33-year Apple Valley head soccer coach Chuck Scanlon
Last Saturday Apple Valley completed another perfect regular season by going 17-0-0. The Eagles have now won 41 consecutive games since their last defeat in the state tournament quarterfinals on October 24th, 2008.
It’s a typical Minnesota late September afternoon. The temperatures have cooled from the warm days earlier in the month and the high soccer season is in full swing. On this day two very good soccer teams face off against each other. It’s a ritual that has happened for years dating back to contests between coaches Buzz Lagos of St. Paul Academy (SPA) and Chuck Scanlon of Apple Valley. Lagos is still coaching but is long gone from the SPA program. Scanlon is now in his 33rd season as head soccer coach of the Eagles.
SPA comes into the contest with a very respectable 8-3 record. But Apple Valley seems to be on another tier, playing for their 35th consecutive win dating back to August of 2009.
I run into an old soccer friend and sit down beside him. He’s analyzing the two teams who both look good but play entirely different styles. He tells me that St. Paul Academy looks to be the better of the two sides with more possession play. He comments, “This Apple Valley team doesn’t look all that good.” I remind him that the Eagles are already up by 3-0 and it’s just a few minutes into the second half. I also remind him that the team is undefeated this season and is sitting on a stretch of 10 consecutive wins. He smiles and says, “There is that.”
“Many soccer purists look at the Apple Valley game and think it is really ugly,” said Chris Lee, who has been an assistant coach to Scanlon for 27 years. He played high school soccer in Washington State and college soccer for St. Olaf. “Our game is just a direct, in your face game of soccer. We keep coming at a team over and over until they can’t take it any more.”
Scanlon too admits that his game is direct and is unapologetic. “A lot of guys like to play this stuff,” as he waves his hand back and forth across the width of the field after blanking SPA 4-0, the team’s 11th win of the season. “Ten years ago Pele said US teams are direct and push forward. If Pele says it everyone will listen to him but if I say it they probably won’t.” Scanlon gives a wry smile.
“This was a little bit unusual game today,” continued Scanlon, referring to the fact the Eagles didn’t dominate around the goal as much as usual. “We attack from the middle and from the sides and our center midfielders have a role to be an outside shooting presence. Our defenders are very good one-on-one and we’ve had an excellent keeper the last two years in senior Tim Van Beck. That allows us to be a little more aggressive because our guys know he can save us.”
Scanlon points out that on this very day Van Beck notched his 30th career shutout with the Eagles which breaks an all-time school record previously set by now head coach of Hamline University, Jon Lowery.
The Apple Valley head coach knows a thing or two about winning. Last season he lead his team to a perfect 24-0-0 record, something that had never been done before in Minnesota high school soccer history. At the end of the 2009 season, his overall lifetime record was 518-87-49 and it was his 8th State Championship and his 16 tournament appearance. It didn’t go unnoticed. Scanlon won the Division I High School Boys Coach of the Year Award from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) and the ESPN RISE High School Coach of the Year.
Apple Valley lost ten key seniors last year including defender Bijan Jabari and David Rosenthal. Both players earned All-State first team honors and Jabari was named Mr. Soccer in 2009 and Rosenthal was named Star Tribune’s and Pioneer Press’ Player of the Year. Yet the Eagles keep rolling along in 2010.
One of the keys to Apple Valley’s success this year is senior forward and co-captain Tom Obarski. On the day of the SPA game Obarski’s attacking partner, 6′ 4″ sophomore Hudson Fasching, was at a hockey tournament, something he had arranged at the beginning of the season. That combined with a very lenient referee who seemed to be letting the game get a bit out of control for both teams meant Obarski was getting his share of knocks. After being dropped to the ground several times and not receiving very good service from his own midfielders, the forward became frustrated. A scuffle for the ball took place in front of the goal and Obarski was knocked to the ground. He made sure that SPA defender Conor Perkkio, who had been marking him, went down as well. When all was said and done both players received red cards.
