Replacing eight starters is no easy task. Doing it after winning a state title, and then returning to state, says something about a program.
Coach Brian Allen’s Crystal Lake South program hardly missed a beat this season. The Gators became the IHSA Class 2A state runner-up in 2019, after winning the Class 2A state title in 2018.
The 2018 Gators were a senior-heavy team with multiple four-year varsity players. That they won a lot of games didn’t come as a surprise. The 2019 Gators had more question marks coming into the season, and yet nearly matched the 2018 version.
South went 20-5-4 and finished second in the Fox Valley Conference (at 7-1-1, behind Jacobs). And once again, the Gators played their best soccer when it mattered most.
For his efforts, Allen has been named the 2019 Northwest Herald Boys Soccer Coach of the Year. Jacobs coach Colin Brice and Richmond-Burton coach Casey DeCaluwe were also strongly considered for this year’s award. Allen is a repeat winner, after earning the award in 2018.
Allen recently spoke to the Northwest Herald about the Gators’ run, his coaching “brother,” and more.
What did you see in this year’s team in how it came together from the beginning of the year to the end?
Allen: They stayed the course and they started to believe in themselves a lot more. With new players stepping into new roles early in the season, they’re getting used to those. As they got more comfortable in those roles, the rest of the puzzle can come together and they can work on the intangibles and the teamwork, the growing each week. … We got to the midway point of the PepsiCo tournament when we played Solorio and Morton and played both those teams extremely close. At that point, we sat down and said, ‘If you don’t believe now that you’re capable of doing something, then there’s something wrong.’
Were there any unexpected ways that winning the state title in 2018 affected your program?
Allen: It humbles you. Once you get to that level, that’s what you strive for as a coach and as a player, for everyone to experience that. Once you’ve achieved it, you sit there for a little bit and you’re like, ‘OK, so what’s next?’ And you start to think about how can we get an opportunity for some of these other guys to experience such a remarkable thing. It’s definitely humbling when you win a state title. Once it set in what they truly accomplished last year – and again even this year even though we fell a little bit short – I think now that some time has gone by they’re starting to realize, holy cow, to get to the very last game of the season in two straight years is quite a feat.
When did you first see leading scorer Alex Canfield play? And do you remember what your impression of him was?
Allen: At our middle school camp probably either his seventh or eighth grade year. This kid knows how to put the ball in the net. Early on, you could see he had that knack for scoring goals but a lot of it was based off his athleticism. When he entered as a freshman and we got to see him over the summer, you saw flashes of him doing it against kids that were juniors and seniors. … You realize if he keeps working as hard as he was working to prove himself, then he could end up as something special. That’s the coolest part, he’s worked as hard as a senior as he did to prove himself as a freshman.
You’ve had assistant coach Tony Allen (unrelated) by your side since you became head coach in 2007. Does everyone assume you’re related?
Allen: Yes, it’s a running joke. A lot of people think we’re brothers or cousins. Even in the coaching world, there are coaches still to this day that say, ‘Oh, so you and your brother–” and we’re like, ‘How do you not realize that we’re not brothers by now?’
What’s it been like to have someone like that with you all these years (Tony Allen actually coached Brian Allen at Rolling Meadows)?
Allen: You can’t put it into words. Our relationship away from the field, having known him as long as I have, he is like my brother. It really comes down to that. We have coaching arguments and bickering back and forth that are brotherly-like. That’s why it works so well. I know I have a deep respect for him and I’m pretty sure it’s a mutual one.
Who’s the funniest guy on the team this year?
Allen: [Laughs] It probably depends on the mood that I was in, in terms of what I thought was funny. Sabien Raymond. There was a time we were at PepsiCo and he started busting into a dance that made me laugh.
What’s your favorite soccer movie?
Allen: I’m going to go with “Green Street Hooligans.” It’s about a group of die-hard super fans in Europe.
If you could change one thing about high school soccer, what would you change?
Allen: I guess, length. I’d like to see two 45s [45-minute halves] instead of two 40s.