Home field no advantage for Gryphons

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 10:08 AM ET

Home sweet home it wasn't for the London Gryphons.

As a result, the United Soccer League W-League team is once again watching the playoffs, instead of participating in them.

Last year, their first official season in the USL, the Gryphons finished one point out of a playoff spot with eight wins and two ties. This year, they were out of the hunt early, finishing with four wins and a tie, a disappointing year for a team with big hopes.

"One of the big things is we failed to defend our turf," said coach Paul D'Hollander. "Last year we were 6-1 at home. This year we were 2-5. We were actually better on the road this year."

D'Hollander could find no solid reason for the lack of success at home. Even though the world field lacrosse championship moved the Gryphons out of their home at North London, they still played home games in London.

"It was a year of inconsistencies," he said, summing up the Gryphons' season.

Not only was their home record inconsistent, but so was their defensive work. D'Hollander said last year it was their strength. This year is was their downfall.

"We let in 45 goals, that's three goals against over a 14-game schedule," he said. "That's a lot of goals. That's virtually a goal and a half more than last year.

"I think we had more talent this year than we did last; we just were inconsistent. We just didn't jell. We'd play a phenomenal game for 60, 70 minutes, then fall asleep at a key time."

Even though this season proved less successful for the Gryphons, D'Hollander believes the team is moving in the right direction. His ultimate goal is to develop as many local players as possible and give them a chance to play at a high level.

And the more players the organization develops, the easier the seasons will get.

If there is an issue that's often out of the hands of coaches, it's the outside commitments players have, forcing them to miss games and road trips. That's especially true in a league such as the W-League, where travel can be extensive.

"What I'm finding in talking to colleagues in Cleveland, Cincinnati, wherever, this is a common concern," said D'Hollander. "These people aren't making a living at it. It's a passion. You are balancing life factors with playing at the highest end of soccer. There's careers to be developed, there's work commitments, there's family commitments. That is a reality we are faced with.

"The coach's dream is to have them give up everything for the game, but the reality is the bills come every month. The reality is you have to make ends meet."

D'Hollander is pleased at how his players developed.

"As a coach, you are dealing with a whole player, not just the soccer piece of the player," he said. "If you are only dealing with soccer piece of the person, they aren't going to play, because they need some balance. I have multiple facets I'm developing that I need to take care of."

One of the Gryphons' biggest offseason signings, and one of their biggest projects, was Italian national team midfielder Giulia Nasuti. She came to Canada to learn to play a more physical game.

"Giulia was great," said D'Hollander. "She came to learn there are a lot of big teams with a lot of big gals. It's fast, it's physical. She learned she had to be more tenacious.

"She got knocked down. The first time she got knocked down, I thought she wasn't going to get up again. But she got up again, went down many more times and pulled herself off the grass many more times. It was a great life experience for her."

As for D'Hollander, this was his third year as coach. He also coaches a boys' team and at the end of August, his Fanshawe team begins play. That's a lot of soccer.

"Each and every year you look at your cards and look at the options," he said. "I'm on the field seven days a week. I'm certainly very interested in continuing on. There'll be a little bit of time for self- assessing. I'll look to see if I can move this team forward. I'll meet with the other coaching staff and administration and just assess where the pieces are and where it's going.

"I believe we're a competitive team within the league and it's where we need to be. But you need . . . resources and you need to continue to grow."

He likes the legacy being written by his local players.

"When I reflect on Robyn Brady, Laura Roberts, when I think of Susie Moussa and Devon Romak and Cristina Bonasia and Meaghan Robinson and Keri Zwikker, the key linchpins for us locally, they are standup people who did a great job for us," said D'Hollander.

"It was nice going into battle with them. Hopefully, we can broaden and make that group grow with local talent."


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