The men's soccer team officially opened its season with two losses this weekend, but with a new coach, a new home field and a new attitude, players said they hoped it would be a turn-around year for the program.
"Wins and losses haven't been in our favor," first year head coach Clint Peay said, "but we're going to improve."
Peay, who is beginning the first head coaching job of his career, said he understood the challenges of working with an inherited team, but that he was excited.
"It's the first year, but I'm not going to let it go by," Peay said. "I want to get a feel for the conference, for the guys."
After an encouraging preseason with two 1-0 wins — against Virginia Military Institute and American University — the team lost its first two regular season games this weekend during the James Madison Invitational, with scores of 2-1 against High Point University and 2-0 against James Madison University.
But the most important games will not come until Oct. 9, when the team begins conference play with an away game against the University of St. Louis, Peay said.
"It's really the conference games we're focused on," he said. "If we do ho-hum in conference, non-conference games don't matter too much."
Peay said the team's goals for the season included finishing in the top six of the 14 teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference. A 10-win season would also be a great accomplishment, he said, because the team finished 3-12-3 last year.
"Awful," Peay said of last year's record. "There's nothing else to say."
This year's team has already shown improvement, but all the players, from freshmen to seniors will need to contribute if the team wants to continue to get better, Peay said. He said the team's special strength was its ability to play as a team.
"We excel at working for each other," Peay said.
Practices have been relocated this season because of construction at First Market Stadium. Peay said the team split its practice time between the still-playable turf field at First Market Stadium, a practice field near the 1900 block of the University Forest Apartments and the intramural fields. Men and women's soccer games will be played at Ukrop Park in Chesterfield, Va., about a 20-minute drive from campus.
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Peay described Ukrop Park as a great facility, but said getting fans to the games might be a challenge, especially because those who would be most interested in soccer would probably be freshmen or international students — many of whom do not have cars on campus.
"It's really not that far," Peay said. "I hope students can try to figure out a way to get to games."
Despite those challenges, Peay said the team had had a fair number of supporters during its preseason wins at Ukrop Park, even though the field didn't have seating at the time. Bleachers will be set up at the field in early October, before the first of the team's five home games, an unusually low number.
Because games will not be on campus anyways, the athletic department intended to keep the number of home games low during the scheduling process, Peay said, adding that he hoped the few home-game options would draw large crowds.
"We looked into getting a bus to games," Peay said, "but we just didn't get the warm-and-fuzzy reception football got."
Peay said he understood that American culture dictated that the football team -- which filled five buses with student fans for last weekend's game against Duke University -- would have more supporters than the soccer team, but one of his goals for his first season was to change soccer culture, both on the team and within the university community.
"We want to develop a culture where we can achieve," Peay said. "We want everyone to have a sense of the Richmond Spiders soccer program."
Peay is familiar with America's attitude toward soccer first-hand, as a professional soccer player and member of the U.S. Olympic team for the 1996 games in Atlanta. He also worked as a commentator for one season before beginning his coaching career.
A 1995 University of Virginia graduate, Peay has had assistant coaching stints at Georgetown University, George Mason University and Davidson College. He is beginning this season at Richmond with a new assistant coach, Todd Herman, also a former assistant coach at Davidson.
Peay said his professional playing experience was closely linked to his coaching
"You embrace the change," he said of the transition from playing to coaching. "You pay attention to details that you didn't as a player. It's a good way to keep doing something you love."
Peay and the team will continue their season this weekend during the Duquesne Invitational in Pittsburgh, will compete against Bowling Green State University at 5 p.m. on Friday, and will play Manhattan College at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Contact staff writer Emily Baltz at firstname.lastname@example.org
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