Aug 19, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Goalkeeper Daniel Withrow and midfielder Sarah Vinson have moved, but there’s an even bigger star shining in Marshall Soccer now.
It’s a new stadium.
The Herd’s gleaming Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex opens Friday with a men’s and women’s doubleheader sandwiching dedication ceremonies. It’s going to be a very tough ticket in the 1,006-seat stadium, a once-in-a-lifetime event.
And speaking of veterans, that day – and this place -- is one that 19-year Herd men’s Coach Bob Gray has admitted multiple times he never thought he’d even see in his soccer-filled lifetime.
Gray and Marshall women’s Coach Kevin Long – starting his sixth Herd season – know that whatever happens this season on the pitch, 2013 will be mostly about what figures to be brighter futures of their programs.
So, I sat down with each of these straight-talking guys and asked them what “The Vet” means. They surely weren’t at a loss for words.
They looked at as coaches would – from a technical standpoint, having a 75-yard wide turf field means no more trying to simulate their sport’s nuances in practice on a 53-yard football field at Edwards Stadium.
Gray and Long had much more to say, too.
“The stadium is absolutely amazing, done first class and what it’s going to give us, besides the obvious in recruiting is it’s going to develop a very professional attitude both within the team and the staff,” Gray said. “To have all of those facilities right there together to be able to walk out of my office and onto the field, to be able to schedule training whenever we need to, to having a locker room the players can call their own …
“We very much intend to run our program – and we tried in the past, but it was more difficult – to create that professional atmosphere within the team and it will be a lot easier to do, naturally. Another thing people don’t realize in all these years is that we were never able to train day-to-day on a regulation soccer field, because we were in the football stadium, which is at least 10-15 yards shy of the width that we would need. So, that’s going to be huge.
“The whole setting down there will allow us to have that serenity, a calmness among ourselves without a lot of distractions. It’s going to be a lot more healthy soccer atmosphere. Even though we’ve always gotten along great with the women’s program, it’s going to be great to have both coaching staffs within shouting distances of each other and supporting each other.”
Each team will have its own locker room and lounge/meeting room. There are shared training rooms and equipment rooms. Head and assistant coaches will have their own offices.
“I think the word ‘efficiency’ comes to mind,” Long said of the new facility that really is “home” to Herd soccer in every way. “We as a program become way more efficient with our time spent. We’ve enjoyed everything Marshall has given us over the years.
“We never have perceived things as a program in want, in need, and when they put us into a stadium where it’s one-stop shopping for all of our needs, one site, I think now we can become more efficient.
“It gives us more time to do some of the fringe things as players and coaches that we’ve had to maybe – time-wise – been unable to do, or facility-wise be able to do, and our proximity to the field now is such that when we have questions as coaches or players, do individual training, it’s only 10 yards away from our office.
“We don’t have to reserve the field, like we did the football stadium. All these logistical simplicities that are created by us being at the one site will enhance how we train and what we do with our team.
“It will give us more time to create that successful program that we all want.”
Long also addressed the playing field, where the dimensions (120x75) are as great as the AstroTurf GT Plus surface.
“The bigger field will help,” he said. “We’re getting used to the additional size in training, getting used to our new boundaries. The football field was 55 yards wide, while the field we had was 65. Now, everything is true to life -- 20 yards bigger in width compared to the football field where we trained a lot, 10 wider than our old game field, where we really didn’t get to train a lot, because it was grass, and you didn’t want to wear it out.”
“Already there’s more space, so we have to be more fit and stronger to cover that space. So, when we go out and play teams that are on 120x80 … that was so foreign to us, because we couldn’t replicate any of that in training.
“We’re finally at a place where we can acclimate to game conditions, and I hope that translates into how we play, the spacing we use on the field.”
Gray said “the Vet” isn’t just about great new things for the home teams.
There’s a walk-in reception area, just off the corner of Fifth Avenue and 26th Street, where the sidewalk paving and landscaping is designed to look like the patches of a soccer ball.
Besides the veterans’ memorial that was saved from the old Field House and stands tall next to the main entrance, there are plaques honoring the various United States military services, and a couple commemorating the old basketball arena that stood at the site for six decades.
There also is a brick-paver project with former Herd soccer players donating $1,000 apiece to have their names inscribed on a brick near the main entrance. To date, more than 75 have made the commitment.
Yes, it’s a fan-friendly place.
“I think we’re also going to be able to re-create an atmosphere in that stadium that we’ve been able to capture the last several years, with how intimate the stadium has been designed. It’s going to be electric inside that place.
“One of the things when we discussed the whole design was we wanted to be able to keep our fans close to the field. Keep it compact … and I think the architects and the athletic department and everybody else involved in the design did a phenomenal job.”
It could even turn out to be an opponent-welcomingly place, too. The Herd figures to be able to schedule more quality teams home-and-home.
Gray said he is talking with an interested West Virginia about resuming the men’s “Boot” series that hasn’t been played since 2004.
“We’re still in discussion, but in principal, both coaches have agreed to play,” Gray said. “It’s just a simple matter of whether we can fit it into 2014 schedule. If not, we’ll start it in 2015 at the latest.
“Part of it is we haven’t gotten our conference schedules and so it makes it difficult to establish a date, but the sooner the better for us. We’d be happy to get started in 2014 and I think their coach (Marlon LeBlanc) feels the same way. It obviously should be a healthy rivalry – which is an understatement – but what it would mean for youth soccer in the state can be tremendous, too.”
Long and Gray figure getting home dates and home-and-home series won’t be as difficult an offseason task with the new stadium.
“We’ll be able to host tournaments,” Gray said. “No doubt we’ll be able to attract schools we would not have been able to play at home. Akron (a national power in soccer) might be willing to come. Their new first assistant (Carl Capellas) is a Marshall grad who played for me. We might have that opportunity.
“We potentially could renew a rivalry with Ohio State. Their second assistant (Taly Goode) is also a Marshall graduate who played for me. We possibly could play Virginia Tech, since they’re so close geographically. We’ve never had any of those opportunities in the past, because we didn’t have the facilities.
“We’ve got Maryland on the schedule again next year, and while I doubt we’ll get them to come here sometimes, the fact they’re on the schedule and were No. 1 team in country last year in the final polls is something that is very attractive to recruiting good players, who want to play good teams.”
Yes, Marshall soccer – men’s and women’s -- is looking up … the Herd is getting a real kick out of its new home.