AUBURN — There’s an old sports axiom that a coach doesn’t really get to know his team, and vice-versa, until they’ve gone through a bit of adversity together.
For Edward Little boys soccer and first-year coach Tim Mains, that is especially true.
The Red Eddies have had a lot more ups than downs this season. They are 6-2-1 and sit atop the Class A North Heal Points heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
They finally hit a low point last week when they came out flat at home against Mt. Blue and had to settle for a 2-2 tie.
Having only been together for little more than six weeks to that point, Mains and the team used it as an opportunity to take what they’d learned about each other and strengthen their bond.
“We started having some disagreements after that game, but we were able to put it behind us and move on and benefit from that game,” Mains said. “In the beginning, I didn’t want to come on too strong. But now they know who I am and they know what I’m about, so we can have those conversations.”
“We were sort of adjusting to that hype of being on top,” senior goalie Owen Mower said. “When Mt. Blue came gunning for us really hard, we had never really been that team that someone was really gunning for. We’d always been the team gunning for the team higher up. So when we were there, it was an adjustment for us.”
The Eddies came out of the clear-the-air session refocused on getting back to doing the little things, staying positive and “just making sure that we’re together as a team,” Mains said.
“Given the situation, it needed to happen,” he said. “And now, looking back and seeing how they have responded, it definitely was a good thing.”
The Red Eddies responded with their most lopsided win of the season, a 6-0 shutout of Skowhegan.
It was EL’s fourth shutout of the season, a remarkable feat given the Eddies and their coach didn’t even meet until a couple of weeks before their first practice.
A 2011 EL graduate, Mains filled the vacancy left when Matt Andreasen resigned after four years at the helm to take a teaching and coaching position at Scarborough.
With most of the talent returning from a 5-7-4 season in which they lost to eventual state champion Lewiston in the regional quarterfinals, the Eddies had hopes of going deep into the playoffs this season. The last-minute coaching change could have derailed those plans.
“When it happened it was a blow. But after it happened, I think we came together a little bit and put it on ourselves a little bit (to get through it),” senior forward Jarod Norcross-Plourde said. “Coach Mains is a pretty good coach, and the philosophy is the same.”
“A lot of us watched him play soccer and basketball when we were younger. He was a familiar face for a lot of us,” Mower said. “We work to his personality. He is a little different from coach Andreasen, but I don’t think that was a problem for us, or anything we had to work around. It was just different.”
The Eddies emphasized getting off to a good start, but even they didn’t anticipate doing so well during a rugged six-game stretch that started with a 2-0 shutout of perennial KVAC power Mt. Ararat and continued with victories over Bangor, Hampden and Camden Hills.
Defense has been the constant so far. Mower has taken on a more vocal role with a junior-dominated back line and, with the exception of about a 10-minute stretch in a 3-0 loss to rival Lewiston, the Eddies have kept opponents from seizing momentum for long stretches.
“Defensively, we’ve been really solid, and Owen’s been a big part of that,” Mains said. “But the juniors that I have on that defense have been really, really solid for us.”
“They play tough out back,” Mower said. “We’ve got some kids who used to play higher in the field coming up back and giving us some technical depth. They know how to tackle well.”
With less pressure to score, the Eddies can play their possession game patiently and seek out quality chances.
They’ve scored 23 goals in five games since being shut out by Lewiston.
“The key is to get the ball wide and just keep it simple,” said Norcross-Plourde, who notched a hat trick in a 5-2 win over Camden Hills, which is still the Windjammers’ only loss of the year. “We keep scoring, so I guess it’s working.”
“Right now, it’s mostly about playing our game (with) consistency,” Mains said. “When we play well and when we play together and we’re not worrying about what the other team’s doing and we’re not worried about what the officials are doing, we play really well. When we play our game, we’re tough to beat.”
EL has a home rematch with Lewiston looming on Oct. 12 and will have to battle teams such as Cony, Brewer and Brunswick that will be fighting for playoff position down the stretch.
Based on what he’s learned about his team so far, Mains expects it to come out of the regular season in contention for a conference championship and challenge for the first regional title in school history.
“The team definitely has the talent to do it,” Mains said. “They’ve soared past all the expectations that I had for them, and that everyone had for them, really.”