Soccer and COVID-19: Expect a quick spring start
When the season starts, one better be ready
Let’s face it: Soccer should be a natural fit for the so-called Cornavirus Era.
Players are strongly discouraged from touching the ball with their hands. The only players who can hold the ball regularly — goalies — wear gloves.
Social distancing was already a big concept in play before the virus. Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley and the Vail Mountain School all play roughly the same system — getting the ball wide, spreading out, instead off bull-rushing up the middle of the pitch.
“Maybe, we were ahead of time,” Battle Mountain soccer coach David Cope joked.
In hindsight, particularly in the Western Slope, CHSAA may have pulled the plug early on soccer. In fairness to CHSAA, the governing body had to make a decision on fall sports in early August, when teams traditionally start official practice. At the time, the virus was on a rampage nationwide and it made sense.
So soccer is now officially a Season C sport. The first practice will be March 1 and the first match is March 4.
“You get the fellas together on Monday, pick a varsity on Tuesday and play Thursday,” Cope quipped. “There’s no time for Heivan to get in shape.”
Yes, that’s an old school joke about Heivan Garcia, a key member of the Huskies’ 2012 state-championship team. Take it as a sign that everyone’s ready for soccer.
The bigger issues
Since soccer is all about moving the ball with feet, the coronavirus presents different challenges to the sport — crowds, locker rooms, sidelines and travel.
Soccer draws well locally, particularly at Battle Mountain and VMS. A challenge in a lot of sports, schools will have to figure out a way to spread the fans out when Eagle Valley or Steamboat Springs come to Battle Mountain or Aspen or Coal Ridge visit East Vail.
The traditional meeting spot of the locker room seems to be on its way out already. As nice as they are for the high school level, local locker rooms just aren’t big enough for 6 feet of spacing. Teams are going to be meeting in gyms, if available or classrooms.
Speaking of those teams, how big will rosters be? Look for greater spreading of players on the bench, but there’s a distinct possibility that soccer teams may only dress 16 or 18 players, particularly for road games.
When it comes to the pitch, the biggest coronavirus issue seems to be throw-ins.
“We could play one season with kick-ins,” Cope said. “Touching surfaces seems to present less of a danger, something we were concerned with six months ago.”
It’s worth noting that as MLS and European soccer leagues have restarted, they’ve used throws as restarts.
As with other sports, soccer will be compressed. Teams are playing only 10 regular season games and the playoff field has been reduced from 32 to 16 teams.
For Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley, that means league play only — home and home — with Steamboat, Glenwood Springs, Rifle, Summit, and, of course, each other.
The Western Slope has only one automatic bid to the state tournament, as opposed to the usual two. According to Cope, there is only one rating-percentage-index bid available to the postseason, so it seems like winning the Slope is the only ticket to state.
Since they’ve won the last five Slope titles, the Huskies would be the favorite in spring 2021 until another team proves otherwise.
With just 10 games, a quick start will be crucial to making the playoffs and a run to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, side of the state-title game.
“I was telling the boys last night that we have to win the league,” Cope said. “We have to have absolute focus. On the other hand, you win three more games after that and you’re at Dick’s. It’s a real opportunity for a team like ours.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.