With critical eye, Pfau looks to push Cougars
“We knew it was going to be rough…”
Those were the sentiments of Chris Pfau, head coach of the UH soccer team. After three years of less than stellar performance with cringe-worthy records, the team has finally began the move towards becoming a Top 25 program, where Pfau and his hand-chosen team don’t mind doing the dirty work.
After losing 18 players in one year, most teams would naturally experience some struggle and panic. For Pfau, however, that enabled this UH soccer team to head in the right direction.
“I think this was the first time that I have actually been frustrated as a coach,” Pfau said. “But I think that was a good thing because we were just that close. In my first two years, we were pretty decent, but last year I don’t think we really cared or were close enough to turn that corner. I think this year we were just on the edge of things.”
This would be the first year that Pfau would be playing kids that he actually recruited, as those in the program the last three years were brought in by former head coach Susan Bush.
With 60 percent of the players now gone, his team was smaller than ever and lacked depth. But there was still progression.
“Overall, I thought we competed,” Pfau said. “We had eight or nine conference games; we only lost two. We tied a lot, but that was a huge improvement from last year. It showed to me that we are close and that we are competitive in every game. Conference is tough because we have seven out of the ten teams that are nationally ranked in the Top 100.”
While other teams have the ability to substitute eight to 10 players, Pfau’s team would only be able to sub one or two, resulting in the players’ breakdown due to having no one off the bench who could change the dynamic of the game, which in turn was due to losing such a large class.
“This is one of the things you don’t really talk about, but this is the first time that our entire team actually got along and made a commitment to each other,” said Pfau. “It sounds funny, but we’ve never had that. This team has been very disjointed and very clique-ish. This is the first time our seniors felt like we care about each other and that they didn’t want to leave and they didn’t want the season to end.”
For three years Pfau coached players who were recruited while still in high school, and not by him. With a feeling of “it is what it is,” Pfau knew he had to make shifts and make due, and knew things were going to be difficult.
“We realized after my first year and as a staff that this was going to come,” Pfau said. “We knew the next couple of years were going to be interesting. Coaches let kids go, and of the kids that were coming here and we would just have to pick up the pieces because they are not going to come in with a coach that they don’t know.”
Now rid of a team who Pfau says didn’t really put 100 percent into the field, he takes pride in the players whom he has been able to bring in and attract thus far, players whom he said could have chosen teams like TCU, Texas or Baylor, because they are committed 100 percent to Houston and that is something that he has never had.
“We would lose 1-0, and you never got the sense of ‘OK we’re at this level,’ so we had a long talk with all of the players that to get to the next level, these are our expectations. You show up, you go to class, no excuses. By the middle of the spring all those kids started to weed themselves out. It was pretty obvious and an easy conversation (to have). They knew they didn’t want to put in the work.”
The players are coming, the core is strong, and Pfau expects the incoming class to be even better than the current freshman class. But he says it’s not just about building with talented kids, but also with the right kids. They’ve found leaders to step up in place of the four graduating seniors.
“Courtney Dudley has probably been one of our most consistent players when she transferred in,” Pfau said. “She’s a quiet player, but she’s phenomenal and plays every minute of every game. Halfway through our season she needed knee surgery, but she stuck it out and got cortisone shots so that we could get to the conference tournament. Also Meghan Brascia, who has stepped up, and Sydnie Green, who was named a Second Team All-Conference player this year.”
He gives credit to those who have stuck through the tough part of the process and to the character they’ve shown.
“When you start losing the games that we do, it’s easy to say ‘OK I am done,’ ” said Pfau. “They didn’t, and we have gotten better, and I can see it in the product on the field and the people who come to our games — and administration notices that. Our record hasn’t gotten better, but our team has gotten better.”
They need depth, players off the bench, bite and leadership. Now they have that. No one has left or transferred out, they all want to be around to see where the program is going to go. There is trust and understanding that a gap has been closed since last year; now they have to take that passion, change those ties to wins, and not disappear.
“I am very comfortable with where we are. I’m a pretty smart coach,” Pfau said. “If the team was jumping ship and transferring I would take a second and ask if I’m the right coach, are we bringing in the right kids and are we going in the right direction. But I’ll be honest with you, we are close and we are happy with where we are going. We are headed in the right direction and in two years it’s going to be exciting times. We can’t wait to get back going.”