West Virginia University men’s soccer coach Dan Stratford remembers his playing days and donning a different jersey in the summers. Then, he’d join the roster of the West Virginia Chaos, a Premier Development League team that competed in Charleston.
A couple things have changed since Stratford’s time in the PDL. It’s now known as the USL League Two. The Charleston team is know know as the West Virginia Alliance FC.
And there’s the really big change for this summer — the USL League Two’s 2020 season isn’t happening.
The league decided late last month that, due to the coronavirus pandemic that has put most of the sporting world on hold, it would sit out the year and come back for 2021.
That’s disappointing for Stratford, especially now in his new role as WVU’s head coach.
“The players’ ability to play over the summer, that was something a significant percentage of our roster would have been doing,” Stratford said during a recent video conference, “and something that I certainly valued back in my day as a student-athlete and now as a coach.”
The biggest benefit, he said, was that players get a chance to enter a different environment over the summers and still get to experience a quality level of soccer, much like they would experience at their respective colleges. USL League Two clubs play 14-game regular seasons, seven at home and seven away, plus a postseason if teams qualify.
The league not only helped established college soccer players, but those who were just entering college. The 2019 Alliance roster included former Charleston Catholic goalkeeper Ethan Malinoski and former George Washington forward Noah Carney, both of whom had just graduated from their respective high schools.
Those USL League Two players were able to enter or return to their college programs even more prepared. That’s not happening this summer, which compounds the difficulties college athletes are facing as gyms and other workout facilities remain closed throughout the country.
“The significant concern — and I think this is across the board for athletics — is what does the student-athlete look like that shows up in August,” Stratford said, “given the restrictions and given their ability and access to certain things we took for granted like a gym or a weight room.
“Now we’re in a situation where these student-athletes and prospective student-athletes just simply aren’t playing soccer, not in the context they’ve been playing before,” he added.
Losing the USL League Two season is another wrinkle college coaches will have to deal with due to the pandemic, Stratford said, on top of other complications like losing their spring seasons and having different international players dealing with different levels of quarantine in their home countries.
It will be up to the coaches to not only shoehorn a lot of instruction in a small time period, but also to keep close tabs on players’ fitness levels to avoid any unnecessary injuries from overwork.
“We have some challenges to overcome there,” he said. “We’ll be very very conscious of the workload and where certain players are. And I think that’s going to take even greater scrutiny than it did before in terms of planning.”