“It’s too bad Obarski got into that scuffle today. That’s very uncharacteristic of him. But he’s good! He’s an excellent leader for us and he comes from a good soccer family. In fact, his dad played for me back in 1982. He’s also the kicker on our football team and he just missed a 47-yard field goal last night by a few feet. That would have won the game for us. He goes at everything 100 percent. I just think he might have been getting a bit worn down,” worried Scanlon. “He still got a goal and an assist today.”
Scanlon says his other captains, senior forward Simon Goettl and senior goalkeeper Van Beck, have also been key in the Eagles success this season. In fact, Apple Valley has 15 seniors on their roster. “Obarski (Sr. forward) is an outstanding player and our leading scorer and has played with us for three years,” explained Scanlon. “The same goes for Simon Goettl in the midfield. We have senior defender Dan Schumacher in the back who played outside defender last season and Van Beck in goal. So we’ve got four experienced guys up the middle and I think that’s important. If you build a new team that’s the way to start.
“There’s others that are also important like Nate Tenpas (Sr. forward), Dane Grundstrom (Sr. midfielder) and Alex Schams (Sr. midfielder). Tim Ness (Sr. defender) marks any dangerous player, like SPA’s #7 (Nick Forsgren). He didn’t get a sniff today. The same was true with (Elliot) Cassutt when we played Minneapolis South. Cassutt did get a goal as our keeper fouled a guy in the box and he scored on the PK. But our defenders, including Adam Sampson (Sr. defender) who played JV last year, have really risen up and played some outstanding soccer this year. These kids come to play every match. They are really hard workers and they’re just good people.
Even with all the experience, Scanlon says this year’s team is not as good as last year’s. “Sometimes guys think they’re going to show up and it’s going to happen automatically,” said Scanlon. “We don’t have the players to do that. We’re not as talented as last year’s team. A lot of them are juniors and they’ve played behind some pretty good players last season. But they have to work hard if they want to get there.”
“Chuck is an amazing motivator,” said Lee. “He mainly does this through his enthusiasm for the sport, whatever sport he is playing or coaching be it soccer, hockey, badminton, broomball or tiddley winks. You should see him work the kids in his phy-ed classes. He is one of the most popular teachers in the school.”
Scanlon says he uses that motivation to challenge his players to take risks. “I always ask my players, can you actually beat someone one-on-one with your great moves and great skills; anybody! A midfielder, a striker and outside mid. Do it – let’s see it.
“I’ve always been a great admirer of Wayne Gretzky and in his book he says he creates 2-on-1′s throughout the rink. We try to do the same thing throughout the field so we always have 2 or three different options and we try to keep the ball on the ground.”
Lee says another key is Scanlon keeps things simple but fun in practice. “There is a big difference between coaching a summer traveling and a high school varsity team,” says Lee. “I think many coaches believe they’re the same. Summer select teams most often have many great players. The high school teams tend to have 3 to 4 great players and then the rest are pretty good. So, when a coach tries to make things too complex the team drowns in the complexity.”
Lee explains that Scanlon was an All-American at Bemidji State University in the early 70s where he played hockey. A couple of those teams won national titles for Division II. “His coach Bob Peters was a no nonsense coach who I think really instilled in Chuck a tremendous work ethic,” said Lee. “Chuck was drafted by some pro teams of the WHA but decided not to play in the pros because of the difficulty of U.S.-born players making it to the top level. Hardly any U.S. players played pro back then. It was mostly Canadians and there were a lot of politics. Chuck just didn’t want to spend a long time in the minor leagues. He worked hockey camps in the summer with his coach, Peters. Herb Brooks hired Chuck away from Peters. He worked for Brooks for over 20 years at the Summer Hockey camps in Faribault. I think that’s where Chuck really learned many of his coaching techniques.”
