A year ago, the focus for new DePaul head coach Mark Plotkin and his staff was on learning about his new group of players and establishing the culture, expectations and style he wanted to play with.
This spring began with a different feeling, with a veteran group that returned ten of 11 starters that fell just short of reaching the Big East Tournament for the first time since 2016.
Second City Soccer caught up with Plotkin to get his thoughts on this spring as the Blue Demons squared off against the likes of Northwestern, Loyola, UIC and Indiana.
How do you feel like the spring went?
“I felt like it was very productive for us in a bunch of different ways. Things don’t always go the way you planned. Like we planned looking forward to the spring after the fall knowing we like ‘oh we return ten of 11 starters,’ we’re going to get to work with that group and get five games out of them throughout the spring and this is going to be great. But of course injuries happen, sicknesses happen and different things so we never actually had all of those guys together in any of our games so you just try to look to find the positives and that’s that we had a core group of guys who played a lot of minutes in the fall get a ton more experience and then we had a group of guys who had zero experience in the fall were able to play significant minutes this spring so it was able to help them develop and see where they were at and help them grow so we can maybe see if they can become depth guys for us and see what kind of minutes they can get for the fall.”
You played a pretty tough spring schedule, what did you take away from getting to play some high quality opponents?
“I really wanted our guys to be challenged. Because I think we could have lined up a schedule to just get five wins out of it and I don’t think we would have grown but for me I really want our guys to be challenged and you always learn more when you lose than you do when you win. Granted the results didn’t exactly go our way this spring but I think playing really good teams like that kind of poke holes in what you do and that just helps you prepare better for the fall.”
Are there any players that stood out during the spring?
“Timmy Iscra had a really good spring, Brayden Callipari, Jake Fuderer really stepped up, Matt Brickman had a really good spring and then we had a transfer that came in his name is Youssef Ramadan and just getting him acclimated to how we want to play, getting the guys comfortable with playing with him and having an entire spring to help him acclimate because he is going to be a featured guy for us this fall was really big, and then obviously Drew Nuelle is fantastic in goal and he continues to excel and grow.”
After getting so close to the Big East Tournament last year, how did you see guys respond this spring?
“I think we’re now a little over a year into our transition as a coaching staff and training environment and our expectations. I think we’re miles ahead from where we were last January to this January. I think the guys understand the work it’s going to take for us to continue to get there, the intensity in training that always needs to be there, the attention to detail and then just how they can constantly get better and ask more of themselves and ask more of each other.”
How much more were you able to get done this spring with a year under your belt?
“A lot more. It gets to a point too where once you’ve hit home all the really important things that you value as a coach and you start to see some of the guys take ownership of that and they start to own it on the field and start to communicate and really value those things that was the biggest thing I saw this year was that we didn’t necessarily have to get our values out of being sound defensively, being disciplined defensively, possessing with a purpose, moving the ball quickly. Where as we were really fighting last January to get those things instilled in the group I think that this spring a lot of those values were already instilled and now it’s just growing within that.”
Where do you feel like the team still needs to improve?
“I think we could definitely improve in the attack. I think it also didn’t help that much of our attacking guys who played a lot of minutes in the fall and who are going to be big features for us this fall weren’t exactly available much this spring because of injuries and sicknesses and different things, so I think that didn’t exactly help us but I do think we can definitely improve in the attack and we worked a lot on our buildup and how we want to generate more attacks and how we want to attack, so that’s been kind of a big theme that we’ve been working on this spring.”
Between now and when the team returns, what are the biggest things you want them to focus on?
“I really want them to come back healthy, come back fit and come back in a good place mentally that they’re just happy and ready to go. We’ve encouraged a lot of the guys to find spots where they can play over the summer so they can stay game fit and get touches and get in game situations so that their game continues to grow but for us it’s just making sure that they come back healthy, happy and fit.”