You know when there’s almost no toothpaste in the tube, you have to squeeze it from the back or until it spurts out? That’s essentially how Southern Utah University played soccer in the last three seasons.
Fred Thompson preferred a defense-first style, and it’s not a bad thing. World class clubs like Atletico Madrid and Tottenham have made deep runs into Champions League by absorbing pressure and counter attacking.
The issue for SUU was that the goals weren’t coming on the counter, so the T-Birds had to defend and defend and defend until their opponents broke through.
Thompson’s tenure as a soccer coach at SUU was short. SUU’s athletic department mutually parted ways with Thompson eight games into the season on Sept. 27.
Former SUU athletic director Jason Butikofer was excited to bring in the new coach in 2016. The soccer team was coming off a 3-12-2 season and it was time for a change.
“Fred will be a great addition to the SUU Athletics family,” Butikofer said. “His character and expertise will provide a great platform for moving our student-athletes to their potential. I could not be more excited about elevating this program to a Big Sky Championship caliber under Fred’s leadership.”
Two and a half seasons later, he’s gone and SUU soccer is in nearly the same place he found it in. The T-Birds were 0-8 and had only mustered one goal on the season. They’d surrendered 23 at the time of Thompson’s release.
In the three games since Jonas Tanzer (Thompson’s assistant) took over, they’ve scored four goals. It may have been an uptick in pace through Tanzer’s system, or it may have just been that the chances the team missed when Thompson was at the helm finally found the back of the net.
Either way the team is 0-11, the longest losing streak in school history. Thompson was 7-36-1 during his tenure in Cedar City. It was tough sledding.
SUU soccer had talented players. Summer Soriano played more minutes than any SUU soccer player in program history. Makenzie Lawerence finished third in the Big Sky in goals last season and has four in 2019.
The issue arose in Thompson’s ability to recruit and develop talent. SUU will never get high-tier prospects coming out of high school, but the ways that the athletic department’s other teams have found success have come through recruiting and cultivating raw talent.
SUU men’s basketball is a team made entirely of transfers and underrated prospects coming out of high school. The legendary Big Sky conference champion football teams were led by a JUCO transfer in Patrick Tyler.The cross country teams bring in transfers and high potential runners that may not shine until their senior season.
SUU’s soccer program hasn’t had the same success as the other athletic programs because the new faces have had far too much to do too early and have moved on.
There were nine freshmen on the 2018 team. Only four came back for 2019.
This season’s group has 10 freshmen. How many will return for 2020?
Obviously there’s plenty that goes into a player’s decision to leave a team, but players who see significant playing time and don’t return create an unconquerable cycle of turnover within the squad. Maybe some of those players were asked not to return, and that happens in every sport.
What hurts the team is that the new talent wasn’t good enough to replace the old talent. When Dato Aphkazava and Jacob Calloway moved on from SUU Basketball they were replaced by intriguing prospects like Jakolby Long and John Knight.
It’s important to acknowledge how difficult recruiting can be, especially at a small university like SUU. Thompson’s battle was always going to be an uphill one. He put in the hours; he made connections with his players and brought in new talent, but it wasn’t enough.
Winning consistently at the Division I level is one of the hardest things to do in sports. There’s so much roster turnover that’s out of the coach’s control, and it ended up overwhelming the T-Birds.
Thompson leaves behind a good bunch of players for his replacement. Tanzor has been able to generate some goals as an interim coach, but it seems that Debbie Corum and the athletic department will scour the land for a rising coach like Tracy Sanders or Pete Hoyer.
Whoever the new coach is inherits a team hungry to win and with good building blocks. It remains to be seen who will stay, but Jaylynn Barton and Amberly Hastings are bright midfielders with the ball at their feet. Quincy Pfeffer is a young defender with a ton of minutes under her belt in her sophomore season. Emilia Palsdottir is a solid outside back and Gigi Pagani has made some plays on the wing.
A new coach might be able to bring fresh energy to the squad. The main priority will be figuring out how to get the best out of these players.
Fred Thompson was not a failure. The odds were stacked against him, and he did his best, but it didn’t come off for him. Now the program has a chance to start fresh.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: SUU Athletics