Valley boys soccer continues playoff hunt with new coach
Glenn Francis came to the Valley boys soccer program in the offseason ready for a new challenge.
The first-year Vikings coach has nearly two decades of coaching experience at the collegiate level, most recently at the helm of the Cal (Pa.) women’s program for four years through 2017.
Francis, a native of Antigua and a standout player at Mercyhurst in the 1990s, was greeted by a group of players ready to improve upon last year’s 4-12-1 overall record and 2-9-1 mark in Section 2-2A.
“It’s all about teaching,” said Francis, who also has served as a regional coach in the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program.
“They were ready to learn. I’ve seen a lot of improvement.”
Francis takes over for Marty Mandak, who resigned for family reasons after one year as coach and three as an assistant.
Francis compiled a 26-33-14 record at Cal (Pa.). He guided the Vulcans to a 12-4-6 record in 2014, and the campaign included the program’s sixth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament. That team featured the top two goal scorers in the PSAC.
Despite the challenges in recent seasons and the transition to a new coach, the goal for the Vikings remains the same in 2018: qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Ten seniors moved on from last year’s team that had high hopes but was not able to overcome enough section opponents to break through to the postseason. Valley swept Derry in section and also played to a scoreless tie in its home game against section foe Burrell.
″(The seniors) took their next step to college, and we’re going to try to do our best to maintain our goals,” junior center midfielder/forward Michael Odrey said.
“We have the attitude and talent to improve this year. Our coach has helped change us and has given us a new start. He has put guys in new positions on the field. His tactical ability of teaching us has really helped. We are conditioned and ready to attack and defend. I think it’s going to be a good season.”
Odrey pointed to Francis’ inclusion of every team member and how he stresses that each one has a chance to contribute.
Senior Greg Guzzo (defense) and Michael Saliba (center mid/defense/forward) also return to help form the team core.
“No one else is going to define who you are. You have to define who you are and what you can do and become,” Guzzo said. “That is something the entire team has adopted with the fresh start we have this season.”
There are seven seniors on the team to go along with six juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen.
“We had a close connection last year, and it was tough losing that chemistry with the guys who graduated, but with the new guys, the pieces that were taken out are being replaced, and we’re pretty excited,” Saliba said.
“We’re seeing that new chemistry on the field as everyone is working well together.”
Saliba said he saw a lot of improvement and positives in a scrimmage last week against Riverview after the team struggled against the Raiders in the regular season last year.
“We had a lot of guys in new positions, and we accepted the challenge,” Saliba said.
Junior Gavin Shawfield is expected to patrol the field as the team’s starting goalkeeper.
Mt. Pleasant, Deer Lakes, Freeport and Shady Side Academy were the four teams from the section in the WPIAL AA playoffs last year.
Shady Side was fourth in the section at 6-5-1, but the Indians made a run and captured the WPIAL title. Mt. Pleasant and Deer Lakes advanced to the quarterfinals.
Valley is slated to open its season at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Deer Lakes.
“I’ve seen big strides of improvement with this team,” Guzzo said. “We have progressed from last year to this year. Our mentality has changed, and the new players have adapted to what the (returning players) have established.”