Under new coach, Freeport boys soccer changes approach, sees some results

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Tuesday, September 21, 2021 | 9:44 AM


Tahlon Kirkland knew he was in for a challenge when he took over the Freeport boys soccer coaching job.

The long-term substitute in the school district also was pretty familiar with the players he was inheriting.

“I know most of them already from working at the school. So that was a positive,” said Kirkland, a St. Francis (Pa.) grad who replaced Dave Teorsky after Freeport went 3-10 in 2020. “The biggest challenges so far have been the speed of play with moving up (to Class 3A) last year.

“And quarantining and covid is always an issue. We’ve been losing boys on a weekly and daily basis, as well.”

Not helping matters is Freeport’s participation. There are only 24 players on the team, a small number for Class 3A. When the Yellowjackets played Hampton on Sept. 13, they were looking at nearly twice as many players on the other bench.

“When these quarantine and covid things happen, it really hurts us because we just don’t have the numbers,” Kirkland said. “It’s hard to get in JV games and get experience for younger players.”

Needless to say, Kirkland does not cut players and is more than accepting of anyone willing to sign up.

“We’re always looking,” he said. “We’ve tried to talk to some kids to come out. It’s hit or miss there with either football, other fall commitments or they want to work.

“I’ve found that’s a big issue now. All of these kids want to have a job. When I was in high school, you really didn’t have a job. Maybe here or there, but some of these kids have full-time jobs now.”

For the kids who play, Kirkland has a specific mindset for the brand of soccer he wants.

“It’s possession based. We want to keep a lot of the ball,” he said, admitting the style is different from past Freeport teams. “We want to build out of the back, and dictate and maintain pressure, and a standard as well. We want to create a more attractive way to play rather than kicking the ball and running.”

Through the first quarter of the season, results were mixed but in a strange way. The Yellowjackets lost the season opener, 7-1, to Kiski Area. Freeport then beat Highlands, 5-0, lost to Hampton, 7-0, and beat Armstrong, 7-1.

A 2-2 start with such a range of results — all in section games — is a bit bizarre. But Kirkland is trying to harness the way his team played in its first win over Highlands.

“We played well. We played as a team,” he said. “They did everything I really wanted them to do in that game. We had the ball probably 60 of the 80 minutes. We allowed one shot. We wanted to dictate our pressure and play our game. I thought the boys really did that.”

Freeport has a strong center attacking midfielder in Isaac Wetzel, who Kirkland labeled as the team’s top player.

“He basically has freedom to go wherever he wants on the field to find the ball as much as possible,” Kirkland said. “He’ll definitely play in college. He has the desire to do it and the work rate as well.”

Wetzel, a junior, works alongside a strong group of seniors, including captains Jonathan Merli (a center back) and Lukas Troutman (a midfielder).

“(Merli) really hunkers down for us and controls the back,” Kirkland said. “He has fantastic skills and great vision. (Troutman) is that person who will run through walls for you. He doesn’t shy away from a challenge or a 50-50 ball.”

Senior Sebastian Cordier is a two-year starter at goalkeeper.

“He puts his body on the line,” Kirkland added. ”He’s good with his hands and is an all-around good player.”

The Yellowjackets already have seen, in Section 1-3A, there are some haves and some have nots. Kirkland sees his squad as somewhere in the middle.

“The top teams in the group are really, really good,” he said. “And the bottom teams sort of fall out. We’re hoping to split games with Knoch and Indiana. But getting experience against Kiski, Hampton and Mars will really benefit us.

“If we can split a game here or there with one of them, that’s a fantastic result for us.”

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