t's a sultry Saratoga morning in late August, and the sun is begin- ning to beat down on the dew-laden pitch at the corner of Clinton and Clement Streets. The men's varsity soccer players arrive a good twenty minutes early for a preseason practice. And by the time their new head coach, Ron McEachen, shows up, sweat has begun to darken their light-gray practice shirts.
|Thoroughbred Randall Steketee 'ol drives the ball between Union College defenders.
Spread across the field, the athletes are in constant motion, knocking five or six balls around, taking turns checking to a passer, demanding the ball, collecting and turning it in one motion, head up, scanning the field for a receiver, striking it to his feet, and so on. There is a palpable sense of purpose that intensifies with the coach's arrival. In spite of tired legs from two-a-day sessions, the players still have a bounce in their steps.
McEachen converses with co-captain Andrew Simon '02, an all-conference midfielder from Carmel, N.Y. Smiling, the coach gives last year's leading scorer an affectionate pat on the back, whistles lightly (he doesn't use metal or plastic whistles), and calmly says, "OK, guys. Come on over." In a few seconds his troops are seated in a tidy semicircle under the merciful shade of three pines. Two minutes later, instructions delivered, they are in motion again.
The evening before, during an an instructional scrimmage, McEachen kept up a constant patter of advice and encouragement: "Read the game . . . . Look to play faster. You're dribbling it. I don't want you dribbling it . . . . Close down the options. OK, Jimmy, now distribute it out wide . . . . Middies, you have to support the ball . . . . Andy! Aaahndee! Don't get frustrated, just get it done . . . . I promise you, we'll get there."
"Awesome!" is the first word that comes to Simon's lips when asked about his new coach. "His understanding of the game and his ethic are incredible, and he really knows how to apply his knowledge to us."
McEachen's goals for his first year in the tough UCAA, a group that includes reigning NCAA Division III champion St. Lawrence University, are basic: "Establish our style of play relative to the strengths of our players, get everyone on the same page, and be competitive in every game. We'll try to pressure the ball. We'll look for first touches and playing the ball quicker. We'll concentrate on creating an overall work ethic. Ultimately, we are going to win games by everyone having the mentality of defending and attacking as a unit."
"The players will never doubt Ron," says assistant coach Paul Dion, who this fall began working with the men's team after eighteen seasons as the varsity women's soccer coach. "They have so much faith in him."
And faith they should have. The relentlessly upbeat McEachen brings to Skidmore the credentials of one of the best soccer coaches in the country. At Middlebury College McEachen was twice named Division III coach of the year, and at the University of Vermont he was twice New England Division I coach of the year.
The former West Virginia University all-American and longtime professional player was one of just five college coaches asked in 1995 to join the fledgling American professional league, Major League Soccer. Honored, McEachen left UVM to become an assistant coach with the MLS's New England Revolution.
"Read the game...look to play faster. Don't get frustrated, just get it done.
...I promise you, we'll get there."
Any doubts about whether such a high-profile coach would be a good fit for a struggling Division III squad (8-6-1 overall, 1-1-4 in the UCAA last year) were likely dispelled by the tone and substance of his introductory summer letter to returning and prospective players. He told them that he would contact each of them individually to learn of their goals and future dreams. He told them that he believed each individual determines, through his decisions and choices, if he will lead an enjoyable and productive life. And he asked them to read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and the Dalai Lama's The Art of Happiness.
Ayn Rand and the Dalai Lama? What for? "I believe a successful team needs to balance the individualism and self-interest that Ayn Rand espouses with the Dalai Lama's call for compassion," says McEachen. "I also believe that this mix applies to life itself. I wish someone had shared this with me when I was younger."
McEachen practices what he preaches. Coaching at the professional level, he found, was "more about managing egos than about training," which, along with too much time away from his wife and children in Vermont, explains why he left the Revolution after one season. Back in the Green Mountain State, McEachen agreed to be the assistant men's soccer coach at Middlebury, working under his former protégé, David Saward. His willingness to take what many would see as a step backward speaks volumes about the man, his perspective on life, his loyalty, and his relationships.
Though he had "lots of opportunities" to take a higher-level position, McEachen didn't Though he had "lots of opportunities" to take a higher-level position, McEachen didn't bite until the Skidmore slot opened up and his friend, former men's coach Jack Huckel, recommended him as his successor. (Huckel left after thirteen years at the Thoroughbred helm to take a position with the Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y.) "The school, the town, the proximity to Vermont-they were all important factors for me," reveals McEachen. "So were the people I met here at Skidmore. They were alive and thriving, interested and involved."
But the rapport he struck up with Skidmore athletics director Tim Brown was the clincher for the veteran coach. For his part, Brown saw an opportunity to land a national-level candidate who could also support a resurgence for the women's program. McEachen, whose office sits next to new women's soccer coach (and ace lacrosse coach) Terry Corcoran's, will guide both programs during the informal winter indoor season and the "nontraditional" spring season.
While McEachen's presence won't necessarily translate into UCAA championships in the next couple of years, it has already caught his opponents' attention. Middlebury's Saward says, "Keach is dynamic, inventive, and a great recruiter. If I was St.
Lawrence, I would be concerned!" And St. Lawrence coach Bob Durocher predicts, "Skidmore will be in the hunt for a conference championship much sooner than later." As for the Thoroughbreds, McEachen seems to have lifted his players' sense of what is possible. "They really respect him," says a varsity lacrosse player of his soccer buddies, adding perhaps the ultimate compliment: "He's the Terry Corcoran of men's soccer."
Editor's note: The men's soccer team went undefeated in its first seven games this fall, including a hard-fought 0-0 draw with St. Lawrence, snapping the reigning champ's 39-game winning streak. Get the latest at www.skidmore.edu/sports or 518-580-5393.