In the days following the Ohio State men’s soccer team’s season-ending loss to Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament, head coach Brian Maisonneuve took time to reflect on his first season on the job and how he plans to lead the program going forward.
Maisonneuve was hired this past spring after serving as an assistant coach from 2010-17 at Indiana, his alma mater. What made the decision to leave easier, as well as the transition to Columbus, was the fact that Maisonneuve spent nine seasons playing for the Columbus Crew during his professional career.
“Ohio State was the only program I would have left IU for. I was fortunate to have eight great years there, as a coach and obviously as a player as well,” Maisonneuve said. “It was an honor to come back to Columbus, to work for this athletic department and to be a part of this program. It’s exciting and it was just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The 2018 Ohio State men’s soccer team (1-15-2, 0-7-1 Big Ten) failed to find consistency in key areas of the game, including a dormant offense that failed to find any footing in the attacking half until the final stages of the season.
“Early on we had some issues. Towards the end I thought we were getting the ball in good spots. I thought we were creating opportunities,” Maisonneuve said. “We just weren’t finishing,” Maisonneuve said getting reps in and around the goal during practice was often a key emphasis for the Buckeyes, yet the schedule at times prevented them from getting into a rhythm.
“The hardest part in that part of the season was actually finding training days to work with the guys, because when you play two games in five days or two games in six days, by the time you finish the game the next day is recovery,” Maisonneuve said. “You have one day to hit on a couple of things and then it’s the day before, which is pretty light and then you play again.”
Maisonneuve said the Buckeyes were lacking in the technical facet at times, whether it was team members getting clean strikes on their shot attempts or making effective contact with their heads. Yet in other practices, Maisonneuve said, the Buckeyes proved effective in finding the back of the net.
By the end of the year, Maisonneuve said he believed his team executed the correct passes and created the necessary chances to win games, but lacked the finishing touch that would get them on the scoreboard. He specifically cited various close calls in the team’s regular season finale at Wisconsin and Ohio State’s season-ending loss to Northwestern in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.
For Maisonneuve, inconsistencies on the defensive side of the ball came when the Buckeyes trotted out an entirely new four-man back line with the exception of sophomore defender Will Hirschmann.
This unfamiliarity with one another led to occasional issues in terms of moving together as a unit and developing and maintaining quality spacing between defenders, Maisonneuve said.
“Our toughest part of the schedule was definitely at the end. I said it couple of times, I do think if our schedule was flipped we might have beat some of those teams early on if we were playing like we were at the end of the season,” Maisonneuve said. “However, I don’t know if we are able to get to where we were at the end of the season if the schedule was flipped.”
Maisonneuve said he gives the Buckeyes a ton of credit because what was asked of them was tough.
“It was one of those years where we couldn’t catch a break,” Maisonneuve said. “On the flip side I know you create your own breaks and you create your own luck, but between getting scored on with nine seconds left, with 19 seconds left, with 73 seconds left, a couple unfortunate red cards, a couple goals called back … it just seemed one of those years.”
Maisonneuve said the fact that the Buckeyes played their best soccer and had their most productive training sessions at the end of a one-win season says a lot about the character of the players in the locker room.
“We had our dips. We had a lot of conversations about the process, the culture, or teammates and having each other’s back and we continued to build that side of it because I’m a true believer if you don’t get the culture right, your X’s and O’s don’t matter,” Maisonneuve said.
When it came to the coaching staff, Maisonneuve said his three biggest targets were Sergio Gonzalez, Matt Foldesy and Chad Barson. He said not only do they have great soccer minds, but they were great people for the team to be around, as they understand what it is like to be part of a family.
“They’re guys I knew from the past that I’ve worked with, coached before or coached alongside, so I needed a staff that I knew could come in, in good times, bad times, through a season like this or the good seasons that are coming ahead of us, that were going to be able to stick together and that was huge,” Maisonneuve said.
As for returning players, he cited plenty of starting players who impressed him with their potential to make a difference on next year’s squad.
Maisonneuve named junior defenders Osman Fofanah and CC Uche and redshirt junior goalkeeper Parker Siegfried as big-time contributors on the defensive side of the ball.
Meanwhile, he praised two freshmen, midfielder Xavier Green and forward Devyn Etling, who he said “were called upon to pull the strings,” along with a trio of midfielders in sophomore Joshua Jackson-Ketchup and juniors Jake Scheper and Jack Holland.
Looking forward, Maisonneuve said the sky’s the limit for the Ohio State men’s soccer program. He said he believes this season’s struggles are something returning players can learn and gain confidence from, so they can understand what it will take to be a successful team moving forward.
“Some people say, ‘Well Mais, now you get to start over.’ Well, I don’t want to start over because I think we made some strides. We laid the foundation. It didn’t show up in the wins and losses, but this group coming back knows what it’s going to take to make that jump,” he said.