The look of disappointment and frustration was evident on the faces of both, the players and the head coach Andrew Cumbo following the narrow 0-1 loss to No. 11 ranked Cañada. And having just been held scoreless for the fifth time this season, it is beginning to look like architecting the success of this young Hawks soccer team may require some patience.
The hill that Cumbo was asked to climb this fall was steep even before a single ball was kicked. Heading into his fourth year in charge, Cumbo essentially inherited two new teams. As well as taking over as the new women’s head coach — 19 of the 25 players on his men’s roster are freshmen. And while the women’s side seems to have turned a corner after a turbulent start (5-0 Conf.), bumps in the road remain for the men.
Bringing together that many new faces and getting them to play well in a certain system instantly is no easy feat. And with the Hawks (3-7-1, 0-3 Conf.) struggling to put together a run of positive results thus far, their playoff hopes are already looking bleak — meaning it could be time to shift the focus solely onto laying the foundations for next season.
But Cumbo hasn’t given up on making a charge at the post-season just yet, while admitting that they have quite the hole to climb out of in order to make that happen.
“The room for error is really small from now on,” Cumbo said of the upcoming games. “We have already played seven teams that are ranked in the top 15 in the north, four of which are ranked in the top five, so the schedule hasn’t been kind to us given that we are such a young group and that we have been peppered with injuries.
“But, my eyes are still set on this group competing in the playoffs. The team has been growing. We’ve definitely made a lot of progress overall in the first half of the season, and the post season is still a realistic idea.”
Sophomore midfielder Ian Slominski, one of the more experienced players in the side, was more coy on his team’s playoff hopes, emphasizing the chemistry that is still very much a work in progress for this young group.
“It’s going to be difficult to make the playoffs,” Slominski said. “It has been difficult, especially with all the new players coming in. Last year we had a solid group of guys that understood each other. This year, it has been tough to be on the same page at times.
“But as the season goes on, I’m sure it will get better. Once we understand how everyone plays, we are going to be sharper and start playing to our abilities.”
The one thing this season definitely has been for the men’s team — is tough. It is something that Cumbo has not had a chance to get used to during his time in Livermore, particularly in the regular season. His teams in recent years have been making the playoffs comfortably. But two months into the new campaign, it seems like there is more of a rebuild at hand.
While the results are certainly not there, many of the performances have been encouraging. Considering the team has consistently been playing higher ranked opposition, they have been able to hang around against the more established teams. What has hurt Cumbo’s side the most this fall is the inability to convert their chances in front of goal.
“We’ve had plenty of opportunities to go ahead of teams in games, but we’ve lacked that quality final touch when it counts, and getting on the front foot in a match would definitely be helpful,” Cumbo said.
The game against the Coast South conference second placed team in Cañada was more of the same. The Hawks looked in control for large parts of the game, but again failed to make their chances count in the final third — resulting in a narrow 0-1 loss.
Having witnessed that story repeat itself on several occasions this season, Cumbo believes that a young team such as this Hawks group has to learn from experience, emphasizing that remaining positive is the only way to improve going forward.
“Sometimes that quality (in the final third) comes from clarity through experience, so when we do miss chances, we remain positive and repeat the mantra of ‘go get the next one’,” Cumbo said. “Sometimes you need to make mistakes to know what’s right, and sometimes you need to miss some shots in order to learn how to make them.”
Slominski echoed his coaches take on the team’s struggles in front of goal, claiming that the team has the talent to be dangerous once the ball inevitably starts going into the back of the net more.
“Having composure in front of goal is huge,” Slominski said. “And we have been creating chances, we just need that final product. And that’s an easy fix, so once that happens, we can start winning some games and we will be a tough matchup for anyone that plays us.”
The Hawks have only missed the playoffs once in the last six years, and they very well may be absent from the post-season for the first time since 2015 this fall. But with a young team and some undeniably talented players on his hands, Cumbo refuses to look at the negatives. And with one eye already looking to the future, he is confident that in spite of the growing pains, the current crop of players will come good in Las Positas colors.
“We all have a positive outlook on these moments (missed chances and struggles),” Cumbo said. “The most important part is the opportunity, and we’ve consistently been in those moments.
“The level of competition and the opposition we have been playing is constantly helping us tighten up the way we play. The guys are working hard, playing with commitment for the school and for each other, and we are confident moving forward knowing that we still have so much more room for improvement.”