A couple of Kanawha Valley boys soccer teams will have new leaders when the next fall season begins.
Both Capital (Riley Gibson) and Winfield (Mike Foster) have said goodbye to longtime coaches and both have made hires to fill those positions, with the Cougars tabbing Cleef Desir and the Generals naming Jay Rader to the vacated positions.
The two come from vastly different backgrounds and will assume programs on different perches, but the goal will be the same as they take over starting next week as the three-week practice period gets underway.
Desir, a 26-year-old native of Haiti, has taken quite a journey to get here. Desir’s soccer journey started as a youngster in Haiti with Violette AC. He played a couple of years of high school soccer in Naples, Florida after moving following the massive Haiti earthquake of 2010, and from there he made his way to Eastern Florida State College, a junior college in Melbourne, Florida.
He finished his college career at Palm Beach Atlantic University, where he was named to the All-Sunshine State Conference first team as a senior.
A stint with the West Virginia Chaos in 2018 introduced Desir to his wife and, a year ago, the couple moved back where he is now a manager at Enterprise. When word dropped that the Capital job was coming open, Desir was convinced by friends and his wife that he should give it a whirl and the rest is history.
“My coach in high school really didn’t support me in the things that I wanted to do in terms of playing in college and stuff, I had to do that on my own,” Desir said. “I want to change a few kids’ lives. I want to be there for these kids to show them what direction to go in.”
Desir is still active in the game as a player and he will inherit a young and talented Capital roster looking to build upon a 7-13-2 campaign from a year ago. But the Cougars were better as the season went on, highlighted by a 1-1 tie at Hurricane late in the regular season.
While Desir will meet most of his players for the first time next week, he is aware of their abilities and hopes his vast experience in the game at multiple levels and in multiple countries will help maximize potential at Capital.
“We have 15 guys playing club [soccer] and that’s great,” Desir said. “It brings an understanding of what I’ll bring and teach to them. With all those kids playing club, it’s not like I’m going to be teaching from square one.
“I’m a little fortunate to get a team where guys are good and just kind of needed that head piece to bring some leadership in — not that the coach before me didn’t have that — but a guy like myself who has played the game and continues to play the game, hopefully there will be a better understanding of what I’ll be asking from those kids.”
As for Rader, he is plenty experienced in the game and is more seasoned in coaching, having led both club and rec soccer teams and basketball teams in the past. He has also officiated soccer since 2017.
While he too will inherit a talented group, he also inherits some fairly high expectations as the Generals have established themselves as one of the most successful programs in the state in recent years. That includes a Class AA-A state championship two seasons ago.
“I tell everybody to look at each year as a different team,” Rader said. “This year is tough with the whole COVID situation. Kids are used to playing travel ball and having two weeks off and now they’ve had four months off. We just want to make sure everybody gets through the season — no major injuries or anything like that. We will play hard and do the best we can, and win or lose, if you step off the field and have nothing left in the tank, then that’s all I can ask.”
While the Generals were hit fairly hard by graduation, losing first-team All-State defenders Richard Smith and Jacob Verno as well as goalie Nathan Lanham, the team will return several key starters. That includes forward Braxton Vanscoy, midfielder Tarek Jarrouj and defender Caleb Hawkes. All of them will be looked to for senior leadership this season.
As for philosophies, Rader said it will mostly be about hard work and players earning spots.
“I’m, ‘If you work, you play,’” Rader said. “I taught in a basketball camp under Bob Knight and he said, ‘Work beats talent if talent doesn’t work,’ and that’s the philosophy I go by. We’ll try to push the ball quick and keep things up-tempo.”