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Boys' soccer could have bright future in St. Helens, but work still needed

Should Oscar Monteblanco stay for another year, he has some changes he'd like to make.


MonteblancoFrom the very beginning, Oscar Monteblanco has always said he enjoyed a challenge, and taking over a hapless boys’ soccer program at St. Helens High School has been exactly that.

Last season’s team won a precious handful of games, and against the top teams from the difficult Northwest Oregon Conference, the Lions were hardly able to compete, losing by six or seven goals in a number of matches. This year, though the team was winless in their 13 games, Monteblanco feels they made some headway.

Monteblanco has a history of making the best out of tough situations. In 2008, he was given free rein to construct a women’s soccer program at Chemeketa Community College. The first year was a struggle, but in his second year, things were vastly different. The team finished second in the league point standings and took third place at the league championships. The difference-maker between the two campaigns, Monteblanco said, was the quality of the players he surrounded himself with.

“I recruited like a mother,” he laughed.

And while he isn’t allowed to recruit players at the high school level, there’s a parallel between the situations. Monteblanco has limited options and relatively small numbers, and what he needs is to make the best of what he has in hand. His strategy is to get as many players as possible to play competitive soccer on a year-round basis.

“At the beginning of the season ... I remember asking the kids, how many of you guys play club soccer, and competitive club soccer, and only one kid raised his hand,” said Monteblanco. “About seven or eight have approached me at the end of the season and said ‘coach, can you help me find out more about playing club?’”

Much of the roster is extremely sophomore-heavy, and Monteblanco says it’s a lack of experience that is holding them back. Teams like Wilsonville, who are well funded and have rosters full of players who see the field all year round, will be difficult to surpass for a rural program like St. Helens.

“If only one or two (players get in to club soccer), then in all honesty, most likely we win a game or two next year, but the climb is going to be much harder than that,” he said. “If we get seven or eight, we could look at four or five games.”

Though it turned out to be a frustrating season for the Lions, at least on paper, Monteblanco understood before the year started it would be a rebuilding year. One of his goals was to “close the gap” with the biggest programs in the league, and in many ways, that goal was accomplished. In the first half of many of the Lions’ matches, St. Helens kept things close. Monteblanco noted his players have all said they enjoyed the season, in spite of the winless record, and he sees several opportunities to improve things next time around.

One of the things Monteblanco enjoys most about the sport of soccer is its simplicity. Once the game has begun, the players are responsible for the flow of the match. The coach is charged with preparing his athletes, but when the whistle blows, the players are the ones who have to make the decisions on the field.

“I don’t get time outs to set up a corner kick,” said Monteblanco.

Because it’s up to the athletes on the field, Monteblanco said he has talked at great length about “critical times” in the match, or times when a goal is most likely to be scored. The first and last two minutes of each half, as well as the two minutes after a goal is scored are the both the most dangerous and the most opportune.

“In the last five minutes of each half, a player has a tenancy to relax. You’re looking at the clock and saying ‘oh, it’s almost over,’” Monteblanco said. “After you score a goal, we’re caught in the celebration so much that we have break downs. If the other team is smart enough and capable enough, they’re going to hit you right back.”

In addition to taking advantage of the easy opportunities, Monteblanco also hopes to make some changes in scheduling so as to preserve the quality of the facilities the Lions use. Monteblanco said he wasn’t opposed to using the field at Grace Baptist Church for a few of the matches, even though games would have to be moved to earlier in the day. Above all, though, Monteblanco says he deeply appreciated the heart and effort the team put fourth throughout the season.

“At the end, even though we didn’t get the result we were looking for, I can say that there wasn’t a single game in which they didn’t try their best,” he said.