Darren Powell has been the men’s soccer coach at Elon University for the past five seasons and has posted a .500 or better record every year. In 2008, Powell led Elon to its first-ever NCAA Division I conference title and a perfect 7-0-0 mark in conference play. His program has produced 27 All-Southern Conference performers, a conference player of the year and an MLS draft pick. I recently had the privilege of interviewing coach Powell on reflecting on last season, producing Elon’s first MLS player, and thoughts of the upcoming season.
Examiner: First of all coach, congratulations on a successful 2009 campaign where you made it to the SoCon Championship Game, finished in the top three in your conference, and even had one of your players drafted by the MLS, which is a first in Elon history. What do you take away from last year?
DP: There were lots of positives, we played good attractive soccer at times; we have made some progress over the past couple of years; we just try to get better with each year.
EX: What was your most satisfying win and toughest loss during last season?
DP: Winning semi-final game [for the win] and losing the Socon championship game [for the toughest loss].
EX: Were you surprised when the Chicago Fire drafted your top defender Steven Kinney in the 2010 MLS draft?
DP: Surprised that the Chicago Fire [of all teams] drafted him, yes; but on being drafted-no. The draft is unpredictable but I thought teams such as New England or DC United, or Toronto to mention a few of possibly five I thought would have drafted him.
EX: Any spoken team goals for the 2010 season?
DP: We sat down with our players on the first day of preseason and shared our goals for the upcoming season were to make the NCAA tournament, do well in the regular season and try to win the SoCon. We also strive to have a team GPA of over 3.0 and we have been nationally recognized by NSCAA (National Soccer Coaches Athletic Association) for academic achievement the past two years.
EX: How is this year’s team different than last year’s team?
DP: We lost 7 starters and our assistant coaches Jason O’ Keefe to St.Louis and Joe Crump to East Carolina. There are some exciting challenges and fresh energy about the players and staff. They seem to be resilient, committed, and work well together.
EX: Your goalie Clint Irwin was recently named to the 2010 Hermann Trophy watchlist, has set several school records, and has been selected to the All-Conference team all three years while at Elon. Where there other D-I schools recruiting him out of Charlotte Christian? And from a coaching perspective what goes through your mind the day you are able sign a top recruit?
DP: Yes, Wake Forest and Carolina were both recruiting Irwin, the North Carolina Player of the Year. It’s exciting when players sign because of the journey in building relationships with the family as well. The most exciting day is actually when they make a verbal commitment though…player’s do not back out on a verbal.
EX: This upcoming season will be a tough one. Elon plays four teams that qualified for the 2009 NCAA tournament, including conference rival and returning champion Wofford. Do you think the road to the regular season conference title is through Wofford again?
DP: Wofford was in last place the previous six years before attaining first, so the SoCon is loaded top to bottom to where anyone could win it. Wofford is one of the top; Greensboro, Furman, and Charleston among others that could win it. There are only seven conference games so the pressure of each game is there.
EX: What is the most difficult aspect of being a D-I soccer coach?
DP: The hardest part is the parity from year to year. The hardest pressure is the pressure you put on yourself.
EX: How was recruiting for 2010? Closest and farthest ones from Elon? I noticed 12 of the 26 players on your roster are from in-state.
DP: It has been good; we filled some gaps. I don’t like to put too much expectation on the freshman though. Glenn Scott of Raleigh (Sanderson) is our closest recruit. Chris Heyn from Connecticut would be our furthest away recruit.
EX: Where did you go to college and did you play soccer for them?
DP: I went to UNC Greensboro; played for them for 4 years; then played for professional teams in the USL with Carolina Dynamo, Raleigh Flyers and Wilmington Hammerheads.
Elon’s first game of the season will be September 1 against High Point in High Point. Here is a link to Elon’s schedule: Click here.