Through the opening week of preseason workouts, Matthew Dallman sees a driven team that is a few steps ahead of the developmental curve they had during the first month and a half of his first year with the program in 2016.
Instead of implementing new schemes and a new philosophy from the start, Dallman and The Dalles boys’ soccer team can hit the ground running for even greater gains.
“Obviously, having a lot of returners back from last year keeps us ahead of the game,” Dallman said. “These players know my style of play and they know what I expect of them, day-in and day-out. That makes it a lot easier. Coming in last year as a new coach, my focus was on getting them to buy in to the system that I created, so with the returning players, it has made it an easier transition.”
Last season, the Riverhawks doubled their win total, going from two in 2015 to four, and added some extra scoring punch, rising from 10 goals to 20.
Added to that, the Riverhawks vaulted into the postseason mix for the first time in two years, and were recognized for a solid season with 10 all-Columbia River Conference recipients, four on the first and second team.
All four of those athletes graduated, but honorable mention picks Pedro and Andy Lopez headline a group of 18 varsity players, including eight freshmen and five sophomores.
“We have a lot of talent here,” said Junior Ornelas, one of three seniors on the varsity roster. “We’re starting to come together as a team. I already kind of know what talent we have here, so right now, we’re focused on getting in shape and staying motivated. Then we’re going to get into focusing on the offense and defense.”
Ornelas and Jose Gutierrez are the other two seniors on the roster joining Pedro Lopez, and both Reed Twidwell and Jake Roetcisoender bring some varsity experience to the mix as juniors.
Alberto Gallegos, Andy Lopez, Julian Quintana, Jorge Gutierrez and Jesus Clemente enter the 2017 campaign as sophomore contributors.
Alex Gutierrez, Elian Ramirez, Yahir Santillan, Alex Mora, Omar Torres, Jaime Castro, Juan Heredia, and Pedro Yepez make up the freshman class.
Although 13 players are underclassmen, Dallman and assistant coach Emmanuel Elias see a ton of potential.
“We are a very technical team,” Dallman said. “The main difference from last year to this year is our average quality of player is much higher, ranging from their technique to their tactical awareness. So far, we have some players who have grown up playing at the most competitive level that we have in the area and that is nice to see because we have a lot more to work with as coaches.”
As part of his first foray in the 5A ranks, Dallman helped lead his TD squad to wins over Redmond, St. Helens, and added two Columbia River Conference triumphs against Pendleton.
Of the Riverhawks’ 11 losses, five were by three goals or fewer.
“At the end of the season, we were a lot more disciplined and played with a lot more intensity and we were able to play a technically-sound style,” said Twidwell, a midfielder. “I thought we progressed well playing under a new coach. Now that we know what to expect, we can stay on track and show even more improvement, this way we can be contenders this year.”
If The Dalles is going to jump into the contender’s mix, the goal scoring will need to improve.
In 15 matches, the Hawks were held to one goal four times and were blanked in seven other games, the last one coming in a 4-0 state play-in loss to Wilsonville.
“From what I have seen in practices, we have good passing and good technique. The game and the pace is natural for all these guys,” Twidwell said. “Matt is doing a great job of encouraging us and bringing the best out of us and helping us improve on the technical and mental aspects of the game.”
TD amassed a 3-4 record at home, but went 1-7 on the road and surrendered 33 goals to the opposition.
With that, another major focus of the team is defense, as the Riverhawks allowed 52 goals in 2016, a number that doesn’t sit well with Pedro Lopez.
“Defensively, we need to work on the basics,” he said. “Things like matching man-to-man when coming out of bounds and being able to move the ball back. Passing is going to get better too. It’s not just booting the ball and sometimes the small things like that we need to understand.”
Hood River Valley won 13 games and had two ties, so that squad remains the blueprint to follow.
Hermiston broke through with a top-10 overall ranking and a playoff berth, and Pendleton only won one match last year, but is still a program that has the ability to rebuild.
“I think we can be very strong this year,” Dallman said. “Obviously, Hermiston and Hood River are the teams that we are gunning for, and you never know what you are going to get out of Pendleton. They gave us a good run last year, but we cannot overlook them. All those teams will present us with some challenges. I expect this team to come ready to play at a much higher level.”
TD heads to Century High School in Hillsboro on Thursday for a jamboree slated for 10 a.m.
At 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 29, the Riverhawks kick off their regular season against Redmond.