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Boys soccer: Experience on Tigers' side in '11

Hunter Meyers, left, and Reid Wolf battle for the ball during captains practice last Friday afternoon at Tiger Stadium. The Tigers have 11 varsity letter-winners back from last year's 6-11 squad.

Farmington boys soccer coach Julian Buss is back for another season with the Tigers, and he's got an experienced team behind him. We talked with Buss last week about what to expect this season.

The team upped its win total to six games last fall after winning just four games each of the previous two seasons. What kind of progress are you seeing with the overall skill level of your players?

We have seen our overall wins increase over the last two years. In addition we have held our own against some very good ranked opponents. We are obviously not satisfied and are working toward playing tough enough so that we can compete with and potentially win against anyone out there.

The soccer season is fairly short -- about eight or nine weeks for the regular season. Our games start on the second week of the season and run two or three games per week -- for a total of 16 regular season games. We have some time to develop skill, but a lot of a player's skill level is dependent on what the boys have worked on prior to the start of the season -- from previous seasons, summer camps, captain's practices, summer soccer, indoor soccer, etc. These boys spend a lot of time developing their skills. In addition, some of the boys are working very hard increasing their overall athletic ability by participating in programs like track and field or other sports.

You lose a couple of players to graduation in Christian Thao and Justen Thelen that spent a lot of time handling the ball for you. Do your graduation losses change your overall plan of attack? Who are some players you expect to step up in the upcoming season?

Christian and Justen were outstanding captains for our squad last year. We certainly relied on their leadership and skill in practice and games. Justen was our team's leading scorer last year. We will look to this year's senior captains Sam Leske and Brandon Scott as well as senior Cole Landwehr to lead the team with goals, assists, or creating scoring opportunities. Last year we primarily played a 3-5-2 formation (three defenders, five midfielders and two forwards).

Christian Thao was one of our center midfielders. This is the part of the field where you need to be strong, otherwise teams will walk all over you. The center midfielders need to have excellent footwork, communication, vision for what's happening on the field and where to go with the ball -- they set up our forwards. We also rely on them for defensive play -- stopping the opponent's attack before it gets too close to our net. They should also rack up goals or assists as the season progresses. Blake Smith is a returning sophomore who saw a lot of time in the center of the field last year. Captain Brandon Scott may be in the center, but he is also very good at the outside of the field. We will be working with our squad this year to determine who will step up and help fill this position. I am certain that we have boys who are ready for this.

In the team's 11 losses it scored just five total goals last season. What is the plan to try to produce more offense this season?

It seemed like we struggled to finish last year. Some of our losses were close -- two in overtime. In losses to Apple Valley, Park and Northfield we were simply beat. You can't win if you don't score -- but you only need one goal more than the other guys. Look at Lakeville North's play in the section and state tournament.... They only needed a total of four goals to win three games to be Section 1AA champs. We do hope to be more productive on offense and that is probably going to be our primary focus in practice -- creating scoring opportunities.

What do you think are the overall strengths of the group of players you have coming back?

One strength of the team this year will be experience. Last year I played quite a few underclassmen, so we had some young players get valuable varsity experience. I believe that we will have 11 returning letter-winners back on the squad for the 2011 season. We could potentially start the first game of the season with veterans. Knowing that these boys were varsity material last year, and knowing how hard a lot of them have been working during the nine months since the end of the season last year makes me excited to see what they can do this year. I anticipate some tough competition for the roughly half-dozen players we will look to add to the varsity squad this year.

What kind of off-season work were the players doing?

Most -- if not all -- of the boys are involved in off-season soccer leagues. We have had some summer captain's practices but for the most part the boys are very busy with their summer leagues. I find it difficult to schedule too many summer practices because I know how busy their summers are with family, friends and summer soccer.

What are your goals for the season? Do you feel going in that with the current collection of players the program can continue upping its win total and moving up in the conference and section?

Our goals are to continue to use soccer as a way to help boys learn about and experience important lessons such as commitment to team, hard work, how to handle winning and losing, how to help others succeed and how to train to make yourself better. As a head coach my goal is to continue to get boys who are interested in playing soccer to come out for the team. I would like to have the team expand to add another level (ninth grade) at some point in the near future. We look to the 2011 season as an opportunity to be competitive against each and every team we come up against.