It was eight years ago when Derby boys soccer coach Paul Burke was practicing on the same field he now coaches on. The Derby High graduate and first-year coach is finding it somewhat easy to interact with the team.
“It’s easy to relate to them, I know what they’re trying to do. I tell them, ‘It was only 2004 when I was in high school, too,’ ” Burke said. “I’m more energetic, upbeat, trying to get them to go hard, not just walking through things. We’re constantly moving.”
Last season the Panthers finished 7-9-1 with Burke as the assistant coach. The transition to head coach has been a smooth one.
“They kind of know my style, they know who I am. It’s not bringing in some random person that they’re not used to,” Burke said. “We’re pretty much doing the same thing we’ve always been doing, but we’re more upbeat and trying to attack more rather than sit back and defend.”
Derby will be particularly strong in the midfield this year, led by senior Jose Vaquera, an all-league center midfielder. Returning junior Julio Vielmas will join Vaquera in the center midfield.
“Our midfield is 100 percent,” Burke said. “We have a four-year starter in Jose, then a three-year starter in Julio, and they’re kind of holding down our team. We’ve been building around those two.”
Although Derby’s offense is young and inexperienced, Burke is expecting its speed to be key in scoring goals. The distribution from the midfield will also play a role in offense, where Derby is planning on using quick passes and long passes through the opposing defense to gain scoring opportunities.
“Once we find the center midfielders, it’s easy to distribute out and find the guys and create a lot more chances. This year we have more people that can finish,” Vaquera said. “We’re not really weak in any spots, we’re strong pretty much everywhere.”
Every player in the back returns from last season, with goalkeeper Edgar Vaquera and Marcus McKee anchoring the defense.
“We have juniors and seniors primarily on defense,” McKee said. “All of us are returning varsity so we all know each other, we all played the past four years with each other.”
Burke and the rest of Derby’s team are looking for improvement with a different approach from last year.
“When we get close to regionals to be probably top three is what they’re looking for, a double-digit win season,” Burke said. “We’re trying to break this season down into four-game segments and go 3-1 or 4-0 in those and not look at the big picture of 16 games and then playoffs.”