we rid ourselves of that early season nervousness. We need to be strong and calm out of the back.
NA: Tell us about one of those returning players, 6’6 center-back Duach Jock.
RG: I’ve known Duach for over six years. Believe it or not, he used to be a striker., but he has moved to center back over the last few years, and that’s where he plays for the South Sudan National Team. Duach is a full international. He’s recently played in qualifiers for the World Cup and the African Cup of Nations. He’s played against hundreds of truly world class players in his career. That spreads confidence around our team, our players knowing that a guy like that, who is still competing at that level, is a part of our family. Duach might not be the widest body, but he reaches halfway to the sky with his height. He’s an important player for us. He will start at center-back on Saturday.
NA: Any words on FC Hasental?
RG: I’ve played against them multiple times in the past. They’ve been around since 2005, and are always a difficult team. They’re gritty and tough, and they have no problem attacking you, and really coming at you in an effort to score goals. I think that’s great for us. We are so intently focused on our own game right now, we don’t want a chess match. We want a team that’s gonna go toe-to-toe with us, and we’ve got to be ready for anything.
NA: We’ve already discussed Duach Jock. Who are three other Battalion players to lookout for on Saturday?
RG: (Laughs) One of them has got to be Esteban Reyes. I know we spotlighted him last week, along with Nelson Pizarro, and then Nelson assisted Esteban for the first NPSL goal in Battalion history. Why not shine the light on him again? Esteban’s playing so well right now, but there’s still room for improvement. He’s such a raw, young talent. I can’t wait for the home fans to see the excitement he can bring to a game.
I’m really happy to have Nate Leboffe back. He is a smart and experienced player, composure personified, and he will be starting at left-back on Saturday.
The third guy would have to be Eric Lopez. He played a fantastic match in San Bernardino, and I love seeing him and Esteban switch sides from time to time as attacking wingers/forwards. Eric is a workman, and it’s a delicate balance that we’re working on with him. I want him to sometimes temper that high work rate of his, as crazy as that sounds. He’s a guy that will do anything to help his team, and is always working hard, but he’s also great on the ball, and such a dangerous attacking threat. I want him to always have something in the tank when he’s on the ball, that turbo boost you could say. I’ve talked to him about this and I look forward to seeing how he applies it all in the home opener.
NA: What are your three keys to success for this big match?
1. Composure at the back, and distribution from our defenders.
2. Our movement off the ball, and the creativity of our runs.
3. Owning the final third, and having that finishing touch when it truly matters.
NA: Any words to the Battalion supporters, as well as the men, women, and children that might be seeing this team play for the first time?
RG: First off, welcome aboard. This club is trying to put together a product on the field that embodies what San Diego soccer is all about. Our style, our personality, our diversity… We want to give something to the locals who love the game of soccer, and embrace what San Diego is at its core. Every last fan we can get at these games, home and away, serves as that extra little bit of power for the team. There’s only one way to see what we’re all about, and that’s to come to a match. I’m excited to see you all on Saturday, and have you all be a part of the Battalion.