The artificial field turf at St. Louis Soccer Park in Fenton, where the Webster University men’s soccer team practices, certainly holds the heat well. With temperatures climbing into the 90s the last two weeks, some players have splashed water on their feet to cool off while others have purchased a separate pair of cleats specifically for training. If one were so inclined to count the feet on the ground during a full squad training session, it would number 104.
For the second year in a row the men’s soccer team has exceeded 50 players to start the season, as no players were cut after tryouts. The 52 players make up the varsity and the reserve teams. Men’s Head Coach Mike Siener believes the depth can help develop the program.
“Whether you look at Wash U (Washington University), or you look at Trinity (International University), you look at the teams that are good, most have 40 to 60 guys, which surprises a lot of people,” Siener said. “It’s kind of a development thing.”
Still, a large squad presents unique challenges, as Co-Captain and senior leader Jeff Wallner found out.
“Having 52 guys, it can be difficult to have a good relationship with every guy on the team, especially some of the new guys,” Wallner said. “It’s unfortunate, but I don’t know some of the names of the players on the team yet.”
When Wallner and Co-Captain Tyler Brown were freshmen in 2011 the number of players on the squad was 25 according to the Webster Athletics Website. Brown estimated that there was no more than 30 altogether that season.
Brown said he remembers how it felt to try and break into a new team as a young player. He said it wasn’t fun to miss games against teams in the region like Fontbonne University where some of his friends played.
“Nothing is free. I had to prove that I could play at this level,” Brown said.
Brown also stressed that patience and versatility are important qualities for a young player to have. One young player who has seemingly taken that message to heart is Chad Reeder, a sophomore transfer student from Greenville.
Last year Webster went 14-4-3 and Greenville went 6-10-4. Webster defeated Greenville 3-0 last season.
“I was at Greenville and we played Webster, and they were really good, so I decided to transfer here because Greenville wasn’t very good,” Reeder said.
Though normally a central midfielder or defender, Reeder has played the striker position in practice occasionally.
“Something may come up where I can play anywhere, so just (try to be) as versatile as I can,” Reeder said. “And (I try) just not getting down on myself for not playing, because I’m just a sophomore.”
Reeder acknowledged that even if he were not to play at all, his love for soccer would keep him practicing.
Siener became head coach of the men’s soccer team two years ago. The expanded roster during that time is part of his plan.
“Starting a couple of years ago, I wanted to beef up the roster a little bit and add some more guys—I don’t think it was my intention to get this many,” Siener said.
Siener also said that new recruits and new players interested in the team led to the increased number of players on the squad.
Both Brown and Wallner agreed the team’s chemistry and the attitudes of the younger players were still good. Brown noted the depth on the squad protects against injuries which occur throughout the season.
Already Webster has had “3-4” players pick up injuries, including Wallner who was sidelined against Edgewood College with a recurring groin problem.
“It has its challenges, but, I don’t think it was a difficult thing,” Siener said. “You definitely got to plan practices well, you gotta be prepared and keep everybody involved and we do play reserve guys to give some of the younger guys opportunities to play.”
Though not every player can dress for every game, Brown said there is a camaraderie between the reserves and the starters.
“52 players win, and 52 players lose every time we play, reserve or top team,” Brown said. “The attitude we try to have is to work hard and get better every day.”