Eagan's Ed Olson (8) battles a defender from Bloomington Jefferson as Jack Kelm (22) looks on.
Pressure and frustration has surrounded the Eagan boys’ soccer team this fall. Their record and ranking probably doesn’t show it.
The Wildcats posted a 10-1-3 record and a No. 9 state ranking in Class 2A through Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over Burnsville, but coach Alan Merrick is still looking for some key players to help take the team to the next level.
The Wildcats tend to put pressure on themselves, getting the ball in scoring position but then flushing away opportunities. That has allowed opposing teams to counter and keep themselves in games.
“That’s the frustrating thing,” Merrick said. “They know they could have put the game away, and they haven’t been able to do that in the early stages of the game.”
He wants to see dominance and execution.
“Getting them so they can understand the flow of the game and the necessary elements of it is frustrating at times for me as a coach, but I sense it’s also frustrating for them,” said Merrick, a former defender for the Minnesota Kicks and coach of the Minnesota Strikers. “They’re going, ‘Well, we’re not quite doing what he wants.’ But the last couple of games and the last couple of practices, the lights have gone on.”
Senior captain and goalkeeper Brady Martin has a good view from the goal, so he understands everyone’s frustrations. It’s not easy.
“We were kind of shaky the first couple weeks,” Martin said. “Throughout the season, we’ve been getting together — team bonding has helped — and we’ve been jelling really well since then.”
Playing up front, junior Abdi Ali and sophomore Josue Boutouli have experienced a transition and learning period, but now, with their skill, they’re starting to put all the components together.
“Talent-wise, they’re great,” Martin said. “Mentally, that’s what they’re developing right now.”
Ali has notched eight goals this fall. He is starting to use his 6-2 frame more assertively.
“We call him ‘the Octopus,’ because he’s all arms and legs,” Merrick said. “He’s starting to get stature now and he’s scoring important goals.”
Boutouli has added four of his own and has been gaining confidence.
Another highlight has been the emergence of sophomore Jorge Silva, who was initially earmarked as a midfielder but has since been slotted into the left back position.
“He still has much more he can do and show,” Merrick said. “His skill set is incredibly good and we haven’t seen that full potential yet.”
Senior Jack Kelm has returned to soccer after taking a couple of years off to focus on basketball. Luke Abbott has been a stalwart on the back end in front of Martin. Senior Ed Olson is the team’s biggest threat to produce scoring chances. He’s registered a team-high nine assists.
“Every throw-in that we have inside the opponent’s half is like a corner [kick] for us,” Merrick said. “Working that to our advantage, it puts so much pressure on the opponents and eventually they break down. He’s certainly brought a dimension to the soccer program with his good foot skills and play, but he has a knack of being able to throw the ball 40 yards.”
All the players are starting to understand Merrick’s concepts and passing sequences. With section playoffs on the horizon, it’s perfect timing.
“There’s an intensity that’s starting to envelop the players,” Merrick said. “With that, I’m hoping that performances will reflect what I sense is a very confident and strong squad of players that really can produce some incredible moments.”