With a chilling wind gusting across St. Pius High School’s soccer field Sunday, the Albuquerque Sol played host to El Paso-based Southwest FC in a closed scrimmage. Though not advertised, the Sol still drew roughly 100 onlookers who saw the Sol score a 2-1 “win.”
This victory could be a welcome result for the Sol, which went 2-10-2 in 2017 in its fourth season in the Premier Development League. But the scrimmage was more about first-year coach Justin Sells’ desire to find out more about his team.
He is mining the region for local talent to complete the roster and earn more positive results.
Sunday’s scrimmage was another piece to constructing the final roster puzzle. The Sol substituted liberally and modified its formations based on personnel.
“Today was about seeing different players and trying out different guys,” Sells said. “The next month for me is to see how many of these guys can legitimately start.”
The Sol held an open tryout in mid-January. The club then held an “invite only” tryout for 52 players Feb. 10. That three-hour training offered club staff a highly technical assessment of individual players.
One illustrative drill involved three players receiving an intentionally rough pass in a square. The player who drew possession had to make a clean collection and correct decision to pass the ball to an open player at one of the corners.
“You can start watching the technical drills to see where they are at now,” Sol general manager Larry Espinoza said. “It became apparent who will be able to work at this level. We look for coach-ability and fitness because we don’t have a lot of time to work on getting fit.”
Espinoza estimated that the final 2018 Sol roster will include 10-12 players with previous experience with the club. PDL rules allow for a 26-man roster, but the Sol may essentially keep an extra nine to 10 men as an informal “practice squad.” That depth could prove important given injuries, fatigue and other issues in the condensed PDL schedule.
“We’re going to need the depth,” Sells said. “The local guys are pretty much set. The college guys are pretty much locked in.”
The Sol has been running late trainings at Albuquerque Indoor Soccer starting at 9 p.m. That’s to accommodate work schedules for local players. Sells said the team works on defensive shape and tactics during the indoor sessions. In March, the training will shift outdoors.
“We will try to keep these guys together so more guys continue to play at this level,” Espinoza said. “The more looks they get these guys become better players.”
The Sol players are planning on additional preseason matches to further refine the team chemistry. It is playing FC Grande (Las Cruces) on March 25 and against Trinidad State in Taos in April.