Lee outlines Apple Valley’s coaching sessions:
“We shoot every practice for almost half the session,” explains Lee. “We look at shooting the same way a good basketball coach approaches free-throws. It really boils down to muscle memory. So, we have a lot of repetition in our shooting. This has a second benefit as well. It really makes our keepers great. We’ve had some awesome keepers come through our program because of the amount of time they are receiving shots in practice. Most teams hardly ever work out their keepers. A great keeper is going to make that amazing save that will advance you to a section or state title game. If the keepers don’t get those reps they won’t get the same muscle memory as the shooters. We involve the whole team in the shooting not just the forwards. The guys have a blast. Don’t get me wrong, working on passing is important too. We do our share of that as well with 6 v 3 and other types of passing as well. It is just that we don’t have the whole practice focused on that.
A second focus on practice is heading. This is one of the simple skills of soccer that most players don’t like to do. We have always stressed the importance of winning the air in games. If you win the air you win the game. We have several heading drills that we do almost every practice. They revolve around shooting too so that the keeper is involved. In fact we have some double and triple header drills. I think we have scored about one-third of our goals this year on headers.
A third focus in practice is set plays, both offensive and defensive. We practice offensive and defensive corner kicks almost every practices. Our belief is that set plays are gifts from the opposition to score a goal. So, we work on free kicks, throw-ins and corners almost every practice.
The last focus we have is that the guys are in great condition. This is really accomplished in the pre-season. The high school season is so condensed that it is really hard to continue conditioning during the season. Our guys do a lot of endurance running before the first regular season games start. So, we are a very fit team.”
Parental involvement at Apple Valley is also a key as is player unity. Parents help to host pre-game meals the day before every match. The players and coaches also have pre-game focus meetings at school before the team leaves for each game. In those meetings the coaches go through the team strategies for the match.
“We only had three kids that played on Obarski’s premier team this summer,” said Scanlon in reference to his success. “The rest of them come from Valley United and Lakeville. To me, the key to winning is all the coaches here at Apple Valley know soccer. They’ve all played the game. We have good coaches that know what we want done and we insist on doing it a certain way.”
Lee agrees and says the Apple Valley coaching staff have all bought into the program.
“Craig Opel is the Freshman A Coach. He coached with Chuck for 32 years. He played varsity for Minnehaha Academy in high school and Varsity for Augsburg College.
John Christiansen is the JV Coach and has been with the program for 14 years. He was captain of the 1991 Apple Valley Varsity team.
Chris Scanlon is the Sophomore Coach. A 7-year veteran of the program and Chuck Scanlon’s oldest son. He was a varsity captain for Apple Valley in 1996 and played four years of D1 soccer for Drake.
Jenna Scanlon has been the B Squad Coach for 2 years. She’s Chuck’s youngest child. She played soccer and hockey in high school. She was a captain of the hockey team in high school and played college hockey at the University of Wisconsin River Falls where she was the captain her senior year.”
Last Saturday Apple Valley completed another perfect season of 17-0-0, setting another state record with a 5-0 win over Farmington. They are currently ranked 1st in the state, 2nd in the region and 13th in the nation.
They have scored 64 goals this season and only allowed 4, recording 13 shutouts along the way. The Eagles have now won 41 consecutive games since their last defeat in the state tournament quarterfinals on October 24th, 2008. That’s 3290 minutes of soccer without a loss or a tie.
“It’s hard to get to the top but once you get there you have to make sure your players don’t get complacent or cocky,” reflected Scanlon. “I just told my guys recently, the final two weeks of the season is the time you’re going to get a change of weather, people start getting sick, you’re going to get more homework and there’s a chance you’re going to get complacent and sloppy.” Scanlon pauses, then says, “Its kind of scary because were ranked first in the state and are even nationally ranked. But there’s lots of teams that see that and would love to beat us. Everyone knows with this game you can outplay someone and still be on the losing end. As a coach you always think about those things. You could have a great season and great players but it could all end quickly. I’ve said it a million times to my players, shoot low and shoot hard. I’ve seen plenty of balls flying over goals in championship games. If you don’t score they can come right back down on a counter and your season is over.”
Coach Scanlon will do his best to keep the Eagles’ season going all the way to the state final on November 4th. They start their quest today with their first sectional game against Hastings (1-8-0). You can bet he will not allow his players to take the game lightly.
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