In what head coach Terry Nicholl calls a great first season, the Lions were able to continuously play at a high level. The Lions started both the first and last games slowly and fought back to draw. Those games were a good way to describe his team, according to the former Crewe Alexandra and Sheffield United player.
“I thought we overall had a very solid first season. We came out the blocks in our first game with a slow start, and the whole season was like a “bookend” season. We were down 3-1 in the first game at halftime, and fought back to three all, and the last game of the season against the same team required the same fight back. That kind of sums up the team. We were always fighting, and got a solid effort all the way round really from all departments.”
Just like any other team would experience throughout a season, the Dutch Lions would encounter a rise and fall in their form. After starting the season a bit sluggish the team was eventually able to hit their stride.
“We had a rich vein of form I’d say first half of the season, we put ourselves in a great spot to win the title, and we didn’t quite have a strong run in. I think we let some opportunities go where we could have nailed that title and brought it home, but overall it was a good first season considering how much time we had to throw the team together.”
Much like other teams from the NPSL, WPSL or other PDL squads, the Cincinnati Dutch Lions had to put a quality team together quickly. With most of the Lions team studying at different universities across the region, Nicholl had to hasten the team development once everyone arrived. The Lions hosted open tryouts in the early spring as well as invitation tryouts for the squad around Easter weekend in hopes that players would be home from school. Even with not all his players able to make tryouts, Nicholl had an advantage in that he has coached most of his squad prior to this summer.
“I want to say 50 percent of the team I’ve coached before at either cup or in the Super 20 league, so I was familiar with the majority of the players, but then the team was enhanced by the Dutch flavor of our captain and some of the Dutch the club brought in.”
Nicholl also articulated the importance of the players that were brought in by the Dayton Dutch Lions of the USL PRO division. With some of those players not being able to make the Dayton squad, they were able to bring additional experience of playing at a higher level to the Cincinnati squad.
Having to fight back on multiple occasions after trailing at half, Nicholl believes that having a full year to prepare before next season will greatly help his squad. Comparing what he has done with his youth teams, Nicholl has multiple systems he goes to depending on how each game is going.
“If we’re ahead 2-0 I’ll go to what I call fortress. It’s a fortress mild, medium, or hot. There’s a certain adjustment that’s a little bit more defensive prowess. Medium is moving to play it back into the midfield and moving one player just in front of the back four, and hot is moving a player all the way back. When I have a team for a year I can practice on all game situations and educate the team what we are likely to do if we are 2-0 up, under pressure, controlling the ball, 1-0 up under pressure, 1-0 down. So, when you build a team this quickly you have much more basic tactics and teamwork that you must cover before you can get to the really finer arts of having different sets and lines for different situations.”
One of the problems that Nicholl and the Cincinnati Dutch Lions will face preparing for next season is the loss of players who make the jump to the Dayton Dutch Lions of the USL-Pro. Nicholl’s job is not just to win the league, but be able to promote players to Dayton once they have graduated college. Promoting his most consistent players to the Dayton roster provides Nicholl with the challenge of finding replacements of the same quality. One of the places he is planning to look is the local college scene. With many quality college programs in their back yard such as Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati, Nicholl hopes he can add some of them to his team. Being so close to the Bearcats and not having a single one of those players on his squad is a dilemma he hopes to fix.
When it came to naming a team MVP this past summer there were too many quality players for coach Terry Nicholl to pick from.
One of his main stars was PDL All-Conference selection Jake Stovall, who started at center back for the team. Whether it was one- on-one defending, in the air, or making quick decisions on when to tackle a player, Stovall impressed many during his debut season. At just 19, Stovall was the youngest player on the Lions roster but was still able to impress in his debut season.
The Wright State product was able to speak upon his first season in the PDL.
“It’s been amazing. This is my first PDL experience, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I got a call from Terry a few months before the season asking if I’d be interested, I said I would definitely be interested.”
Playing against older and more experienced players across the PDL landscape will help Stovall improve as he heads into next season.
“I think I’ll be ahead of the competition at my school because a lot of the guys I’ll be competing against didn’t play this summer, or not nearly as much as I did. I had stuff I definitely needed to work on and I talked to my coaches before coming to this team, and they told me a few things to work on, and I think I definitely improved the areas I needed to.”
Other players that had tremendous season included forward Jeff McClure who was able to score multiple outstanding goals, and goalkeeper Eric Osswald. Describing Osswald as “spectacular,” he was often the rock even when the defense had shaky moments.
With a young talented core of individuals returning, look for the Cincinnati Dutch Lions to be back in the running for the top spot come next summer. With the stability that Terry Nicholl looks to bring to his squad, the Lions could be a very difficult team to beat. Overall, the first year Lions have nothing to regret as they had an excellent first year in the PDL.