The summer United Women’s Soccer season offers a multitude of challenges for teams that must quickly pull together rosters, develop a system of play and have coaches get to know their players in a short period of time.
But Adam Whitehead, the first year coach of the Long Island Rough Riders, met these challenges with aplomb. He led the team to the UWS East Conference Championship and a trip to the league semi-finals, where Long Island fell to Grand Rapids FC Women 3-2 on penalty kicks.
In an interview with SleterFC.com, Whitehead looks back at his first season with the Rough Riders and offers insight as to what made the 2017 campaign a success.
SLETERFC.COM: As you look back at the 2017 UWS season, what allowed this team to gel so quickly and become one of the better teams in the league?
ADAM WHITEHEAD: We had a group of girls that were willing to give things a try. We had a very strong leadership group that encouraged everyone to get involved in both on and off field activities. Our team enjoyed what we called a Social60, which was 60 minutes, once a week after practice to give the girls time to bond.
SFC.com: Was there a moment during the season when you felt the team could have a high level of success and have a shot at a league title?
AW: I think after our fourth consecutive win in the first five games, the team really started to believe in themselves individually as well as collectively. They adapted to a style of play that proved to be our most successful. The longer the season went on, the longer we wanted it to last. There was a belief within the group that we could go all the way.
SFC.com: As the season came to an end, the Rough Riders had to win three matches in the final five days of the season to win the East title and qualify for the playoffs. How did you prepare the team for this?
AW: We only focused on our next opponent and went into each of our last three games as if they were playoff matches. The leaders did a fantastic job of keeping everybody focused both in practice and in the games.
SFC.com: With this tight schedule at the end of the season do you think this hurt the team during the game against Grand Rapids, which was lengthy and went to penalties?
AW: No. I think the team suffered from what turned out to be a lengthy bus ride and a late night due to our arrival time. It also didn’t help that we only managed to roster 14 players. I think with a full squad, fresh legs we would have won not only the semi but also the final.
SFC.com: Which players showed the greatest improvement throughout the season?
AW: Each individual player seemed to be very consistent throughout the season. The team as a whole showed fantastic improvements, which was due to their willingness to bond together and become a team. We had many standout players who seemed to thrive in the bigger games; our captain Kim Marra, Taylor Groth and Alexa Schneider just to name a few.
SFC.com: When looking at the UWS East this season, there seemed to be a big jump in the quality of play and its competitive nature. From your standpoint, what allowed the league to see such growth? Do you see even further growth going forward?
AW: After being part UWS Championship weekend, I can only see it growing. The atmosphere was electric, the coaches were all extremely respectful and everyone seemed to enjoy the occasion. The UWS has already made a massive jump and attracted some outstanding players. With this reputation is can only get better.