A College Soccer Season with the Luckiest Man of the World (Part 1)…

“Season 2011 was a fantastic season. No question about that,” says Robbie Church, head coach of Duke Women’s Soccer team, crossing his legs and leaning his left forearm on the couch arm at his office on the third floor of Murray Building. In 2011, Church’s team won the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) championship and reached the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Final Four, beating Wake Forest (4-1) in the semifinals but losing to Stanford (1-0) in the final game. “I think that we started believing that we could beat anybody during preseason. We played against Notre Dame for the Carolina Nike Tournament in Chapel Hill on a Sunday. It was afternoon, I remember. Notre Dame was the defending national champion at that moment.” The gray-haired coach pauses for a second and scratches the back of his neck. “We received one goal in the first half but then scored three goals in the second one. Yes, that was the moment when we started believing we could achieve big things,” says Church nodding his head and displaying a smile. Church wears a comfy Duke outfit, his wedding ring, and a Nike run watch that he bought two years ago. “It is very functional! It has a timer so I can set up 15-minute drills and activities during practices. It can also measure how far and for how long I can run. Usually four miles three or four times a week.” When the door of his office is open, the first thing one sees is a huge flat TV mounted on a wall. Hanging on the left side of the TV: a Fútbol Club Barcelona scarf. Hanging on the right side: a blue scarf, “Duke Soccer 2011.” “Barcelona is my favorite soccer team. No question. They have a style I enjoy watching, a style that I want the players we recruit to adapt to. When we start a game, we play 4-2-3-1 (four defenders, two low midfielders, three high midfielders, and one forward). But when we attack, we use Barcelona’s 4-3-3” says Church. Above him, a symbolic picture: the team making a circle, players embracing each other and getting ready for the most decisive game in the recent history of Duke Women’s Soccer: 2011’s NCAA final game. His white board with round colorful magnets (blue for his players, red for the rivals) lies next to the couch. Below the TV, some board boxes; on the top of one of them, a yellow soccer ball. On the left side of his office, the coach has a desk with lots of papers on it (his notes about his rivals, his set plays, what the team has to do when playing 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3,) a computer, a phone, and two shelves. Objects Church values as treasures rest on one of them: the ball 2011’s NCAA final game was played with, books like a biography about Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, Bill Brill and Coach K’s A Season is a Lifetime, and Eric Blehm’s Fearless. “Messi is by far my favorite soccer player. He’s just amazing. Even in his new position assisting Neymar instead of scoring goals this year, he’s doing a great job,” says Church. “Also, I admire Pep [Guardiola] and [Sir Alex] Ferguson. I’m not a big fan of the Premier League though; I like la Liga better.” No wonder. When one sees Duke Women’s Soccer team playing, one realizes very early that their game is based on ball possession, one-two plays, and keeping the ball on the ground, just like Barcelona has been doing over the course of the last ten years, instead of physical contact, vertiginous defense-attack transitions, and long crosses from center backs to forwards, very typical of British teams such as Chelsea and Manchester City or Barcelona’s archrival: Real Madrid. IMG_7814