Matchday 3 in the NPSL Southwest Conference is here, and it’s got a real San Diego flavor. This Saturday at 7:00 PM, the North County Battalion will host Albion Pros in the first ever match up between the two sides, an encounter that has been dubbed the “NPSL National Game of the Week”. SoccerNation.com’s Nate Abaurrea caught up with Battalion Head Coach (and player) Ryan Guy. The two looked back on last week’s home opener against FC Hasental, and opened doors into what should be a cracking affair with Albion, as both teams put their perfect records after two matches on the line. The winner will be all alone at the top of the table.
Nate Abaurrea: “Big one this weekend ‘eh?”
Ryan Guy: “Just another game we’ve got to win.”
NA: “Let’s go back to last Saturday night, the Battalion’s home opener against FC Hasental. Your side won 4-2 in an action packed, rain soaked affair. What were your main takeaways from that game?”
RG: “We were really good going forward. The attacks looked dangerous, and most importantly, we took our chances. Our shots turned into goals. We had eight shots on goal in that game and scored four times. That’s a percentage that any team in the world would take.
The two goals that were scored against us could have easily been prevented. We need to not only clean things up defensively, we need to pick up our defensive work rate. Everybody wants to give 100% when we’re on the attack. That same energy and focus level needs to be there when we don’t have the ball. I think we have the remedy. I’ve spoken at length with the boys about this. They know what they need to do.”
NA: “You played the final 25 minutes of the match, subbing yourself on in the 65th minute with the Battalion leading 3-2. Managers often give pep talks and final instructions to players when they enter a game as a substitute. What was that pep talk like?”
RG: “I suppose it was the same process, really. I asked myself ‘what do we need right now’, and ‘how can I help our team’. We needed someone to control the midfield, and provide some calming energy to the center of the park in a real physical match. I think the only real difference was that I gave this speech only in my head as opposed to out loud.”
NA: “You popped up thirteen minutes later with a sure goal of the year candidate, a 35 yard thunderbolt that made the score 4-2 and effectively put the game on ice. Not too shabby.”
RG: “Thanks. It was a pretty nice feeling.”
NA: “Was that the best goal you’ve ever scored?”
RG: “It’s up there. I’ve definitely never scored one from that far out.”
NA: “What did that home opener mean to you outside of the match itself?”
RG: “It symbolized something that is greater than any one individual. Seeing 500 people come out in a rain storm for a soccer game on a Saturday night in San Diego showed a collective spirit that was absolutely beautiful. It’s hard to get 500 people outside in the rain for anything in San Diego! Rain or shine, those fans and staff are behind us. And I think that ‘no one is bigger than the club’ mindset exists with the fans too. On and off the field, that home opener was the start of something truly special.”
NA: “As a San Diegan, what does this weekend and the match against Albion mean for you?”
RG: “It shows the health of the game we love, in the city we love. It shows the fantastic vision of the Battalion. It shows the strength of a youth football club, and their aspirations to take a leap into the professional ranks. It’s also an incredible time to be a fan. Some people already have their allegiances. Some don’t. There’s going to be people essentially picking sides in the near future. We all want this to be a ‘derby’, a ‘rivalry match’, but the fact of the matter is we haven’t played a game yet. That all changes on Saturday. Rivalries develop over time, and Saturday night could be the start of one.”
NA: “As a manager, what does this weekend and the match against Albion mean for you?”
RG: (Laughs) “Just another game. And we better get all three points.”
NA: “What’s your take on this Albion team?”
RG: “They’re young, fit, cohesive, and committed. They strike hard and fast, the same way I want us to play. That makes for great soccer. I think we’ve got a bit more experience on our team because of the strong veteran presence, and it’s going to be interesting to see how that age old ‘youth vs. experience’ battle plays out on Saturday.”
NA: “Any players on your mind from the Albion side?”
RG: “I know Matt Clare very well. I’ve played with him on a few occasions. He just wrapped up the indoor season playing for the Sockers. He’s an attacking weapon. But honestly, like always, the focus is on us. If we prepare and execute the way we should, we will be just fine.”
NA: “In the opening week, we spotlighted Esteban Reyes on the Battalion side. He then scored the first competitive goal in club history. Last week we spotlighted Eric Lopez, who scored twice against Hasental and was nominated for NPSL National Player of the Week. Who should we spotlight for this match against Albion?”
RG: “Well I really hope there’s something to this. I think it’s Brandon Zuniga’s turn. He’s been in the trenches these opening two games, playing as a lone striker and being given the responsibility of not only the hold up play for our attack, but the high pressing that is needed from that spot, basically the first line of defense. In many ways, the game runs through him. He got battered and bruised all match against Hasental, and also scored a great goal and had an assist. He plays a forward position where he could not score and still be the most important player on the pitch. He’s hitting a stride right now, while still focusing on all those little things we need from him.
Kichi Perez is another player that we’re going to need a lot from. We want to get Kichi on the ball as much as possible, so he may end up playing a little deeper than he did the last two games. He’s also hitting a stride with his fitness, so he’s ready to get in the middle of everything.
Drew Tepping will again be the starting keeper. He and Bryant Vera have had an excellent battle going in training, and both have been constantly working to improve their games. We’re seeing a lot of that as coaches, players truly competing with one another in practice. These guys want to play. They want to represent this club and wear that crest. That can only lead to good things.”
NA: What are your three keys to victory against Albion?
“1: Offense to Defense Transition
If we lose the ball, we absolutely can not slack in tracking back at the other end.
2: Finish Our Chances
We’ve been doing this. We must continue. Matches are won by the team that finishes their chances.
It has to be constant. We need to use the experience we have to our advantage. Regardless of the score, our communication must be strong all the way until that final whistle.”
NA: “Will you be in the 18 man squad again this week?”
RG: “Yes sir.”
WHO: North County Battalion v. Albion Pros
WHAT: NPSL National Game of the Week
WHEN: Saturday 4/16, 7:00 PM
WHERE: Del Norte High School (Gates open at 6:00 PM)
WHY: Pride. Power.
If you can’t make it to the game, watch live via the NC Battalion YouTube channel.