WOOD-RIDGE – Alberico De Pierro is already sorry.
“I just know one of the people living here is going to call and complain about a crazy, loud football coach yelling at 9:45 p.m.,” he says with a smile.
The Wood-Ridge men’s soccer program boasts a sparkling new field that is one of the most unique in all of North Jersey. If Union City plays football on the roof of a parking lot (aptly named the Eagles’ Nest), the Blue Devils now play at the “Rack” at the Wood-Ridge Recreation Athletic Center, a gleaming new facility surrounded on three sides by condominiums . .
The pitch is sumptuous with a new soft surface. It’s wide, which makes the heart of a crazy, loud soccer coach shine (soccer on a soccer field is not the beautiful game). People can sit on their balconies and watch football practices or games, and they do. The fences are deliberately high so that wild explosions don’t go through a window.
The Rack is a good nickname, but Devil’s Den might be better.
High fences, high expectations
This is De Pierro’s eighth year leading the program, and only the seventh as a varsity. He is the only coach in its history. I’ve chronicled its growth every preseason to demonstrate how it resembles so many other North Jersey programs.
When they started, they trained on the rough Pomponio Field near Teterboro Airport, and there was a gravel parking lot. The planes were landing and you could read the numbers on the landing gear, they were so low when they flew overhead. No more.
De Pierro was given all the tools to succeed. He has new facilities, which allows him to schedule more training time. Wednesday evening was the second of two training sessions. De Pierro is really giddy that he now has real football training benches, you know the ones with curved windows to keep out the wind and rain.
“I finally got them,” smiles De Pierro.
There’s always been potential here, and it’s about to emerge. De Pierro now has a record 34 players and a larger coaching staff that now includes JV coach James Awosola who played at William Paterson.
Among North Jersey’s top scorers is Seydou Camara, who could score 30 goals this season.
Each year, De Pierro proposes a theme. It’s a coaching tactic that can become stale over time, but De Pierro is committed to it. He put a sign on the fence with the 10 things any player can do. This year’s motto gets straight to the point: Dedication.
Its meaning has several layers. Every team has a COVID story from 2020, but the Blue Devils might have the worst. They were literally on the field warming up for their state tournament game when news broke that there had been an exposure. They were removed from the field. The season ended like this.
They are determined to ensure this never happens again.
De Pierro runs the first drill, asking players to throw long balls into a defined area and allowing the offense to create scoring opportunities. The shots are crisp and hard, but De Pierro constantly asks for the balls to be sent over the top.
The challenge every coach faces during drills is how to get the players moving at the pace of the game?
“It’s tough,” De Pierro said. “I tell kids all the time you play like you practice. The only thing you can really do is punish when the drilling speed isn’t what you need. This is what you must do.
I decide to ask De Pierro two of the most difficult questions a coach will face in 2021 right now. What did he say about vaccinating his players?
His face turns serious and he says he didn’t broach the subject directly. He almost feels like after what happened at the end of last season, he doesn’t need to explain to his team how Covid can take everything away in a flash.
“We tell them to be careful and do the right thing,” De Pierro said.
The other question is even trickier.
The devil has come down
Athlete mental health is an important and complicated topic. Without naming names (and he shouldn’t), De Pierro says that yes, he recently removed a player from the program for mental health reasons. He said he respected the decision and that the door was always open for the player to return.
However, like most people in his profession, he struggles with the idea that players feel like they don’t have the mental fortitude to compete. This concept goes against every coach’s fundamental belief that they believe in the player’s abilities. It’s part of a coach’s job to get the player to believe too. The sign on the fence is essentially a road map, a clear communication of what is expected of each player. How does it come together?
But he’s careful about what he says because he doesn’t want to appear harsh, but he also doesn’t want to see players using mental health as a crutch or a reason to quit. He also says he has a lot to learn. He says he makes a point of telling his players that they can always come and talk to him about anything.
“To be honest, I don’t really know how to deal with it,” he says. “It almost feels like every year I relearn how to reach and manage young adults. »
The exercise ends with a perfect volley from Cesar Velecela into the back of the net and De Pierro tells the boys to go get some water. This came just minutes after Camara made some nifty dribbles through the heart of Wood-Ridge’s defense that looked professional quality.
The Blue Devils will play each other four times in the coming days and De Pierro is trying to acclimatize his team to a larger field, telling them it will be an advantage when opponents come because they won’t be used to it. He will refine his training. He needs to give Camara space to do his job and all the speed he can on the pitch.
The “Rack” lights go out at 10 p.m. There’s a youth soccer team practicing on the other side of the field, people running laps outside the fence, lights on in the windows of nearby condos. The place crackles with energy.
De Pierro’s voice doesn’t go so far as to disturb people at home, the most important thing for him, more than ever, is to make sure his players listen.
Darren Cooper is a high school sports columnist for NorthJersey.com. For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis from our Varsity Aces team, subscribe today. To receive the latest news straight to your inbox, Subscribe to our newsletter And download our app.